We all want to know when there will be some easement of Lockdown. I like the word ‘easement’ for it denotes both the right to use someone else’s land for a specific purpose, and/or the state or feeling of comfort or peace; I think both definitions can be applied to our longing to know when the door will be left sufficiently ajar for us to wriggle through to the ‘outside’.
I wonder how we will behave when we glimpse an exit strategy? (I make the bold assumption that Boris will have a strategy). Will we run amok spraying each other with particles and hugs or will we emerge tentatively from the dark, pupils dilating as we brace ourselves for the bright lights we have missed? I think it may be our potential to fraternise and frivolate in a frenzied mask-free face off that could be causing politicians the right to dither while we wait for our V Day celebrations.
Thinking too much about this eventual easement makes me feel strangely anxious, and I have been grateful that through Lockdown I have been sitting in on the mindfulness sessions that the wonderful Fabienne Vailes (author of ‘The Flourishing Student’ and ‘How to Grow a Grown Up’) has been running for Sixth Formers from our school. Over the last eight weeks, Wednesday nights have become a little oasis of calm as we have experimented with different mindfulness techniques – with the aim of these students then building a flourishing community by sharing their experiences with their peers.
As a part-time yoga teacher you may anticipate that I will display some unyogic smugness about already knowing some of these mindfulness techniques; not a bit of it, for I quickly realised that I had only really experimented with mindful breathing and body awareness in the past. Mindful eating was the toughest session for me. I needed to practise the gratitude that I had learnt in an earlier session – focusing on my relief that everyone had their cameras turned off – when Fabienne encouraged us to spend 15 minutes focusing on eating one raisin; I must have misheard, for off camera I had mindlessly polished off a family sharing pack of Sun Maid raisins before I realised my mistake. I breathed deeply and calmly and managed to hide a mound of raisin boxes before cameras were switched back on.
Our final session this week focused on loving kindness and we practised repeating the simple meditation that I share with you now:
May I be safe
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be at ease
Such soothing words. I love the thought of being at ease with life rather than allowing it to make me feel vexed or anxious. As the session moved on, we turned the focus of the meditation from ourselves to a person we loved, then a person we knew well, then someone who was challenging us (#notsaying) before finishing by sending these words of loving kindness out into our community. If only the Government had used these words for their Stay Home, Save Lives campaign instead of wasting money on the sexist ad they intended to run – the one designed to raise our blood pressure by showing women home schooling children and doing domestic chores, while the only man featured relaxed on a sofa. Let us hope that this man felt safe, happy, healthy and at ease on his couch. I am grateful that the Government decided to do a U-turn and pulled the campaign before I needed to practise some mindful breathing.
Children’s Mental Health Week starts tomorrow and if ever there is a time to remind our young people that their present sadness is something that we all share and something that we must all navigate through together with every strategy that we can share, it is now. Life learning like this may not make up for their missed milestone birthdays and their damp squib Freshers’ Week but it may be more valuable to them than any missed schooling or exam result.
I listened to a cross-section of young people on Radio 4 this week, all talking about their lives being on hold and their disappointment at being mis-sold the ‘best years of their lives’. The young people are not moaning, they are just explaining how they feel, and I am glad that they have an audience to hear their views, even if we have no answers for them right now.
I try to remember how I felt at 18 and can remember my strong desire to leave home, and my belief that the grass would be greener once I had moved on. Life makes sense looking backward and from the vantage point of my sixth decade I can see how safe I was in the care of my parents and how resilient they must have been to continually hold their umbrella of care above our heads. I didn’t know about mindful gratitude then, for at 18 I was arrogant and wired to rebel. Listening to these young people on the radio they are so much mature than I was back then. There is no whinging about home-schooling their younger siblings, their lack of cash or their absent social life. Like us, they would just like to know when the easing may start. All of them would like to use their easement rights to move on to some different land. I hope they realise how impressive they sounded to a whinging old bag like me.
I want these young people to feel safe, happy, healthy and at ease and I know that they have a much, much harder swamp to wade through than I did at their age. I want them to know how well they are doing, that although their lives will seem to be moving so, so slowly at the moment, they are moving – their interview responses are testament to that.
I also find myself wanting to phone my 94 year old mum and thank her for the loving kindness she showed my churlish teenage self – even if I still try to erase the memory of introducing my teenage friends to my mother while she performed a headstand in her favourite purple tracksuit. Rather than mocking my mother’s yoga lessons, I should have asked her to teach me some breathing techniques, but back then I thought I knew it all.
So, it may be Children’s Mental Health Week, but let us not just focus on this for seven days. Our young people (and their amazing parents) need our ongoing support as we look towards the easement that will eventually come; while we wait, we can spend some time – as Fabienne has done so generously – sharing our strategies for creating some small cushions of ease in our lives. It would be heart warming if we could work on flourishing together.
May we be safe
May we be happy
May we be healthy
May we be at ease