Life’s never been so simple and yet so complicated

Life in London has become very small and simple since the public health measures to counteract COVID -19 (Coronavirus) began.  Like everyone else I am afraid, sad and feel helpless and as you’d expect from a psychologist, I’m concerned about the psychological effects on people of the pandemic along with the physical effects.  I am reminded of John Milton’s famous words:

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..”

(Paradise Lost, written 1674)

My mind is flitting between heaven and hell all through the day at present.  On the one hand, although members of my family, some of whom are ‘key workers’, have become ill with the virus, all are recovering.  As I listen to the news, which I am restricting to twice a day, I am overwhelmed by the scale, range and complexity of the problem but then again, any vaguely hopeful item shines through and seems to lighten the load, such as the way essential services are being mobilised, the response of the vast majority of the public, possible scientific and technical break throughs and many, many people’s acts of generosity and kindness.  Whenever I open up my email inbox or glance at my mobile something in me recoils at the deluge of advice and information, both from public bodies and organisations with financial and commercial interests but occasionally there are messages from colleagues, friends and family members who have thought to get in touch and send good wishes and/or share things to make us laugh and then there are individuals and organisations that are making services available on-line in order to comfort and help*. 

As we all know, it is an awful situation for everyone and people are suffering but there are things we can do to look after our minds and help them to keep perspective, i.e. be more in whatever heaven is to us than in our hells.  Here are some of my ideas; please write with any others that you are finding useful:

  • Hope. Not long ago I read primatologist and conservationist, Jane Goodall’s ‘Reason for Hope’, and in this autobiographical work her reasons for hope for the future include the incredible solution-finding and innovative capacities of the human brain, the idealism and energy of the young, nature’s huge resilience, the opportunities for communication, information sharing and collaboration of new technology and the indomitable human spirit. I think everyone of us can find some evidence of all these, both from listening to and reading about the bigger picture but also, very importantly, from observing what is going on around us, in our own personal day-to-day experiences. 
  • Gratitude. I am noticing how grateful I feel for everyday things that I so often take for granted; hearing from friends and family, a good meal, a hot shower, being able to use my mobile phone and computer, watching television.  The list could go on…I am also grateful for all those essential workers in the NHS and Social Services, food retailers, refuse collection, energy, communications and delivery services and others and try, when I can, to make this known
  • Presence, time and timing.  I am thinking less about tomorrow, next week, plans for the future. What matters is now and making the most of what I can do in this moment and making contact, in different ways, with the important people in my life now
  • Simplicity. I have grown up in a culture of acquisition but I am reminded now that it is people and experiences that really matter 
  • Nature.  Wherever I look I can see the perfection and beauty of nature and whether it is an indoor plant, the view from my window or even better, being out in the green, appropriately distanced, of course, from others, I am lifted
  • People. The need to feel a sense of belonging and connection is well documented in psychology but ironically, now that contact is largely not possible I need to find ways to not feel alone so the letters, texts and emails are a priority every day 
  • Sufficiency.  Being a mother I have always tried to provide food as economically as possible, and to minimise waste. Hopefully, as time goes on, we, as a society, are going to be using our gardens, balconies, even windowsills to grow food a lot more and a greater proactivity towards food wastage will develop
  • Balance and perspective.  One of the most inspiring individuals I have read and heard is spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle.  His central premise is encapsulated in his book ‘The Power of Now’ and he makes the case for dealing with our tendency to imagine and catastrophise by developing awareness of our mind’s unnecessary and self-punishing activities that delude us into thinking we have control of everything that happens in the world.  Here is an extract** from an American publication: ‘Psychology Today’:

“One way of trying to calm our fears is to try to put COVID-19 into perspective. Our ancestors had to survive an extremely harsh world. Had they not been incredibly adaptive and resilient, we wouldn’t be here today. First, we need to realize that this level of adaptation is already within us. Our very existence is proof of it. Second, we will need to, individually and collectively, tap into this resilience.”

It is a fact that every person on the planet today is the result of all the people before us from previous generations who survived floods, famine, plagues, wars and natural disasters. Whilst we do need to take this pandemic seriously and follow the public health advice we would also do well to remember that each of us is a miracle of life, stay mentally strong and do whatever it is we can do to help.

* – Message from Eckhart Tolle


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