An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Recently the media carried a photograph of the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on a telephone call to the Chinese Premier. Some journalists commentated on what you could see on the Taoiseach’s desk and what these things would tell us about him. However, none of them seemed to spot the little green book facing Leo. It was The Little Book of Mindfulness. Hopefully he opens it from time to time. Now more than ever he needs the help of mindfulness.
There is plenty of material published on how to protect ourselves physically from the coronavirus. But what about our mental health? Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, Dr Brendan Kelly, has recently published a small book Coping with Coronavirus – How to stay Calm and Protect your Mental Health. In the book Dr Kelly refers frequently to mindfulness techniques.
A neighbour who recently read one of my pieces on mindfulness in a local newspaper said that while she didn’t know much about mindfulness, she felt she was doing it all the time. This is true for most people. Mindfulness comes naturally to us, as we have the ability to be aware, to notice, observe and admire the world around us.
During this time of confinement because of the coronavirus crisis we have plenty of time to become more aware of our natural ability to be mindful. As we walk and are aware of our surroundings in the here and now, we are in fact meditating.
People can feel that they are prisoners in their own homes. Most of us can take only a short walk each day or go to the shops for essential supplies. Many of us cannot go out at all, we are “cocooned”. We now live in a greatly shrunken world, it has become small and narrow. We need to find ways to expand our world by beginning to notice and see the great wonders which surround us now.
We have been advised to walk. While walking provides us with great exercise, it also gives us an opportunity to be mindful as we look about and notice the world around us.
Walk, Look, Meditate!
Allow me to share my own experience with you. My world outside of our house has been reduced to a garden where I take my walks. I feel blessed and grateful that we have a garden; many people live in more confined spaces.
As I take my daily walks, I have come to notice simple things like ditches and old walls. I think they’re full of history and mystery. They can hold an amazing fascination. The writer and map maker Tim Robinson, who died recently of the virus in the UK, spent many years looking at the stone walls of the Aran Islands and wrote two brilliant books about them entitled Stones of Aran.
Walking around our garden I’m aware of primroses that grow naturally there and other flowers which I have sown in recent weeks. As the daffodils drift away other flowers appear, it is blossom time. There are buds on the trees, in the next few weeks the fresh green leaves will appear.
The great BBC gardener, Monty Don, says April is the month of great change in the garden. He writes, “The month opens with a prickle of green in the hedgerows and ends full-blown, steaming into May on a fanfare of new growth.” No wonder the poet Patrick Kavanagh described April as a “sensational” month. He was a mindful poet who could see the sensational in the ordinary and the banal.
This year we have a chance to see the sensational beauty of nature unfold as we walk round and round our narrow spaces. There is time to notice wonders in the grass. The other day we noticed a big bee moving diligently around our garden, we think it is queen searching for a place to establish her colony and her hive. Suddenly we have become curious about the life of bees.
Over the past while I have found that a small bird is enriching my enclosed life. It is a robin.
Regularly we feed the robin at our backdoor. I drop some breadcrumbs on to a dish and then I stand still. The robin comes within a few centimetres of my feet. It has one eye on the food and the other eye on me. In my stillness I can see the beauty of the robin close up, smooth soft dark brown feathers on its back, the distinctive red breast, small beak and short tail. It is a moment of unusual intimacy. When the robin has finished eating it quickly flies away.
Later walking in the garden the robin lands on a branch near me. I stop and look, the robin begins to sing its beautiful clarion song. Rooted there listening I find that the robin’s song gives me a moment of beauty and calm.
The Stars – All Shall be Well
As the day of “confinement” comes to an end, I find some liberation in the stars.
My night-time moment of mindfulness is standing beneath the stars. On clear nights I go outside and find myself standing and gazing in wonder at the stars above. I know nothing about constellations or astronomy, but I am awed and astonished by what I see. I am aware of the vastness of the earth and how small I am. I think of the lines of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Awareness of the beauty of life in the ordinary and meditation on the simple things around can bring us through this horrible time of loss, quarantine, panic and fear.