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Facing anxiety of the ‘new normal’

Have you recently noticed a nervousness in the air? Something you may not have been aware of before? We may feel tension in our bodies as we try to live in a ‘new normal’ world. There may be a tightness in our heads, chests and bellies as we return to our physical work buildings and meet our colleagues or go shopping again on a busy street or socialise more with our friends.

Research shows that even positive change can lead to anxiety, and it can take time to readjust to things we have not done for a while. Although feelings of post-lockdown anxiety are likely to pass, it’s important to take care of our mental health.

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A time to heal

Our job is to move away from the inner critic or inner condemner and move toward divine love and compassion.

We all have a desire to be happy and free from depression, anxiety and trauma symptoms. These challenges were particularly common during the intense period of the pandemic, and many of us continue to struggle with its residue.  

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The power of outstretched hands

Do you ever find yourself getting stuck in negativity after a challenging interaction? Or perhaps you’re not conscious of your inner dialogue but find that you dip in mood afterwards? I had the opportunity to face such demons head on with a kind hearted and wise man.

Like the open-armed statue of Francis of Assisi at Ards Friary in County Donegal, I’ve been able to let go over the last couple of weeks. I’ve let go of my plans, I’ve let go of my dreams, and I’ve let go of my stress for something much bigger and warmer.

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Giving voice to the elderly

Can we imagine feeling alone, unappreciated, forgotten, with the news of peers dying from Covid-19?

A new toolkit is being promoted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to help older people during the pandemic. Called Living with the Times, it contains five illustrated posters with key messages on how to maintain their wellbeing, while supporting those around them at the same time.

Poster four encourages older people to get help if they need it. It shows several colourful scenes with a person or group of people doing the following:

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Bombed-out and rebooted

I know I wasn’t alone in the shelled-out, disorientated state. The trauma of Covid-19 was clearly seen after a year of coping and doing what was necessary to keep my head above water. I had many psychological and spiritual tools to my belt – from meditating to running to spending time with family – but my strength and resilience was dwindling day by day. I wondered how long I could keep it up. I wondered how long I could survive.

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A happy, free heart

It was a time when I learned to love myself – that warm, expansive feeling in my chest that makes life meaningful.

I have just finished another eight-week programme, this time a Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) course with the Mindfulness Centre in Dublin. Based on the pioneering work of American psychologists Kristin Neff and Chris Gerber, it was a crash course of the heart that left me hungry for more. Each week we were presented with different meditative practices and workbook exercises that focused on the three factors of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness. I offer you some of my learnings based on three stages of progress.

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Listening to Sarah

How tender is your heart when you hear of someone like Sarah who has recently tested positive for Covid-19? How much do you really listen? How much do you really care? I became aware of my own hard-heartedness some years ago at a 30-day silent retreat known as the Spiritual Exercises. I was invited, through much soul searching, to let go of what no longer served me and to embody a new way of being in the world. I invite you to listen to Sarah’s story from this more contemplative perspective and to see if it has any resonance with you.

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Our ‘Can-Do’ attitude

What becomes obvious from Barack Obama’s latest best-selling book, A Promised Land, is that he wanted to tune into a bigger picture, something beyond his own ego and ambition. Over time, he aligned his own will with the will of the American people.

He learned to deeply listen to his constituents as well as to those from outside his reach. With his family and team behind him, he brought promise to those who believed in a humanity that is enhanced through a shared sense of pain and suffering.

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Mindful spaciousness

Learning to create a space between us and our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations during sitting meditation is an incredibly liberating experience. Not only does it help prevent us from falling into unwanted habits, but it also enables us to communicate from a deeper, warmer place or ‘heart centre’. This is a place where faith and mindfulness can merge.

Imagine, for instance, sitting with Jesus and cooking fish on a charcoal fire by the lake shore. You hear his words: “Come to me, you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”. You share your pain with him without judging it, you experience his gentle and humble heart, and you find rest for your soul. Your body feels lighter, your mind becomes spacious and you view your experience more compassionately.

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