Friday, 27 November 2020

Seasonal adjustment and mindfulness

Late November. Northern climes. Dry crisp mornings and rustling floors of park leaves giving way to damp, darker days as nature's clock ticks us towards early winter. 

Our little earth rock rotating with relentless cosmic efficiency. Its less climate-trusted species, alas, now blurring the lines between once distinct meteorological seasons.    

Adjustments of the season, adjustments of the mind. For many, a disordered and difficult process. 

We lament the shortening sun, the dwindling light, but find gradual comfort in the alternative splendour of the cold starry night sky, reconstituted, for those fortunate enough, in our warm inner sanctums.

And from here we might discover some more expansive time for mindful and healing reflection.

On how to keep better pace with the rhythms of seasons and planet.

On how to soothe our troubled thoughts.  

On how to reconcile this landmark year now tilting to a close.  

Pandemic. Climate breakdown. Darkening political clouds. Deepening economic anxiety.

Beyond basic human concern, how might we find some mental retreat from all this fear, crises and dislocation?

It can seem coy to speak about the importance of mindfulness as multiple conflicts and problems rage all around. 

We may find comfort in relativising it all: things could be much worse; my worries are but a speck when set against the troubles of war-torn and broken others. 

All good, laudable thoughts. Yet anxiety and insecurity are, for most, a default part of daily life. All humans experience them in one form or another. 

Of course, extending one's concern for others doesn't mean accepting their views or condoning their actions. On the contrary, resisting wrongful and unjust conduct is a fundamental part of compassionate mindfulness. 

The idea, however, is to infuse all such thoughts with a more universal equanimity, to be more 'metta-minded'.

Meditating on extended loving kindness, showing empathy for the stresses, fears and unhappiness all humans endure, can act as an antidote to more toxic thoughts, serving our own mental wellbeing. 

It's a way of setting down, letting go, the heavy weight of conflict, discord, anger, worry.  

And as winter closes in this particular year, all such palliatives seem even more relevant. 

Increased understanding of Seasonal Affective Disorders show just how much our minds can be laid low by the 'winter blues'. Even as we embrace the beautiful shifting of the seasons, the dilution of sunlight, our natural source of vitamin D, can have a deep impact on mood and energy levels.

Extended public health restrictions will make this seasonal transition even more arduous. The social interactions that help sustain us through the lonelier winter months will be heavily curtailed, adding to an already rising mental health crisis.

Figures showed a significant surge in 'lockdown loneliness' as the clocks changed at the end of October. This includes particularly high numbers of younger, as well as older, people. Coping with long dark nights of detachment and isolation will be a new and challenging experience for many.

The worries we harbour over recent events, what's going on, and what's yet to come can often seem overwhelming. 

When feeling like this, it's good to avoid excess exposure to repetitive news, adversarial social media and other mind-burdening output. 

Reflect, instead, on the commonality being shown by others, the enduring support of family, the selfless friends helping to keep us going, the kindly acts of a neighbour. 

Exercise regularly, if possible, do balance and yoga-type stretches, take outdoor walks, put on background music, dance, and do any diversifying thing that promotes an easy, uplifting and positive mindset. 

Putting down some notes on feelings and emotions may help too, even writing little messages or a letter to a loved one.

Short meditations through the day and night can bring particular welcome respite and alleviation of anxiety. 

Mindful contentment can be hugely beneficial to our overall psychology, helping to boost our immune systems and general health. 

Restrictions on the festive season will also affect many this year. Yet might this be a most useful moment to take a more mindful view of the whole stressful enterprise? 

Perhaps this season's limitations on the great festival of consumption can bring a more appreciative sense of all the things we really don't need, and the true value we place in the greater gifts of good health, nature and human connection.

How much nicer to move with the slow instruction of the turning earth than the rushing dictates of the manic market.

Light some candles and mark the mystical winter solstice, as the shortest day and longest night gives gradual way to returning sunlight.

And as we watch the changing days, extend that sense of loving kindness not only from yourself and towards others, but to all species and our bountiful planet, breathing in calm, rhythmic meditation with the cycle of all its wondrous seasons.