With all of the anxiety, fear and suffering surrounding these uncertain times of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), recently I was swept up in the chaos at the local grocery store. As a health and wellness nurse and educator who is married to an Emergency Medicine physician, I am acutely aware of the statistics, risks, and emergency preparedness protocols. However, I am human and when I saw two mothers with their grocery carts filled with paper products, frozen foods, bottles of water, and canned goods, I began filling my cart with items I didn’t have on my grocery list and that my family and I don’t eat very often.
What is that about?
“In psychology, the spread of emotion from one person to another is aptly termed social contagion.”[i] In ME-CL we understand there is “scarcity mind” – a fear of lacking something or not having enough that is initiated from our own thoughts. My survival mode turned on scarcity mind and social contagion took over and I lost my perspective in those moments.
This “social contagion” is evidenced in so many areas of our lives as we interact with one another, and particularly, through the news and social media. It can happen even teaching the Mindful Eating – Conscious LivingProgram. I remember teaching the exercise around conditioned patterns of eating with our family during class 4. During inquiry, one participant began to speak with intense emotion about the difficult relationship she had with her mother throughout her life. Quickly, the strong emotions she was describing began to spread to the other participants who started sharing their relationships with difficult family members. The emotions in the room spread like a wildfire.
Interrupting social contagion
Initially, I sat paralyzed watching the group dialogue guidelines disintegrate as people were talking over one another. But within minutes I employed a strategy born out of this vital practice of mindfulness. I have named this strategy, “the pause button.” The pause button is a practice of equanimity. Equanimity is defined as “mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; calmness; equilibrium.”[ii]
“We are going to press the pause button and check-in,” I calmly and firmly said. It was important to pause both for myself and my participants, to come back to the present and take a moment to assess the thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. This created space for stability and equilibrium.
Pausing for our family’s sake
As a global family we are having our collective “pause button” as we address the reality of this health crisis. We are staying six feet apart, self-quarantining, and sheltering in our homes. This disruption poses a unique opportunity to stop and recognize how we might live with greater awareness, balance, clarity, and simplicity as we proceed. Perhaps from this a greater sense of gratitude, generosity, and well-being will grow for ourselves, those in healthcare, those afflicted, and anyone helping to support humanity.
Jan Chozen Bays once told me that “sometimes the best thing to do is nothing.” This wise advice is so relevant as we navigate the new normal of our lives. As human beings, we are so eager to fix, solve and do things. Yet, now more than ever, is the time to rest, recalibrate, and pause.
If we are staying home, keeping our distance, protecting one another, can we press “the pause button” and witness what is here right now with the intention of cultivating equanimity?
What do you notice when you shift the focus to present moment activities like playing a game with your family members, going outside and walking in nature, spending time with a beloved pet, connecting with loved ones through technology?
Lisa Rigau, USA
[i] Brewer, J.A., ‘A Brain Hack to Break the Coronavirus Anxiety Cycle’, New York Times, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/13/well/mind/a-brain-hack-to-break-the-coronavirus-anxiety-cycle, (accessed March 14, 2020).