We’ve all been caught in this coronavirus quarantine holding pattern. It can be stressful. Many of us are feeling some increased worry or anxiety. Chris Kelly Glavin, Editor-in-Chief of Mama Lama, sat down online with Dr. Marilyn Jean Hauser, PSYD and asked for her advice on the subject.
Dr. Hauser (“Jean”) offers some insight into how one might reframe our thinking to improve our mental health and self-care. Mindfulness is a large part of Dr. Hauser’s approach. In this time, when many are looking for solutions, one thing to try is changing your focus.
Change Your Focus
Chris: I’m talking to a lot of anxious people in my community. Is there any advice you can give to help us deal with the worry caused by this pandemic?
Jean: […] You’ve heard the message on the news, you’ve got the information. If there’s something you can do about it, do it! Otherwise, change your focus of thought with the underlying intention of being helpful. You might send loving kindness to yourself and compassion to the entire world.
The point is to refocus… Drop it and go on about your business so that you are acknowledging what you heard. If you can help, help. If you’re puzzled by something, ask your own self, your own higher wisdom, “Can I come to the meaning of this? Can I know what I could do with this,” and then let it go, something will come.
Find a Mantra
Chris: What do you mean by “let it go” when we keep going back to the thought over and over again?
Jean: Another thing you could do is say a mantra. You can use other words like prayer or simply a positive word. Just begin to say to yourself, “Peace… Peace… Peace…,” or whatever word or words would help you come into a kinder state of mind.
Consider a word like “love” and you say it over and over again. Say it until something else grabs your awareness. You keep that mantra going all day long or all night long if it is something that touches your heart.
You don’t say it out loud, you just say it in your mind all the time and it fills that space. Otherwise, your mind fills the space for you. If you are an artist, you do creative work and immerse yourself in your art. The point is to reframe. A mantra can help.
Write Your Own Ending
Chris: What would you suggest to someone having nightmares?
Jean: Acknowledge the nightmare. Look at the story of it. Then end the nightmare however you would like it to end. It is just as if you’ve written the story yourself. As an example, somebody is about to harm me in the nightmare and I wake up. I see that, and then I add my own ending and it can change the entire sense of the dream story. I could change it and see myself flying to California. End the dream in a positive way, really see it, however, you feel it would be beneficial to you.
Chris: Perfect! You taught me that technique years ago. It really works!
Jean: You have to reframe that nightmare so that it ends on a positive note.
Clearing the Heart and Mind
Chris: Is there one last piece of advice that you might give people stuck in the house right now, maybe working from home, homeschooling children?
Jean: I had a friend call me today and she was p*ssed off at her relatives and she didn’t want to be generous and yet she’s a very generous person. So I said to her, Why don’t you just say to yourself, “May I be generous? Or may I open my heart?” Or she could say, “May I begin to calm down.” And take three deep breaths. It helps to take a lot of deep breaths during the day.
We call them gathas. Let me get the book and tell you what I mean.
Chris: Yes, I would love that! What book are you talking about?
Jean: We call these sayings gathas from Thich Nhat Hanh in, The Energy of Prayer: How To Deepen Your Spiritual Practice. There are different gathas for different happenings.
Say you have to sweep the floor, and you might say to yourself, “As I sweep the floor, may the ground of enlightenment, a tree of understanding spring up from the Earth.” So you’re sweeping, and you’re asking that you’re sweeping the ground for enlightenment and for understanding, as well as cleaning the floor. Do you get it? (Nhat Hanh)
Washing the vegetables, “In these fresh vegetables I see a sun. So many things join together to make life possible.” You could say something like, “In these fresh vegetables I’m washing, may I be calm, not only in my body but in my mind and my heart].” (Nhat Hanh)
© LightFieldStudios / Getty iStock
Cleaning the bathroom, “How wonderful it is to scrub and clean day by day, while the heart and mind grow clearer.” (Nhat Hanh)
This is a good one, “Water flows over these hands. May I use them skillfully to preserve our precious planet.” (Nhat Hanh)
So you use whatever you’re doing as an intention. Thich Nhat Hanh would call that a gatha.
Chris: I love that last one!
[End of interview]
Reframing our thoughts and changing our focus is not avoiding stress. It is meeting it, acknowledging it, and allowing for other possibilities. Therapists Linda and Charlie Bloom, explain:
Reframing is not a denial that the challenge that we have been dealt is a difficult one. Even though our circumstance may be fraught with hardship, we can learn to trust the cycles of life. We discover that this is a process of life that repeats itself, as do the cycles of summer, fall, winter, and then rebirth in spring. Through an understanding and trust of this transformative process, we come to have faith that periods of decline, whether they last for minutes or months, can become periods of vibrancy. We are less likely to be possessed by ongoing moods of pessimism, hopelessness, or resentment. Our prevailing attitude becomes one that is more optimistic. (PsychologyToday.com).
Finally, where are we going and how will this pandemic end?
Much like Dr. Hauser suggests writing your own ending to overcome fear, Kelly Corrigan uses creative visualization to write a positive ending to the Covid-19 pandemic. Corrigan tells Judy Woodruff of PBS Newshour, “Sometimes when I feel outmatched by the thing in front of me, I do a little mental exercise. I tell myself the story of what happened as if it’s over and I nailed it” (Corrigan).
Whatever label is placed upon the practice, be it mindfulness, mantras, intention, reframing, or creative visualization, the ultimate purpose is the same. Everyone wants to find peace within themselves, with the world, and for the world.
Corrigan’s detailed visualization to the ending of this pandemic comes down to one overarching goal. She says, “We came, finally and forever, to appreciate the profound face of our shared humanity and relish the full force of our love for one another (Corrigan).” A lovely vision, indeed. Namaste.
If you or someone you know is in need of assistance or has questions regarding their mental or physical health, please always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
The Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation offers resources specific to managing the impact of Covid-19 on ourselves and on our community here: https://thichnhathanhfoundation.org/covid-resources-dharmatalks
- Gathas: Gathas are short verses that help us practice mindfulness in our daily activities. (“Be Mindful…”)
- Mantra: A mantra is a motivating chant […] usually any repeated word or phrase, but it can also refer more specifically to a word repeated in meditation. (“Mantra”)
- Thich Nhat Hanh: Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is a global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist, renowned for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace. (“The Life Story…”)
“Be Mindful in Daily Life.” ThichNhatHanhFoundation.org,
thichnhathanhfoundation.org/be-mindful-in-daily-life. Accessed 2 May 2020.
Bloom, Linda, and Charlie Bloom. “Reframing: The transformative power of suffering.”
Accessed 1 May 2020.
Corrigan, Kelly. Interview by Judy Woodruff. PBS NewsHour, 29 April, 2020,
Accessed 3 May 2020.
“Mantra.” Vocabulary.com, www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/mantra. Accessed 3 May
Nhat Hanh, Thich. The Energy of Prayer: How To Deepen Your Spiritual Practice.
Parallax Press, 2006.
“The Life Story of Thich Nhat Hanh.” PlumVillage.org.
plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/biography/. Accessed 3 May 2020.