Since March 2020, the adverse circumstances brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have pushed people into individual coping cycles. We’re each riding our own emotional roller coasters, experiencing low loops of anxiety and climbing to the high points of hope in our own ways.
I found myself stuck in a low loop in June while I was living in my hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. The long days drenched in sticky heat and the dripping layers of anxiety left me in a state of loneliness and hopelessness. Yet, the ride could only go up, and instead of gripping the bar and waiting for an outward change to push me forward, I sunk into my seat, closed my eyes and began meditating.
Meditation is a traditionally spiritual practice that has crept into our mainstream culture and varies in type and form. While some research exists on the prolonged health benefits of meditating, it is not yet sufficiently proven. However, from the start of the pandemic, national health organizations, medical experts and longtime practitioners have increasingly recommended meditation as a coping strategy.
Ironically, I was introduced to meditation practices back in early February. I interviewed a woman named Rebecca Marshall, who is a certified life coach in Athens and associate professor in the department of communication sciences and special education at the University of Georgia. Dr. Marshall informed me on the concept of mindfulness, which is “the basic human ability to be fully present,” according to the Mindful definition.
Dr. Marshall teaches “Mindfulness Meditation” at UGA, a type of meditation in which, “you broaden your conscious awareness” and “observe your thoughts and emotions, but let them pass without judgement,” according to the Mayo Clinic definition.
On a cold morning in February, I joined Dr. Marshall’s mindfulness class and took photos as her students sat in a circle with their eyes closed and palms open. At one point, Marshall quietly asked her students to feel where they are.
“Listen to the noises, to the people in the hallway, to the click of the camera,” Marshall said.
As the pandemic began to threaten the world and uncertainty upended normal life, that still, powerful moment in Dr. Marshall’s mindfulness class remained in the back of my head. However, it wasn’t until my 24-year-old cousin — who has Type 1 diabetes and takes on the stress of law school — came by my parents’ home on a hot evening in June that I was reintroduced to the concept of meditation and its potential to change a person.
As we sat around the living room and discussed the strangeness of COVID-19, I noticed something different about her. She was engaged and light, holding eye-contact and asking refreshing questions, a glaring contrast from the general talk around the virus and the world’s depressing state. I asked her if she’d been doing anything differently lately.
“I started meditating,” she said. “Twice a day, every day for the past month.”
She loaned me the book that she read, entitled “Stress Less, Accomplish More,” by Emily Fletcher, a leading expert in meditation and founder of the world’s first online meditation training. She explained Fletcher’s Ziva Technique, a 15-minute meditation practice that begins with mindfulness, transitions into a mantra and ends with manifestation. I’d heard of various meditation guides, books and apps and naively judged these tools as cliché or marketing traps before exploring them for myself.
I started the book with the mindset that if it was a cliché for wannabe gurus, at least I tried something new. But Fletcher’s words resonated with me. Her theories and experiences made sense, stimulating my mind after each chapter. I finished the book in less than a week, eager to try the Ziva Technique. Yet, there was still a lingering discomfort, and I feared the hopelessness would only increase if it didn’t work.
I waited a couple of weeks, an urge tapping the back of my brain like a dripping faucet that never stops. Meditating is one of those things you tell yourself you should try, but there’s always something else you could be doing, and you put it off until the internal faucet ruptures and desperation sits you down. So there I was, uncomfortable and alone in a chair in the solidarity of my childhood bedroom. I felt awkward with myself, the Texas sun heating the room as I closed my eyes and focused on the five senses.
My eyes shot open to a backup alarm I’d set for 30 minutes. I had entered “the bliss field,” the fourth state of consciousness as defined by Fletcher, on my first try. My brain was buzzing, throbbing in a way I did not know was possible. I felt dizzy but lively, overwhelmed by a strange sense of clarity that I hadn’t experienced in a long time.
Almost six months later, and I am still practicing this type of meditation. It did not magically eliminate my anxiety and stress. Rather, meditating has allowed me to accept the anxious moments, get comfortable with those feelings and take control of my roller coaster, for I have not been stuck in that low loop since the first time I closed my eyes and surrendered to my own mind.