Meditation in a crisis – self-isolation advice from Norwich Buddhist Centre

Meditation practice can be beneficial for our mental health during times of crisis Picture

Meditation practice can be beneficial for our mental health during times of crisis Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Archant

There are times in life when it becomes abundantly clear to us: we are not as in control as we thought we were. Vajragupta from Norwich Buddhist Centre has some advice on how meditation can help during the coronavirus crisis.

Vajragupta is chair of the Norwich Buddhist Centre Pictures: Vajragupta

Vajragupta is chair of the Norwich Buddhist Centre Pictures: Vajragupta - Credit: Archant

It seems inherent in human nature: the desire to exert influence on others and our surroundings, whether that is through speech, action or technology. But every once in a while, we are reminded in no uncertain terms: we have no real control.

This is one of those times. We cannot control our biology, we cannot control the spread of a virus, we cannot control nature. And while we cannot ultimately control these things, it is within our control to manage our response to them.

Vajragupta is chair of Norwich Buddhist Centre and was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order 23 years ago. She explains how practicing meditation offers techniques for managing our reaction to overwhelming situations, which has benefits for our mental health as well as our relationships with others.

“Meditation and mindfulness can ground us and help us to be more aware of ourselves in relation to other people, while helping with anxiety, depression and isolation,” Vajragupta says. “Now is the perfect opportunity to learn to meditate if you have never tried it before.”

As self-isolation measures become increasingly more severe, we are all limited in terms of what activities we can engage in, which will lead to boredom and frustration for many. While this could deepen negative patterns of thought and behaviour, Vajragupta says that making time for meditation can transform our mindset, turning self-isolation into a productive opportunity conducive to wellness.

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“We need to be able to turn towards our boredom. That is very important. Meditation teaches us how to be able to spend time on our own and to sit quietly without our usual distractions, habits and preoccupations, which is very good for helping us to be present.”

Vajragupta has some tips for those unfamiliar with meditation practice.

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“People have an idea about meditators sitting cross-legged on a cushion – that isn’t necessary. You can meditate in a chair, for example, but the most important thing is to have an open, receptive posture: no crossed legs or folded arms.

“Close your eyes and let go of a few outbreaths to help you relax. Then bring attention to the sensations in the body. If you are anxious you will notice your heart fluttering. If you’re hungry, you might notice an empty feeling in your belly. What we are looking for is direct experience, which takes us away from the thoughts that might bother us, even though they still arise.”

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, we might get trapped in recursive patterns of negative thoughts as we go about our day, catastrophising about what might happen to us and our loved ones.

“When we experience anxiety, we are anticipating something that hasn’t happened, and in meditation we can see the fruitlessness of that,” Vajragupta adds. “These anxieties might involve not being able to get food, being on your own, dying alone. Meditation can give us some perspective on this.

“We think that we can control our lives. And in a crisis, we find that we cannot control our lives half as much as we think. So even something like running out of toilet paper, for example, can create panic and make us very self-absorbed.

“Practicing meditations like loving-kindness, where we wish others well and pray that they are free from suffering, takes us away from our own self-absorption. When we bring to mind that everybody is in the same position, we can start thinking more creatively about what we can do when we can’t get hold of toilet paper.

“If we can relax into meditation, we realise we are a tiny part of something much bigger. The reality is that there is a lot of neighbourhood goodwill and that if people ask for help there is plenty available. We have a list of Buddhist volunteers that are waiting to help anyone in need.”

While Norwich Buddhist Centre is closed to the public due to the coronavirus, Vajragupta explains they are transferring operations online and continue to support the community.

“We are uploading daily videos of approximately 10 minutes offering people advice and guidance and are continuing to transfer as much of our programme onto our website as possible.

“If anybody would like a helpful book on meditation, ring Norwich Buddhist Centre to order one and we will send it to you.”

For more information, please visit Norwich Buddhist Centre’s Facebook page.

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