Practicing Mindfulness Can Help Us Through COVID-19 Pandemic

Tuning into the present reality, gaining a broader sense of connection can help us elevate as a society
July 13, 2020 Updated: July 13, 2020

We seem to have mastered the perfect recipe for chaos: a global ecological emergency, humanitarian crises, and to top it off, a pandemic of epic proportions. Where do we begin to make sense of the current times?

Or more importantly, how can we move towards a positive systemic shift that leaves no one behind?

How about taking a breath?

Mindfulness, a once-traditional Buddhist practice has become a normalized part of secular society and is lauded by many health and wellness authorities. It is now found in many public spaces such as schoolspoliticsmilitary units, and hospitals.

Increasingly, researchers are finding new applications and interventions for mindfulness practices to enhance individual well-being, including the reduction of stressanxiety, and depression. While these have demonstrated promise for improving numerous aspects of human health, little research has explored the potential benefits for mindfulness to contribute to collective well-being, especially during times of widespread crisis.

My research has found that, depending on the practice and its applicationmindfulness can be used to advance a broader sustainability agenda—as well as individual wellness. The relatively unexplored impacts of mindfulness on supporting sustainability has immense value to offer in times of crisis, particularly COVID-19.

Mindfulness and COVID-19

Researchers have found that mindfulness practice can increase compassion and empathy, which are essential traits for supporting both individual and collective resilience.

And as social distancing and quarantine measures keep us physically separate and yearning for connection, the role of mindfulness in nurturing feelings of interconnectedness and reducing risk factors for loneliness and isolation has become increasingly important.

Epoch Times Photo
In response to physical distancing guidelines, mindfulness classes have moved online. (Shutterstock)

Mindfulness has also been found to deepen the connection to nature.

Together, this understanding and commitment to well-being for all are critical processes to mitigate our current unsustainable ways of being and doing. Since mindfulness has been found to reduce consumerism and promote more sustainable consumption habits, it supports a path for tackling large sustainability challenges.

First Responders and Frontline Workers

Additionally, for first responders who are facing likely unprecedented high levels of chronic stress as a result of COVID-19, mindfulness can also help reduce compassion fatigue and workplace burnout.

Furthermore, in light of the current tension between police and civilians, mindfulness may also offer benefits as it has been found to reduce aggression in law enforcement officers.

Despite the numerous potential benefits of mindfulness, finding effective ways to leverage these practices, while also recognizing some of their drawbacks and limitations, remains an ongoing challenge.

Drawbacks of Mindfulness

To increase marketability, mindfulness has been largely separated from its Buddhist roots. In the process, many of the traditional moral and ethical elements of the practice have been replaced with a more individualized and often self-serving agenda.

Business ventures that target high-spending and elite consumers, including GoogleApple, and Nike, have capitalized on this niche in the wellness market. Mindfulness is a profitable and growing multibillion-dollar industry.

Mindfulness practices that reinforce a notion of self as separate from the rest of nature and society can risk missing many benefits of traditional mindfulness practice. Similarly, by focusing exclusively on developing a heightened awareness of self, mindfulness practitioners can fail to see the consequences of their behaviors.

Individualized mindfulness practices that are preoccupied with enhancing pleasure and enjoyment, as opposed to ending suffering, can inadvertently encourage materialism and selfishness.

Epoch Times Photo
Mindfulness has become a multibillion-dollar industry. (Shutterstock)

A Mindful Future

Rather than leveraging mindfulness as a productivity hackproduct, or service, mindful practice could enhance both individual and collective well-being while supporting broader sustainability progress. For this to be conceived and pursued, the ways by which we define, practice, and apply mindfulness need to be reexamined, and in some cases, transformed.

One such transformation is the integration of mindfulness practices into peace-building initiatives in conflict areas. In places such as refugee camps, mindfulness is used to support resilience building, while simultaneously fostering both individual and collective well-being.

As our new reality unfolds under the circumstances imposed by COVID-19, it continues to reveal further socio-ecological challenges. We will need to learn how to practice mindfulness wisely, in a manner that reduces suffering for all beings, in both the present moment and the post-pandemic future.

 is a doctoral candidate at the school of environment, resources, and sustainability at the University of Waterloo in Canada. This article was first published on The Conversation.