The Tao Te Ching tells us:
The Earth is everlasting
Because it does not live for self alone
But exists as one with life.
The people of Tao transcend self
Through loving compassion
And find themselves
In a higher sense.
Tao, Chapter 7
The Tao reminds us to look for the lessons in the natural world around us. This week, wild roses are blooming in my back yard. Unlike hybrid tea roses, these roses bloom only once a year. And this year, their bright blossoms are all the more precious.
Like the wild rose, life brings us surprises, some welcome, some not. For the past few weeks, people all over the world have been suffering from fear and uncertainty, experiencing the challenge of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The virus has brought much suffering and loss, as well as mental health challenges since lockdowns and closures have narrowed our lives. Schools, workplaces, restaurants, theatres, and local shops have closed, familiar routines have been disrupted by lockdowns and social distancing, and each day's news brings frightening statistics as we worry about how to stay safe.
Cut off from our normal routines, family and friends, there is so much we cannot do. Yet although we cannot go out as we used to, what we can do is go within. In this period of enforced monasticism, we can take the time to read, reflect, and get to know ourselves on a deeper level. Here are four simple but powerful practices to support your inner journey.
Nonviolent Communication. We can find greater peace of mind by applying psychologist Marshall Rosenberg's nonviolent communication (2005) to ourselves. My friend Juan Velasco and I have been showing people how to do this in our retreats and workshops, now offered online. To begin this practice, Pause and take a slow mindful breath, then slowly exhale as you ask yourself these three questions:
- "How do I feel?"—"Am I calm, relaxed, anxious, confused, worried, tired, hurt, disappointed, sad, lonely, excited, happy"—or something else? Whatever you feel, just recognize and label the feeling without judging yourself.
- "What do I need?" Our needs can range from food, rest, and security to emotional needs for love, acceptance, understanding, joy, play, creativity, inspiration, and meaning. What do you need right now?
- "What are my options?" As you become more mindful, instead of merely reacting, you will notice more options, more possibilities. Consider your options and choose the one that feels right for you now.
Self-Compassion. The next time you're feeling stressed or anxious, instead of spiraling into incessant worry and self-criticism, you can find greater peace of mind with this simple practice:
- Put your hand on your heart.
- Recognize how you're feeling and label the feeling.
- Then treat yourself with compassion as you would a dear friend.
- Reassure yourself with words like "Poor dear, I know you're scared and worried (or whatever you're feeling). I love you. I'm here for you. You're not alone." (Neff, 2003; 2004; Shapiro, 2020)
Gratitude. Spend a little time at the end of each day to count your blessings, to focus on what you're grateful for. Research has shown that this practice can improve your physical and emotional health (Emmons, 2008; Hill et al, 2013; Petrocchi & Couyoumdjian, 2016).
- At the end of each day, think of three things you're thankful for. You may choose to record these reflections in a gratitude journal.
- Pause for a moment in the midst of the day to focus on something you're grateful for. For example, you might smile at someone you love, enjoy the playful antics of a puppy, or appreciate nature's artistry in the songs of birds, the beauty of a Spring sunset, or the fragrance of roses in your garden (Emmons, 2008; Carroll, 2017).
Sharing Compassion. Even with social distancing, there are still ways to reach out to friends, family, and the larger community in your heart and your actions. You might:
- Connect by phone with a friend, neighbor, or family member. Ask how they're feeling and what they need. Even if you cannot give them what they need, knowing that you care will make a positive difference to them.
- Express compassion and gratitude for frontline health care workers and essential employees. You might send them gratitude by making a sign, sending a card, or joining your neighbors in collecting masks for essential workers.
- Instead of thinking of all you cannot do, focus on what you can. Each time you wash your hands, you could practice the Loving Kindness Meditation, saying: "May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be safe, May I be well, May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be happy" and then "May you—thinking of someone you know—be filled with loving kindness. May you be safe. May you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease. May you be happy."
In this time of challenge and change, may new hope blossom in your heart like the wild rose.
Carroll, K. (2017). A moment's pause for gratitude. Carlsbad, CA: Balboa Press.
Emmons, R. A. (2008). Thanks: How practicing gratitude can make you happier. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin;
Hill, P. L., Allemand, M., & Roberts, B. W. (2013). Examining the pathways between gratitude and self-rated physical health across adulthood. Personality and individual differences, 54(1), 92-96.
Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85-10.
Neff, K. D. (2004). Self-compassion and psychological well-being. Constructivism in the Human Sciences, 9(2), 27-37. For more about Dr. Neff's research and self-compassion exercises, see https://self-compassion.org/about/.
Petrocchi, N., & Couyoumdjian, A. (2016). The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety: the mediating role of criticizing, attacking, and reassuring the self. Self and Identity, 15(2), 191-205.
Rosenberg, M. B. (2005). Nonviolent communication: A language of life. Encinitas, CA: Puddle Dancer Press.
Shapiro. S. (2020). Good morning, I love you. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.