All the feelings…

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky… Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Thich Nhat Hanh

With the COVID-10 pandemic hitting Ontario with rising cases and increasing closures, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed with all the feelings;  most days I meet worry, fear, anxiety, anger, grief and all their friends, whether it is over breakfast listening to the news or during afternoon tea with CBC.  These are all healthy, valid and to-be-expected ways to feel as normal shifts under our feet, but some days my house feels too crowded for comfort.

Over the years I have learnt not to shut painful feelings out, but I do try to soften their intensity with mindful meditation.  Sitting with a guided meditation from the Calm app has been my go-to in times of struggle. Mindfulness helps bring the emotions into focus while breathing with intention, the breathing brings in just a bit of distance from the feelings, which helps soften their impact.  This is a spiritual practice that is especially useful in these uncertain days when we don’t quite know what is going to happen next. Who is going to get sick? How bad is it going to get? We just don’t know what it is to come.  I can’t change that uncertainty, but I can manage my reactions, so I turn to mindful meditation.

There are many good meditation apps for phones and tablets.  Calm and Headspace are the most well known and worth the subscription cost (I subscribe to Calm, which has series on managing emotions, sleep stories, and more), but there are some that are free or have good free access such as Stop, Breathe & Think, Insight Timer, and Smiling Mind, which has a special focus on children.  Experiment and find out what kind of mindfulness works for you.

The uncertainty of the pandemic means anxiety and stress are spiking.  Days of increased isolation, the loss of steady schedules and predictable plans, and worries about loved ones and livelihoods, all this wears us down.  Spiritual practices like mindful meditation – just sitting and breathing – helps us accept all of our emotions without being overwhelmed by them.

This is a time to tend to your spirit.

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The Art of Meditation

Meditation is an ancient practice, first noted in writing in the Hindu tradition around 1500 BC.  Judaism, Sufism, Taoism and Buddhism have also developed forms of meditation, with Buddhism heavily influencing contemporary North American meditation practices. Many Unitarian Universalist congregations offer meditation groups led by members involved with Buddhism.  As UUs, we understand meditation as a way to calm and centre in a busy world, a way to re-connect with one’s self and the larger whole. To meditate creates the space to step back from an endless forward momentum and take time to simply be.  It encourages us to be more aware of life, and in being so aware, offers hope in the beauty of living.  Given the stresses of the holiday season, December seems like a good month to explore some basic meditation practices, starting with mindful meditation.

Mindful meditation – focusing on breathing or the body – helps focus the mind and develop our ability to pay attention and be present in the moment.  By scanning the body, the intention is to nurture a curiosity about these sensations your body is experiencing, not to explain them away but to simply be aware of them.  Today we’ll use an body scan meditation to learn some basic meditation skills.  Don’t worry if your mind keeps wandering – that is normal! Meditation is a practice which takes time to learn.

This is a very simple introduction to meditation.  Many more detailed introductions, such as Tara Branch’s video introduction, are available for those interested in going further with this practice.

Wear comfortable clothes and find a quiet place to listen to this short audio piece from Calm.com.

Please note: there will only be 3 posted practices for the month of December.