Pandemic 2.0: Finding Refuge in a Time of Traumatic Stress

As we come to the close of our first year of practicing during the pandemic—what have we learned? How can we use the Triple Gem–the traditional refuges of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha–to support us?

Dharma: The First Condition and the First Foundation of Mindfulness

Last spring as the lock-downs started and the structure of our society changed dramatically overnight—where we worked, whether we had work, where and how our children were being schooled, how we shopped for groceries, whether we could access basic supplies such as cleaners and toilet paper, friends and family who were at-risk or becoming ill, and perhaps dying—the number one question that I heard from both new and long-time meditators alike was, “I can’t settle. I can’t do it. What’s wrong with me?”

Over the course of the year there has been more change and turmoil—social unrest as we grappled with white supremacy, political uncertainty, alarming new waves of the pandemic. Change—in Buddhist dharma, the first condition of existence, is something we can count on. Yet just as often we resist through aversion or clinging to the old, and then add on blaming our-self for not being good enough.

Perhaps the first step we can take is to simply notice that we need something different to match the different circumstances. With some compassionate understanding we can offer ourselves forgiveness and allow ourselves the freedom to discover what might work best for us right now, coming back to foundational teachings of the dharma as well as wisdom from the field of trauma-sensitive mindfulness.

What does the dharma suggest in times of change, inner and outer turmoil? We can come back to the basics, to the First Foundation of Mindfulness. While sitting silently with the breath is one foundational practice, there are many others that may be a better match for these times—listening to the sounds of wind, birds, or your favorite music; laying down and receiving a guided body scan; sitting with awareness anchored on the most pleasant bodily sensations; walking in nature; seeing and watching the leaves fall, the clouds move and change.

The Buddha taught that we could practice in four “positions”—sitting, standing, laying down, and walking. “Walking” may include all forms of moving meditation including mindful movement (yoga, tai chi, etc.) as well as everyday life experiences such as doing the dishes, folding laundry, or walking the dog. Many have found during this time of great turmoil that movement has been more accessible than still meditation, that reclining or leaning against a firm wall might bring more ease than sitting unsupported, that standing helps to feel strength, that doing one of the everyday mindfulness practices are more soothing. Lovingkindness Meditation (Metta), when focused on uplifting aspects such as extending well-wishes for loved ones who bring a smile to the mind or benefactors for whom we feel gratitude is also a good match for many. Our dharma tells us to notice what is supporting us and do more of that. It doesn’t ask us to do what is the hardest when we are already challenged and stressed.

Sangha – Leaning into Community support. While many were steadily practicing on their own before the pandemic, community support has been helpful for many. Attending a group, using gallery view to notice who is here with you–that you are not alone–is a support and comfort for many. Even if you normally practice with eyes closed, I invite you to take in the view of others prior to the practice period and to open your eyes and look at the screen as a source of support. We are here together, each of us practicing in our own location, each of us supporting the group and each other through our efforts and our intentions. IMCW has many avenues for sangha sharing can overcome a sense of isolation. The IMCW weekday day-time practice periods (open to all as a drop-in) were started during the pandemic specially to meet the needs for guided mindful movement and of sangha sharing.

Buddha – Leaning into the support of teachers and our own inner wisdom. To provide steadiness, we can lean into external support–of the sangha and also of a teacher. For this reason, many have found live or recorded guided practices to be a source of support. I can attest to this myself: Last spring I lost three loved to the pandemic in 24 hours and over the next week, dishes piled up unwashed in the sink. I was too unsettled to do this simple task. I leaned hard into the steadiness of teachers and the gathered sangha, using the guided meditation to do my “dishes meditation”. As the dishes were washed one by one, I felt my own steadiness return. The next days I swept my floor or folded my laundry or chopped my vegetables. Slowly, I was able to settle and sit, initially for a few minutes after my mindful chores, then for the whole period. This is one way we can lean into the Buddha.

The Buddha often helped his followers find the very practice that was best for them, using a very large frame for what constituted “practice”. We can lean into our own Buddha nature—our own inner wisdom—and notice what practice, what teachers, teachings, ways of being have brought moments of contentment or presence in the last year.

Wisdom tells us to lean into what is working, what is supporting us, to choose the path of ease during times of traumatic stress.

Allowing our practice to change, leaning into the First Foundation of Mindfulness perhaps with movement and mindfulness of daily life, supporting ourselves with external supports of the sangha, teachers, guided practices and our own inner wisdom—we lean into the Triple Gem.

May you be well and at ease.


We are grateful for your dana (generosity)

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