The past few weeks have seen a huge step forward in the search for a vaccine against Covid-19. This week, Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, explains how to deal with the news after a long and incredibly difficult year.
The past few weeks have seen more and more details emerge about an effective vaccine against coronavirus. Pfizer and BioNTech’s RNA vaccine, one of 11 in the final stages of testing, has a 90 per cent success rate in preventing the illness. The UK government has already purchased 40 million doses – enough to vaccinate up to one third of the population. There is the possibility of ‘normal life’ – whatever that means – from the spring. Those of us who are shielding, or have vulnerable family, are breathing easier. Nor is it the only good news of the last few weeks: the multi-day limbo of the US election has resolved, and our American members of the University are getting some sleep.
There may be something to be said for 2020, after all. For a while it didn’t look that way. As Kate Atkinson put it when she titled her 2008 Jackson Brodie novel, When Will There Be Good News? this year’s horrors may not be quite the same as Atkinson’s litany of fantastical bad luck, accidents, maleficence, and incompetence (all set in Edinburgh), but the plaintive title has sung in my head a hundred times over the last several months. As the tide eventually turns for Brodie, here we are, too: some good news at last.
How does it feel, when the news is good? Perhaps the leaves in the Meadows look brighter; you have more energy as you walk. You see the faces of the people in the street, rather than the gaps in-between. When you wake in the mornings, maybe your head isn’t quite so heavy. Quietly, without fanfare, a low-lying haar of discontent may melt into the clean autumnal air.
But the heft of this year still weighs upon us. If you have been in a state of numbness, the news of the last few days may have touched you very little. A Whatsapp message, a quickly scanned headline, and then, tick tock, back to work; a concept, a photograph of a smiling face, and then – once more – the looming dullness of your essay. Or perhaps a twist of doubt in the stomach; remembrance of mistakes made, and the certainty of more. ‘Spring?’ you think, and ‘I can’t wait that long.’
Be gentle with yourselves, in the midst of this glimmer on the horizon, its promise of change, and the sense, too, that we have some way yet to go. Momentous news deserves its own time and space; its turn around the garden or the Meadows, its cup of tea in the darkening room as the streetlights glow. Here’s how you might go about it.
1. Give it time
Set aside some time, this week, to spend with your choice of good news. Turn off your phone; let the light fade without turning on a lamp; lie on a comfortable sofa, wrapped in a rug. You may like to do this Grounding and Settling practice, to ease the mind, and create the space for reflection.
Then bring the news to mind, and hold it there, gently.
Notice, and name, what it brings up in you: excitement; relief; nervousness; cynicism. Notice if the mind jumps to ‘but…’ and ‘what about…’. Notice what your body feels like. You may be more tired than you expect, or have more energy.
Your emotions, too, may be complex. Unfettered delight may come upon you, for the first time in months; if you are stressed and exhausted, you may feel some numbness, or a wish to cry.
Give this space, too. Have another drink of your tea. Admire the orange marigolds.
2. Move closer
Notice where it is in the body that the ‘good’ of good news resonates. If there is excitement, there may be energy in the chest; joy may foster warmth in the face and throat. The sense of the poignant, or the bittersweet, will have its own place.
Move in closer. Allow your awareness to meet the good, the energy, the warmth. Rest in this place; soak it up. The poignant and the bittersweet, too, deserve to sit with you a while. Stay with them, gently; if the mind tightens in upon the painful spot, broaden it deliberately, so that it takes in once again the lightness, the warmth, the solidity of your feet on the ground, or your seat on the chair.
3. Move on out
After spending some time in this way, notice if there’s any impulse coming up to act, to respond in some way to the news. This could take the form of a verbal thought, or an image in the mind.
Sometimes what comes up is very simple. You will leave the to-do list, and go to bed early. You may envisage a phone call, or a hot bath. See what comes to mind – and notice, too, if you dismiss it out of hand.
And sometimes an idea slips into consciousness – a half-forgotten wish, with a shape much longer than the span of today – because you have given it the space to do so. Note it. In due course, give it its own wander round the garden, and its own cup of tea. These are the seeds of tomorrow’s good news.
Over the last several months, many of you have told us that this would all be more bearable if you knew there was an end-date, and when it would be: Christmas, or the spring. The difference between last week, and now, is that – as another novelist wrote – there is The Sense of an Ending. Lean into it. It will come.
Mindfulness at the Chaplaincy runs online throughout Semester 1. Free twice-weekly lunchtime mindfulness drop-ins started Tuesday 22 September. During Covid-19, connection to each other and the people we care about is more important than ever. Kitty’s new six-month postcard and connection project, Why Don’t You Write Me, launches at the Chaplaincy at the beginning of December. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register interest.
Photography: Sam Sills