October is National Mental Health Month, a time to encourage conversations about mental health and wellbeing. The theme for this year’s Mental Health Month is Post Pandemic Recovery – Challenges and Resilience.
There is no doubt that our communities, our families, our selves will be changed by the current pandemic experience. For some people those changes will be small, while for others their entire lives will look different.
The good news is that even if we’ve been severely impacted by the pandemic, there are things we can do to help us recover and build resilience. But on the way there, it’s important to allow ourselves space to grieve for what we have lost.
I saw this play out a few weeks ago during the 7 Day Awakening Joy Challenge I held with Katrina Roberg. A group of 12 participants joined us via Zoom twice a day for seven days to share simple practices to nourish the body and open the mind to joy.
The group was very committed to the concepts and practices around cultivating joy. But it was important for us to start the Challenge by acknowledging the context in which we were meeting. We were in the middle of (another) long lockdown in Melbourne, Covid numbers were rising, there had been violent protests in the community, and we even had the shock of an earthquake during the week of the Challenge.
We talked about our collective experience of disenfranchised grief. About how our lives have fundamentally changed while the world looks the same, which means what we have lost often goes unacknowledged.
We talked about how what we’re experiencing is so much more than stress – it’s sadness, fear, unemployment, disconnection, isolation, loss of eros, the list goes on.
We acknowledged that the collective experience of the pandemic needs a collective response. It’s important to feel heard and to really listen to others’ experiences without trying to fix anything.
Bringing these issues to light allowed us to look at them, hold them, feel them, but also let them go to some degree. We were not alone in our grief, and there was a lightness in that.
So how did we cultivate joy in the midst of this loss and grief? We worked with the principal that the body will always move towards wellbeing if you provide the right conditions. This is where inclining the mind towards joy is so helpful.
The challenge we posed to everyone was “Can you let in the good?” We looked at a new joy theme each day and provided simple ways to orient towards the good. ‘Gratitude’, ‘joy in difficult times’, ‘letting go’, ‘connection with self’ and ‘connection with others’ were a few topics covered during the week.
We focused on nourishing and nurturing practices that relieved some of the stresses that were obscuring our natural states of joy (rather than getting things right, or adding to an already over-full plate). Moving towards wellbeing was supported by body-based relaxation practices, what we call ‘presencing’ and ‘noticing’ (mindfulness).
We were lucky enough to welcome James Baraz, the founder of the internationally-recognised Awakening Joy course, as a special guest during the Challenge. James dialled in from California to lead one of the morning sessions. He reinforced that there is ‘no getting it wrong’ when it comes to finding joy. He also highlighted the importance of kindness and patience when changing habits of the mind.
At the end of the Challenge the participants let us know they found the week nourishing and that they had found snippets of joy scattered, like fairy lights, throughout each day.
Joy in everyday life is always available, no matter what’s happening. Inclining our mind towards joy can feel hard at first, but like with anything, with a set of tools and practise it becomes easier. Being able to find it is an important aspect of recovery and resilience when we experience tough times like these.