Viewing this winter lockdown through a new lens

I found a poem recently in the beautiful book ‘Benedictus: A book of Blessings’ by John O’Donohue. The poem was aptly named ‘For One Who is Exhausted’ and there was one line in particular that really jumped out at me, ‘Be excessively gentle with yourself’.  I have read and repeated this line at all my mindfulness classes since. I repeat it mentally to myself when I find myself tired or pushing myself too hard. Compassion-based mindfulness helps us to notice ourselves just as we are, and to meet whatever we notice in ourselves with kindness and care, rather than self-criticism. So, let us be excessively gentle with ourselves, whenever we find ourselves rushing to get everything done or being hard on ourselves when we feel we haven’t been achieving enough or indeed when we’re feeling bad in any way.

The last few weeks have been hugely anxiety inducing for all of us, as we waited on decisions being made by government, with regard to changing the public health guidelines. Now we are all in the process of adapting again to a level five lockdown. These are difficult and challenging times and it is likely that we are feeling a bit frayed around the edges, especially due to the prolonged nature of these challenges. But what if we changed the lens through which we’re viewing this Winter lockdown? What if we switched focus to how we can make this time of year – a time of natural hibernation anyway, a bit more comfortable for ourselves and our loved ones?

What are you already doing, or planning to do, to support your physical and mental health? Just as we need physical exercise for the body, we also need to take care of our minds, especially when facing adversity or uncertainty. It can help to take a medium or longer-term view of this situation and plan how we are going to navigate through this shared human experience together. And here is an important point; we are not alone in this.  No matter how robust you have been mentally and physically up to now, we are all experiencing a level of vulnerability during this pandemic and this is part of being human. We can help and support ourselves and each other through this.

I feel it might be worth reflecting on a few questions when making your plan or adding structure to your week over the next few months. Make some time and space for this, as it is important. Find yourself a comfortable seat and notice the breath in your body, see if you can feel the breath moving in your body.  Now, slow your breath down and see if you can take three conscious breaths, gentle breaths, not forced, but just a little deeper and longer than you would normally take. Notice how you are feeling now. Then take some time to reflect on the following:

What worked for you during lockdown earlier this year?  What kept you well?
Make a list, either mentally, or with pen and paper, of the things that you enjoyed during lockdown. They might be little things you did as something kind for yourself or others, or things that have remained intentions until now, but it is these little things and intentions that help in maintaining a sense of wellbeing. Can you continue to do any of these things, for example, being in nature, baking, walking, cycling, sea swimming, phoning a friend, connecting in with a group online?

What is it that usually brings you comfort and ease during the Winter months?

It might be useful to remind ourselves of the wonderful things about Winter that we already love, these are still here, even if we may need to adapt them slightly. For example, rather than viewing it as a chore, try lighting the fire with the intention of making your home cosy for yourself, if you live alone, or for you and your family. Simple steps or small comforts can go a long way as we plan our hibernation for the coming weeks. Light a candle and snuggle yourself in a soft blanket. Read a book. Make a hot drink. Step outside and breathe in the freshness of the air.

How do you spend your downtime? And how do these activities make you feel?

Whether you are extremely busy and have little downtime, or whether you have lots of time on your hands these days, let’s see if we can make wise choices in favour of wholesome activities, for example, choosing to reduce your time spent on social media and going for a walk instead.  Try noticing how you feel after spending too much time on Netflix or social media or even after watching the news. Would you say you feel energised or drained by this activity? Notice this and compare this feeling with how you feel when you come back inside after a walk.

I began running free online mindfulness meditation sessions three evenings per week in March during the first lockdown and they will continue to run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8pm, please do consider joining in, whether you have tried mindfulness meditation before or are new to it. These small group sessions are personal, down-to-earth, informal and donation based.

Individual sessions on zoom are available if anyone would like to begin a basic meditation practice before joining the zoom sessions. Watch out for some short online introductory mindfulness courses coming up which may help reduce any anxiety around going online. Have a look at my Facebook page (Mindhaven) or website for more information or feel free to get in touch by phone: 087 2700572 or email:

Susan O Regan

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

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