“Don’t just do something, stand there”

We’re in such an odd time now, with frightening things unfolding at the same time that other things feel nearly normal.

I feel very aware of how lucky I am – the changes I’m experiencing are small compared to many. I often work from home so in that sense these last weeks haven’t been unusual, although I normally mix my week up a bit more. But everyone else being online has made for a much more intense experience: more emails, video calls, immediate and remote demands. There has been a lot. A lot in the news too, a lot to adjust to, a lot of creative and generous online offers, and also a lot of noise.

On the first Saturday post-full-lockdown I took part in a video-linked meditation retreat, an event which had been moved online. Although I’d felt fine in the week before, sitting and just breathing I found myself immediately feeling upset. This can happen, when we stop. Running about doing things is a good way to feel some sense of control, and to distract or disconnect from deeper feelings that might be around. Sometimes that’s helpful, but for me it also meant that it almost came as a surprise to notice how sad I felt about what has been happening. The meditation teacher was talking about “the impact of a week where there’s been too much, too fast, too soon”, and I think he nailed it.

Mindfulness practices can help us to respond to situations rather than react to them. Some of the questions which came up in those two hours included: how do we respond to this situation we find ourselves in, in the way we want to? And how do we take care of ourselves so that we can be as open and caring as we want to be with others?

For me these questions called to mind the daily briefings. The Prime Minister flanked by scientific advisors and the chancellor while news is delivered to those watching and waiting, hoping that they will be helped. The government must be under huge pressure right now, but I find myself saddened at the lack of perspective-taking, the mixed messages and plans which are not yet fully thought through, announced without the necessary detail. More good questions, this time from journalists, about why we aren’t cooperating more with other countries, and why protective equipment for NHS staff is so sparse, seem to be dodged and fudged. To me, it doesn’t feel kind enough.

Despite all the talk there has been about coronavirus being a great leveller, it is of course nothing of the sort. Those who are already disadvantaged will be further disadvantaged. Children from homes where there are no books and there is little money for basic needs like food will not be having the same home schooling experience as those with so much more. Those who come from homes where there is violence, abuse, neglect, will be having a bleak few months and are likely to be in danger from more than coronavirus. Things are going on as normal and yet they are not. A fear of an invisible threat makes us pull tighter together in some ways but it can also make us cast people out even more. I’m watching as the emergency Coronavirus Act removes the need for councils to meet disabled people’s needs in the same way, or for the same assessment standards to be met when people are being restrained under a section of the Mental Health Act. Rights of children are also being compromised, especially looked after children, in the name of freeing up health and social care resource. Of course this is a stretched and difficult time, but at stretched and difficult times we probably need safeguarding of rights even more.

There is a lot of stuff being done, being said, being live-streamed, right now. Last weekend I thought more about how we can make sure we also pause, before the doing. Not that we don’t act, but that we make a bit of space to stop, think and feel before we do, so that we can respond thoughtfully and with care. We can’t choose what happens with coronavirus, we can’t choose how our leaders behave, but we can each choose how we connect with others and how we also connect with ourselves.

If we hold ourselves kindly in this we should have more of a sense of personal emotional resource to be able to reach out and support others. For me, currently, what that means in practice changes every day. Sometimes it’s leaving my phone in a different room for several hours so I don’t keep looking at the news. Sometimes it’s going to bed for an hour on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes it’s going for a run. Like the quote in the title, attributed to many different sources, sometimes the most useful thing is, in fact, not to do something, but just to stand there. Not for too long, maybe… but for a pause.

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