Mindfulness in a pandemic by Gary Petingola

When I received the box of “my” newly published book, I used all of my senses to simply be with it. I felt the cover, touched each page, read parts of it out loud and looked at the cover’s artwork. The dragonfly artwork originally hand painted by my daughter “Brown Eyes,” seemed to almost jump off the cover as a symbol of new beginnings. Incredible, I was now officially an author! Thinking back to that Saturday morning stroll through the outdoor market, coming across Latitude 46 Publishing’s table laid out with books is how this journey all started. I had quickly gathered enough courage to approach the table and pitch my idea to write a book compiled of weekly stories and insights on the topic of mindfulness. I shared how a book like this could be a rich addition to the literature, something not yet done as far as I knew in the realm of mindfulness literature. The publishers seemed interested, took my card and said they would be in touch. A few weeks later, I received an email inviting me to come by their office to discuss the book proposal further. I was ecstatic! I arrived at their offices armed with an eight-inch-thick binder filled with almost nine years of weekly meditation stories. Not sure how we could possibly turn this scribbling into a book, but they sent me off with suggestions to work on the first draft. I often pondered what I had gotten myself into as I watched the seasons go by. Yet, I found it comforting to review the stories and reflect on the real people who influenced my writing. In my naivety though I had the illusion I would simply package my writings and I would have a book. This was far from reality. The ordering of chapters and stories changed. Chapter titles were redrafted. I learned to remove unnecessary uses of the word “that” and I slowly introduced mindfulness practices at the end of each story. I knew it had reached its completion when I read it from cover to cover for the fifth time and it made me smile. In the end, I could hand over the final draft and feel pride at what we accomplished. The book launch took place in late February 2020, and after the celebration my wife and I hopped on a plane for Portugal with plans to return to Canada in a month and continue promoting the book in person. However, instead of the original plans, the global pandemic shut the world down and I was forced to return early and within weeks life as we knew it changed in an instant. This felt like a grey and heavy time. Like many others around the world, we were numb, frightened and anxious. During this time, we practiced yoga and meditation daily. The Body Scan mindfulness practice outlined in my book became our new late-afternoon friend. I read excerpts from my book and they made me reflect and find comfort. It was uncanny that the book I had written and hoped would benefit others, was now helpful to me. These last six months have been exceptionally challenging, trying to find balance between wishing things were different, reminiscing about Pre- COVID-19 days, worrying about the future, and simply carrying on. As I shared in The Response, I find grounding in small everyday encounters. This summer we had a chipmunk in our front yard who dug a hole under our stone walkway. Every so often he nudges his head up, checks out his surroundings and after a quick perusal returns to his place of safety. I smile as I secretly witness this behaviour. It occurs to me that it is similar to how many of us are coping during this pandemic time. Hiding away for safety with occasional forays into the community. As a first born, type A male, I find it hard to not want to fix. It is difficult to just be with. Yet, this is precisely what mindfulness has taught me. To be with the present moment, purposefully, with full presence in a particular way without judgment. It means being with both the pleasant and unpleasant circumstances of life with curiosity and spaciousness. To ride the wave, vulnerable to ebbs and flows without capsizing. It allows for one to live life with stability and calm, particularly in times of high stress. Mindfulness helps us to not dwell in the past or worry about the future. I have felt at times the pandemic has cheated me of exciting new author opportunities, yet part of me is happy to know this book is even more relevant during these historical times. Mindfulness practice is a useful tool amid a pandemic that can cause us to feel strong emotions like fear, sadness, and anger, perpetuated by ruminative thinking; to cope with self-isolation, physical distancing, and change; to reduce daily anxiety, improve sleep and to reduce inflammation. I have come to realize The Response – Practising Mindfulness in Your Daily Life has arrived just at the perfect time. Gary Petingola MSW, RSW