In a time of global crisis, some reflections on compassion and action


~ Written by Peter Morgan ~
Peter is one of our Mindfulness Network supervisors and works as Clinical Psychologist and Mindfulness Teacher in the NHS. Peter also runs The Free Mindfulness Project, where this blog was originally posted. 

As communities (globally, nationally and on much smaller scales), we are faced with an unprecedented and fast-changing situation. Together in our various networks, and as individuals, we are all attempting to make sense of and respond appropriately to Covid-19. This article shares some reflections on how we might make wise choices about how to be, in the midst of a prolonged crisis. For further resources, click here.

Taking care of ourselves: Remembering the basics

Something happens to us when we perceive threat: We shift our attention away from meeting basic needs, and towards sources of danger. This makes sense in the face of an immediate danger to life, and can be a really useful mechanism to protect us. However, in situations like the one we currently face, we can easily end up with high threat levels over a prolonged period. This can lead to a situation where we stay on high alert and neglect our basic needs. A short practice we can do at any time is to stop, even for a few seconds, and listen to your body: How is it right now? Am I looking after this animal (the body)? Is it well fed and watered? Has it moved enough today? Is it clean? Does it feel lonely or scared and need to connect with someone? Taking care of our basic needs is both an act of self-compassion, and also supports us to be more present and available to help others.

What can I do to help others?

Many of us have an instinct that kicks in when faced with a crisis, whereby we want to help others. Two broad questions might be supportive in making sense of how you might act over the coming months:

1.)    If I imagine in the future, when Covid-19 is no longer a significant issue locally or globally, and we have all had time to breathe… what would I have liked to have done? In what ways could I have helped myself and/or others? What small or large actions could I take that fit with my values?

And then the second question;

2.)   What is my current context? What capacity do I have to take care of myself and/or those in my immediate environment, and does my expected capacity exceed, match up to, or fall short of what is needed?

I would encourage spending some time with these questions, and discussing these themes with others around you. For some, you may have plenty of spare capacity and be exploring options for action. What many of us (myself included) may find is that the two answers conflict with each other…

Mind the Gap

There may be a small or even substantial gap between how you would like to act, and what is possible in your current circumstances. Spending time acknowledging the gap and how it feels, and even grieving the loss of how you might like to act, may be helpful in coming to a clearer sense of how best to proceed.

If we know where our capacity intersects with our values we can act accordingly; whether that means letting go of commitments and caring for ourselves and/or family, or continuing our work in adapted ways, or reaching out in various ways to help others, or identifying that we need more assistance and asking for that help. In our various communities, we can honour and respect all of these (and many other) positions. They can all reflect wise choices as we compassionately responding to our individual and collective circumstances.

Final Thoughts

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ” Fred Rogers

As the well-known quote from Fred Rodgers implies, looking for the helpers at times of crisis can be comforting. In this crisis, many wonderful, heroic acts of kindness and care will take place behind closed doors. As a short practice, try bringing to mind all the ways in which you and your communities are being kind and caring, however big or small, and especially to think of all of the kindness that is unseen. Perhaps through holding each other in mind, we can cultivate a sense of companionship and solidarity, and feel the warmth of our collective acts of care.


For mindfulness resources related to the coronavirus outbreak, click here. The Free Mindfulness website also contains many free mindfulness resources, here, and a sister site Words To Sit With which offers a collection of free-to-share mindfulness poetry.

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