A few years back, I went through a phase of being a tad over zealous about the benefits of 'mindfulness' meditation. At the time, I was trying to stay focused on life in the moment because reflecting excessively on a history of not so glorious past moments that led up to the present was too much to bear. One friend who rang me to discuss her very fragile mental health, rejected my advice to sit quietly in a room and focus on her breathing to get her in touch with the now. She sardonically suggested that being aware that she was breathing in the here and now was the problem to begin with. Who was I to tell her to focus on life in the moment when her moments were full of pain and suffering? Ironically, my own focus on living in the present was preventing me from taking an honest look at how my behaviour and decision making affected others in the past, present and possible future, not to mention myself.
My friend didn't want to accept the here and now warts and all. She wanted the hope of a not too distant contented future. All I had to offer her were the trite aphorisms of watered down Buddhism and evenings of sitting alone in a room listening to the sound of her breath as she drifted in and out of suicidal ideation. As nice and all as Buddhists tend to be, it's no wonder they have far fewer converts than Christianity and Islam. The Christians tell you that you can cash in a life of suffering for eternal paradise and the Muslims offer you, the males anyway, an after life of orgies, which surprisingly appeals to quite a few men. An eternity of group sex wouldn't do it for me. It all sounds a bit too clammy and noisy and team work isn't one of my strengths. Who knows what female Muslims get in this imagined after life? A better deal would be a good start. Celestial orgies and eternal paradise versus the Buddhist maxim that life is suffering and the best you can hope for is being blissed out trying not to think about it like some kind of aspiring simpleton. While I tend to agree with the Buddhists, it's a terrible marketing strategy.
All that said, mindfulness has its salutary effects. While not a panacea for all of life's woes, slowing one's breathing down and watching what one is immediately conscious of does have a calming effect. There are free lessons on you tube or you can learn it from a book. It's simple and you don't need any self proclaimed guru types to bestow their pseudo-wisdom on you. However, life in the Covid-19 era feels like we are living through a period of enforced mindfulness. We are encouraged in every moment to be acutely aware to keep out of each other's paths as if we are all dog turds that no one wants to tread on. And you thought you were special?
One thing I will say in defence of Covid-19, is that nothing gives life a sense of immediacy more than trying to dodge an ever present infectious disease. Not only am I intensely conscious of my own breathing as I gasp like a neurotic Darth Vader in my medical mask in the queue outside Tesco, but I am also hyper perceptive to any one else breathing within two metres of me. Once inside the shop, I am then immediately aware that the shopping basket handles need to be sanitised with one of my alcohol based wipes, just in case the last person to use it filled it with nothing but croutons to go with his vat of bat soup simmering on the stove at home. When this is all over we will never be able to tell people with contamination based OCD that it's all in their heads ever again.