The Wings Of The Bird: How Mindfulness & Compassion Can Help In Uncertain Times

The only thing that is certain at the moment, is uncertainty! Join Vidyamala Burch as she explains how cultivating a balance between mindfulness and compassionate openness can help to withstand the urge to withdraw into a tight ball of isolation, create deep connection with the people around us and, eventually, navigate uncertainty with less suffering.
Vidyamala is a meditation teacher, author, speaker and co-founder of Breathworks.
mindfulness compassion challenging times
Vidyamala is a meditation teacher, author, speaker and co-founder of Breathworks.

Back in March I was on holiday with friends. We hung out together. Socialised. Hugged when we parted. You know. Normal activities. Things I took for granted and could never imagine changing. Then the coronavirus pandemic took off and life transformed overnight.

New words became common-place like ‘lock-down’, ‘social distancing’, ‘zooming’. We couldn’t visit our friends. We got used to staying at home which for some of us was a pleasant interlude from a normally hectic life, whilst for others it was a form of hell. Probably for most of us it was a complex mixture of many things and for the vast majority it has been challenging.

Living In The Shadow Of Unprecedented Times

Over time the lockdown has eased in some places and then been re-asserted in others. It seems as if we are in for a bumpy few months at least, if not longer. In my own experience it’s more challenging living with the current phase where many countries are trying to get the economy going whilst always living in the shadow of the virus. Life is already feeling more complex and unstable compared to a few weeks ago, and who knows what will unfold over the coming weeks and months. And, of course, not only are we living with the coronavirus; but society is being shaken to its core with the appalling and shocking murder of George Floyd and the uprising of the anti-racist movement in many countries, with enormous economic uncertainty, and with rapid political and social changes in many countries.

Read more: Learn how the RAIN-method can help with dealing with bad news stories.

I know it’s become a hackneyed phrase, but these are indeed unprecedented times. The only thing that is certain at the moment, is uncertainty!

Mindfulness & Compassion For Navigating Uncertainty

Bearing this in mind I’ve been thinking deeply about how mindfulness and compassion can help us manage these times. How can these two great qualities help us navigate uncertainty?

In Buddhism, it is said that wisdom and compassion are like the two wings of a bird and they are the two over-riding qualities that lead to freedom. It is only when they are finely balanced that the bird is able to fly. Wisdom needs to be balanced with compassionate action. Mindful awareness needs to be balanced with kindness. Presence needs to be balanced with openness.

Read more: Clinical psychologist and Dharma teacher Mal Huxter explores how to adapt Buddha’s teachings in order to find ways to reduce the suffering associated with coronavirus.

Being Mindful & Open

Presence, mindfulness or wisdom allows us to stay with our immediate experience in each present moment, rather than being swept away by worries for the future. Surely a crucial skill in these times when it is so easy to get lost in “what ifs” about a world that is in such turmoil. Openness means we can meet whatever arrives with a kindly attitude rather than tightening against it. Again, surely a crucial skill when so many of us will be feeling fear, anger, anxiety and other tricky emotions. Openness also means we can be open to others at the very time when it is all too easy to withdraw into a tight ball of isolation. Again, a crucial skill in these times.

By cultivating both clear-eyed present moment awareness and openness of heart we will have a chance of getting through these times with less suffering for ourselves, and, perhaps even more importantly, a sense of deep connection with our fellow travellers: the 7 billion other human beings all walking beside us through these days. We can drop beneath all the obvious differences – politically, socially, racially – and touch into all that we share: the simple breath, a desire to avoid pain, and a longing for happiness. This is what unites us and it can be a powerful practice to focus on commonality rather than difference to balance out the polarisation that is so obvious in today’s world.

Practice present moment awareness, compassion and openness with these guided meditations:

  1. The Open Heart Meditation Vidyamala Burch 9:55
  2. Recognising Human Connection Vidyamala Burch 12:12
  3. The Compassionate Breath Meditation Vidyamala Burch 11:33
  4. Compassionate Body Scan Vidyamala Burch 14:46

The Rippling Effect Of Compassion & Mindfulness

Each moment we show up with presence and openness rather than contraction is a truly heroic act and each of these moments will have an effect not only on ourselves but also the people we come into contact with. It will then have an effect on the people they come into contact with and so it goes on. It has a ripple effect that may go far beyond what we could ever imagine. Will you join me in this great endeavour? Let go of contraction and soften into presence and openness. It is that simple. If we each did this again and again and again the world would surely be a better place.

If you want to dive deeper into finding stability and peace of mind in the midst of uncertainty and learn how to cultivate more presence and openness, we recommend Vidyamala’s 10-day course “10 Rules For Survival”, which draws on lessons learned during the COVID-19 crisis and offers a comprehensive toolkit for using mindfulness and compassion to manage challenging times. Listen to day one below:

  1. Rule 1 - The Power Of Awareness - SOS Quick ‘Pick-Me-Ups’ Vidyamala Burch 14:28

Explore day 2 of Vidyamalas course “10 Rules for Survival: Mindfulness & Compassion in Challenging Time”.

Meditation. Free.