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Mindfulness for Challenging Times: the ZOOM Exercise

11 Aug 2020 | Shamash Alidina

Mindfulness Dark Times

Lots of us are going through hard times at the moment.  Maybe you've lost your job. Perhaps you're struggling in your personal relationships. Loneliness or loss may be a challenge for you, or maybe you're feeling deeply overwhelmed by all the changes that surround you.

Firstly, remember you're not alone. Whatever challenge you're facing, I hope the words here will offer you some peace. These certainly are challenging times for millions of people, and although not everyone is suffering, many people are. So first of all, do remember, you're not alone in your suffering. Taking some time to reflect that we are all in this together can help.

Secondly, appreciate the difference between pain and suffering. Your challenges may be causing you pain right now. And we all experience pain at some time. It can be the physical pain of an injury or illness, or the emotional pain of a loss or change. But in mindfulness, we distinguish between pain and suffering.

Pain is inevitable. But suffering is what arises when you struggle to accept what can't be changed. Acceptance is simple, but not easy. Mindfulness offers many ways to accept what's happening in your life. Not an acceptance that's giving up or tolerating. But an acceptance that's empowering, life-affirming and calming. An acceptance that makes you feel like you're rising to your challenge.

Pain And Suffering

Whether you've tried mindfulness before, or considering trying it for the first time, begin with short, simple exercises. Start with some everyday mindfulness - being conscious of your day to day activities. Then try the short guided mindfulness meditation at the end of this blog post. There are many 3 minute guided audio exercises to get you going available online too. And try the longer meditations when you're ready to dive in - but no rush.

There are many misconceptions about mindfulness. They can lead to unnecessary struggles. Mindfulness is not trying to relax. It's not about thinking positively. And it's not about making your mind blank. Then what is? It's about simply being present with what is. Being open to your moment to moment experience with acceptance, kindness and curiosity. No silent mind required. So you can do it, and you can bring your crazy mind along with you - it's very welcome. You can be mindful in this way right now, and you can also do mindful meditations to deepen that experience.

Be Present

Whatever happens, please don't feel you're doing anything wrong in your response to your challenges. It's really hard when the whole of society is turned upside down. Everyone's response is different, and your response isn't bad or wrong. Maybe you don't feel like doing anything. Or perhaps you're going into work overdrive. Maybe you feel overwhelmed by the sorrows in the world.

Begin by acknowledging these are really hard times. The toughest society has faced in half a century. So, of course, your body and mind are going to struggle and respond in ways that seem wrong. That's ok. Being kind to yourself and accepting yourself as you are in very much part of the spirit of being mindful. Imperfection isn't our enemy - it's what makes us human.

Mindfulness doesn't offer any quick fixes. But a moment of presence can help you to see your challenge in a totally different way - and that can sometimes change everything.

But mostly, mindfulness offers you another option. Another way to relate to the difficulties you're encountering. Right now, perhaps when you feel overwhelmed or stressed, you may overeat, shout in frustration or reach for a drink. We're all susceptible to making choices that don't help. But you may not have the skills or capacity to do anything differently. However, the short mindfulness exercise below may be an alternative you choose, both practised in moments of calm or when facing the really tough moments.

It's my hope that this post inspires you to take just one deep, mindful in and out breath. Or one long, much-needed stretch of your body. Or just to be a little bit nicer to yourself. No pressure to do any more than that. 

A ZOOM in and out Mindful Exercise

Here's a practice I've created and find helpful in challenging times. It's a way to ZOOM out of difficulties and zoom back in from a potentially different state of mind. 

Zoom Infographic Tall

Z - Zoom out of the situation. See things from a bigger picture. Breathe. Is it really as bad as you think and feel right now? What's going well? Imagine Zooming into a wise and kind person you know - what advice would they give you right now?

O - Observe your thoughts as just thoughts. Are these thoughts helpful? Will they lead to a resolution or just more suffering for them and you? Say 'I notice I'm having the thought xxx'. This helps to zoom out of your head and create some space between you and your thoughts. Remember, you are not your thoughts.

O - Open up to your feelings. Notice the feelings like anger, sadness or fear...and any other feelings coming up. Maybe anxiety, frustration, a sense of hurt. Where do you feel it in your body? Can you make some room to feel it, to let it be? It can be healthier to notice your feelings rather than suppress or deny them.

M - Meaningful action. What do you want to stand for in the world? What kind of person do you want to be? What action can you take, that is in line with your values, right now? This could be anything from an act of care for yourself, to sending a message to a friend.

There is also an audio track version of this exercise for you to try whenever you're ready.

Mindfulness For Challenging Times

About the Book

Mindfulness for Challenging Times is a book written by 26 Mindfulness Teachers I've trained, as well as myself. It has 26 Chapters designed for the current changes we face in society and includes 40 free guided meditations too. It's available in paperback and on Kindle.

About Shamash Alidina

Shamash is author of 7 books including Mindfulness for Dummies. He started one of the world's first online Mindfulness Teacher Training Programs back in 2013. Find out more at ShamashAlidina.com


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