Letting go of our mask

We are living in a constantly changing world which can make everyday life feel incredibly tricky at times. I am writing on the day that Russia has invaded Ukraine, after a week in which Ireland was ravaged by storms and just as we are beginning to emerge after two years of a global pandemic. This is all very scary and upsetting stuff, yet we live in a culture that still leans towards distraction and tends to rush us through emotions like sadness or fear, insisting on ‘positive thinking’. Taking a position, which aligns more with a fairy tale type notion of how life ‘should’ be, can neglect to teach us skills like mindful awareness, emotional regulation or embodiment and qualities like empathy and compassion, for ourselves and others. These skills and qualities help us deal with the reality of life.  We need these important life skills and qualities as we continue to manage the individual, collective and often global challenges in our lives just now. Taking time to check in with ourselves is essential, by pausing and asking yourself, how am I? How am I supporting my own health and wellbeing? Am I getting all the support that I need so that I can support myself and the people that I love?   

We’ve all had transformative events in our lives where we describe our lives in terms of ‘before’ or ‘after’ such an event. Covid has been one of those ‘before’ and ‘after’ occurrences in our lives and it has changed us and our world. There are so many ways we can emerge from it and if we can have a bit of patience with ourselves and take the time we need, we can make some conscious choices about how we want to shape our lives going forward. Maybe, in the coming weeks and months, as we emerge, in our own time, from behind our masks, we can allow a bit of our vulnerability to be seen and allow our own ‘new normal’ to include an awareness and acceptance of our feelings as well as those of others. There is great relief in recognising that we are not alone in feeling unsure of how to move forward now or which step to take next. 

Personally, I could draw a line in my life ‘before’ and ‘after’ mindfulness. Before learning to practice mindfulness, I feel I was kind of ‘coasting’ through life. Learning the skills to be present through the practice of mindfulness meditation enhances our lives and wellbeing in immeasurable ways. We are more able to be there more fully, both for the highs and lows of life, no longer drifting or coasting, but more present, able to self-regulate, able to embrace and embody who we are and how interconnected we all are. A key learning of mindfulness meditation is to be aware of feelings, thoughts, and sensations, as they arise, not blocking them or stopping them, but meeting them with kindness. By ‘normalising’ feelings of vulnerability, we are richer for it as human beings, recognising how strong our commonalities are and finding strength in community. And if ever we need to feel a sense of community, it is now.

As a mindfulness teacher, I often share spaces where people show up as equals, sit together and reflect on their thoughts and feelings. By sharing simple, honest spaces and places where we can be ourselves, just the way we are, unmasking how we feel, we realise that we’re not alone in feeling strong emotions and that it is ok to give ourselves time, space and support to process the series of global crises that are still evolving around us. There is nothing wrong with feeling anxious, scared, or uncertain when life presents us with difficulties. Finding ways to acknowledge these kinds of thoughts and feelings and move through them, rather than ignore them is so much easier on our health and wellbeing in the long run.  

It continues to be my firm belief as we move through this phase of Covid and beyond that we need to intentionally seek out safe and supported ways to acknowledge and feel our feelings, in places where we can meet ourselves and others with kindness. As we tentatively begin to remove our physical masks, are there people with whom we can drop the habitual mask we wear, and share our feelings with, at least now and then?

If you would like to begin a mindfulness practice or deepen an existing practice together in community with others, I run drop-in mindfulness sessions at Myross Wood on Tuesday mornings 10-11am: €10.  

Other mindfulness events coming up at Myross Wood: 

Mindfulness in Nature, A forest bathing experience, Sunday, March 20, 11 – 2pm. €30

 A Day of Silence, Sunday, April 3, 10-4pm. €75 (Vegetarian lunch and refreshments provided)

Sustainable Wellness is a rolling four-week collaboration with Emma Fitzpatrick, which includes mindfulness, movement and self-massage, Thursdays 10-12pm at Myross Wood. €25 per session or €85 for the entire programme.

Online guided meditation sessions continue in March via Zoom on Mondays and Wednesdays at 8pm. 45 minutes. Donation-based.

For more information on these or upcoming workshops and courses please like my Facebook page (Mindhaven) or feel free to get in touch by phone: 087 2700572 or by email: susanoreganmindfulness@gmail.com 

Susan O Regan

Susan O'Regan teaches mindfulness and self-compassion courses and workshops in West Cork.

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