Coronavirus News Asia

Mindfulness, social action in Covid-19 crisis

Calling the Covid-19 pandemic the worst crisis since World War II, one that may bring a recession with “no parallel in the recent past,” United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has urged world leaders to understand that “humankind is at stake.”

The numbers of infections and deaths attributed to Covid-19 are increasing exponentially. Human activity has come to a halt with worldwide community lockdowns, quarantining and social isolation. The dystopian future projected in science-fiction movies seems to be here: surreal, empty airports; eerie, ghost-like city centers; a still landscape without humans.

As human interaction shifts more and more online, faith groups, psychologists, yoga and Pilates instructors and innumerable others are offering helpful services to grief-stricken, fearful and anxious people via webinars, zoom meetings and the like. One of the most popular of these offerings is mindfulness meditation, which teaches individuals to find peace and stability within themselves amid the tremendous uncertainties and frightening realities around them.

For example, a webinar by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), on March 25 attracted more than 21,000 people from 115 countries and had more than 96,000 subsequent views as of this Sunday. Kabat-Zinn’s stated vision is to make the whole world an “MBSR classroom.”

Indeed, mindfulness – the cultivation of present-moment awareness and equanimity by focusing on breathing and body sensations – is based on Buddhist teaching, and is a valuable tool for finding the much-needed inner solace and guidance for these challenging times. Mindfulness practice can also help develop sensitivity to the realities of impermanence, suffering and interdependence of life and cultivate compassion toward the self and others. Both have acute relevance to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Diverse schools of mindfulness meditation have become popular in the West over the last few decades, with leading advocates from corporate, media and Hollywood elites. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who predicted a huge threat of a global pandemic in 2015 and conducted a simulation in late 2019 predicting up to 65 million deaths due to a coronavirus, is reportedly a “dedicated if not obsessive meditator.”

Leading tech companies, consulting firms and banks including Google, Apple, Deutsche Bank and McKinsey and Co promote employee meditation to relieve stress and increase productivity. It is said that “in Silicon Valley meditation is no fad, it could make your career.” Ironically, even the US military is teaching mindfulness meditation to enhance the performance and resilience of soldiers.

However, these profit- and power-focused approaches to mindfulness ignore the dangerous global and national policies that harm people and the environment, so that the core principles of interdependence and compassion become mere platitudes.

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