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Wellness Wednesday: Mother Nature can help us cope with Covid-19 confinement. Time to walk, look and meditate!

Mindfulness teacher Gerry Raftery says Spring brings us much-needed stillness and simplicity.

Gerry Raftery

It’s a difficult time for everyone, with the Covid-19 outbreak bringing severe and unexpected changes to our lives. Here at TheJournal.ie, we are running a weekly Voices column, ‘Wellness Wednesday’, in which we feature advice and information from mental health professionals, yoga teachers, mindfulness practitioners and more. We hope this weekly section will help you, our readers, navigate this unprecedented shift in how we live.

This week, we hear from Gerry Raftery, who teaches Mindfulness and Meditation in Co Limerick, alongside his wife Mairin MacDermott, a Chartered Psychologist. Gerry finds that applying mindfulness thinking and practices to the current situation is helpful and here, he says it’s the simple things that can carry us through.

THE MEDIA RECENTLY carried a photograph of the Taoiseach Leo Varadker on a telephone call to the Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang. Some journalists commentated on what you could see on the Taoiseach’s desk and what these things would tell us about him.

However, none of them seemed to spot the little green book facing him. It was “The Little Book of Mindfulness”.  Hopefully, he opens it from time to time. Now more than ever he needs the help of mindfulness.

1 Varadkar Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar spoke by phone with Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, last week. Source: GIS Press Office

There is plenty of material published on how to protect ourselves physically from the coronavirus. But what about our mental health? Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, Dr Brendan Kelly, has recently published a small book “Coping with Coronavirus – How to stay Calm and Protect your Mental Health.”  In the book, Dr Kelly refers frequently to mindfulness techniques.

We know how to be mindful

A neighbour who recently read one of my pieces on mindfulness in a local newspaper said that while she didn’t know much about it, she felt she was doing it all the time. This is true for most people. Mindfulness comes naturally to us, as we have the ability to be aware, to notice, observe and admire the world around us. 

During this time of confinement because of Covid-19, many of us have plenty of time to become more aware of our natural ability to be mindful. As we walk and are aware of our surroundings in the here and now, we are in fact meditating.

People can feel that they are prisoners in their own homes. Most of us can take only a short walk each day or go to the shops for essential supplies. Others cannot go out at all, we are “cocooned”. We now live in a greatly shrunken world, it has become small and narrow. We need to find ways to expand our world by beginning to notice and see the great wonders which surround us now.

We have been advised by doctors to walk. While walking provides us with great exercise, it also gives us an opportunity to be mindful as we look about and notice the world around us.

Walk, look, meditate!

Allow me to share my own experience with you. My world outside of our house has been reduced to a garden where I take my walks. I feel blessed and grateful that we have a garden; many people live in more confined spaces. 

SPRING WEATHER 758A7528 Spring has sprung. Spring daffodils explode in bright colour as the sun comes out on a fine Spring day. Source: Photo: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

As I take my daily walks, I have come to notice simple things like ditches and old walls. I think they are a source of history and mystery. They can hold an amazing fascination. The writer and mapmaker Tim Robinson, who died recently of the virus in the UK, spent many years looking at the stone walls of the Aran Islands and wrote two brilliant books about them entitled “Stones of Aran”.

Walking around our garden I’m aware of primroses that grow naturally there and other flowers which I have sown in recent weeks. As the daffodils drift away other flowers appear. It is blossom time. There are buds on the trees, in the next few weeks, the fresh green leaves will appear.

The great BBC gardener, Monty Don, says April is the month of great change in the garden. In his book, “Down to Earth”, Don writes, “The month opens with a prickle of green in the hedgerows and ends full-blown, steaming into May on a fanfare of new growth.” No wonder the poet Patrick Kavanagh described April as a “sensational” month. He was a mindful poet who could see the sensational in the ordinary and the banal.

national-trust-allotment-scheme TV gardening personality Monty Don in the National Trust garden in London. Source: PA

This year we have a chance to see the sensational beauty of nature unfold as we walk round and round our narrow spaces. There is time to notice wonders in the grass. The other day we noticed a big bee moving diligently around our garden, we think it is queen searching for a place to establish her colony and her hive. Suddenly we have become curious about the life of bees.

The Robin

Over the past while I have found that a small bird is enriching my enclosed life. It is a robin redbreast. Regularly we feed the robin at our backdoor. I drop some breadcrumbs on to a dish and then I stand in stillness. The robin comes within a few centimetres of my feet. It has one eye on the food and the other eye on me.

In my stillness, I can see the beauty of the robin close up, smooth soft dark brown feathers on its back, the distinctive red breast, small beak and short tail. It is a moment of unusual intimacy. When the robin has finished eating it quickly flies away.

Later walking in the garden the robin lands on a branch near me. I stop and look, the robin begins to sing its beautiful clarion song. Rooted there listening, I find that the robin’s song gives me a moment of beauty and calm. 

The stars – All Shall be Well

As the day of “confinement” comes to an end, I find some liberation in the stars.

My night-time moment of mindfulness is standing beneath the stars. On clear nights I go outside and find myself standing and gazing in wonder at the stars above.

I know nothing about constellations or astronomy, but I am awed and astonished by what I see. I am aware of the vastness of the earth and how small I am. I think of the lines of Julian of Norwich, a writer in the Middle Ages,

All shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well.

Awareness of the beauty of life in the ordinary and meditation on the simple things around can bring us through this horrible time of loss, quarantine, panic and fear. 

Happy Easter to you all!

Gerry Raftery teaches Mindfulness and Meditation in Cork and Limerick. More at ger.raftery@gmail.com.

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Gerry Raftery

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