How do we navigate a time of uncertainty and paradox?

Where do we even start?

I really don’t have a clear answer. But, after connecting with lots of folks in several online community resting meditation circles in the last few weeks, and after an online silent retreat with my teacher (where I slept a LOT), here are four themes that are emerging:

Iceland, March 2018.

1. It’s OK to feel shitty. 

For me, addictive behaviour (such as being glued to screens and comfort eating) is often a resistance to feeling a deeper emotion like sadness. In fact, a resistance to feeling, full stop. Of course there is sadness. And whilst some people around the world have been living in crisis contexts for a long time, many folks are having now having a less familiar experience of collective shock and grief. Fear of losing our loved ones or our own lives.

Fear of death has always been there, of course, as humans. But it’s been surfaced and turbo-charged in a way that can feel like the ground is slipping away. We’ve become scared of air, of breathing, for heaven’s sake. It’s OK to cry. I find myself holding a hot water bottle, deluged by a wave of tears every couple of days and I’m learning that that’s OK. If I tend to the sadness, it comes and flows on, rather than hanging around disguised as anxiety or numbness. 

2. It’s OK to feel good.

We can get stuck in a place where we don’t give ourselves permission to feel terrible AND we don’t give ourselves permission to feel great. A purgatory that gets filled with scrolling social media, the need to be productive at all moments and endless ricocheting thoughts. Perhaps a sense of guilt – what right do I have to feel good when so many folks around the world are ill, struggling or working all hours? Yet there is also moments of laughter, silly songs on Zoom with nieces and nephews, enjoying playing the guitar or the way the light falls on that particular cherry blossom. Why not, you know? If anything, this is reminding us just how bloody precious every moment of life is. Of course a by-product of joy and creativity is that I have more clarity and energy to offer support to others and that offering comes from a grounded and wiser place, rather than the anxious reactionary need to try and make things better which is strongly programmed into me.

3. It’s OK to have feelings which sit uncomfortably alongside each other. 

I feel terrified of losing someone I love and heartbroken at hearing stories of struggle from the lockdown in India AND I feel excited about what feels like a growing wave of love and consciousness. I am raging at the way NHS staff and other keyworkers have been treated over many years and how they are not being protected properly even now AND I was moved to happy tears by the clapping all around the neighbourhood last Thursday evening. I am grieving the comfort and familiarity of a lifestyle that we will likely never again experience AND I feel hope and a commitment to help birth the something new that is being dreamed.

We are likely to be feeling things which seem like they contradict each other, often with only a breath between them. That’s really OK. There is a vastness to the polarity of feelings right now. It is a time of mind-boggling paradox. I think we are being called to be friendly with the wobbliness of not-knowing, to stretch to welcome and hold it all. And to cultivate courage as we do so.

4. It’s OK to rest

We know the things that are good for us, right? The time away from your phone, connecting with nature, move your ass at least once a day and drink more water, all that kind of stuff. Resting is one that we don’t talk about enough, in a culture where productivity is prized. If we’re honest, most of us were likely chronically tired before this all kicked off. Right now, if you’re a keyworker and/or looking after young children 24/7, that tiredness must be off the scale. Also I sense many of us are experiencing a kind of existential knackeredness; systemic change is happening around us and inside us at fast pace. Our nervous systems, the very ways our body and feelings are wired, have likely been in extra-high-alarm-mode, which can make it difficult to rest, even in those pockets of time we do have available.

For me, lying down meditation has changed everything – turning off all devices, getting into bed and feeling the sensations in the lower half of my body and lengthening my breath. Often gentle stretchy movement, favourite music, a hug, a bath or shower help. I long for a cat to stroke. Each of us will have different ways of dialling down the alarms and experiencing true relaxation, whether for 10 minutes or a few hours. What helps you rest? I’d love to hear.

Resting can help touch that fundamental underlying sense of okayness that lives beneath the stormy waves at the surface. And when we feel safe and OK, a space opens up for energy and transformation to trickle in.

As the poet and philosopher Bayo Akomolafe has said, ‘These times are urgent, we need to slow down’.

Forget me not. Haringey, April 2017.