Mindfulness of Values with photos from Swami Yogananda's meditation garden
When so many of the activities that provide us livelihood, connections with others and entertainment are not available due to social distancing, we should remember how our values can comfort and sustain us. Living from our values will restore meaning to the day to day and enhance our relationships.
Suppose you deeply believe in kindness toward yourself and others. You can prioritize being kind to everyone you encounter, whether it is a delivery person, a customer service representative on the phone, your neighbor over the back fence, a bank teller or a cashier. Read aloud to a child or engage with a bored adult in your household. You may find it especially challenging to practice kindness with a family member who irritates you, but it can pay off. Acting opposite to irritation (including resentful thoughts) and practicing being decent and kind has been shown to reduce your irritability over time. Practicing kindness can also improve mood.
Maybe you highly value generosity. Now is the time to pass along a little of what you have to others as an expression of your values. Consider all the people who could use some support right now, especially people in service industries who likely have little or no backup beyond savings. If you are wealthy, pay it forward: to the woman who cleans your house, your massage therapist, a child’s music teacher, pool guy, landscaper, handyman, hairdresser, dog walker and to your favorite locally owned coffee shop or restaurant. Anyone who depends on your business will be missing that income. If you are not wealthy consider how you could be generous to a needy family member, friend, neighbor, or member of your church or synagogue, your AA meeting or pickle ball club. Increase your donations to the local food bank, volunteer fire department, homeless shelter, animal shelter and other local groups that are part of the local safety net.
Perhaps you really value achievement. Now that you have time on your hands undertake a project that will give you a sense of mastery. Try a challenging recipe or sewing project. Embark on a short story or screenplay even if you’ve never written one, or start your memoirs. Learn a new song. Clean out a drawer or cupboard. Start putting together your family tree. Dig in your garden or start some seeds in a windowsill. Learn all about clouds and what they say about the weather, then share your new knowledge with someone else. Achieve keeping your mind occupied with useful activities.
Do you value health? Cut back on alcohol or soda and drink more water. Take a brisk walk twice a day and make sure you get eight hours of sleep. Prepare the healthiest meals you can make from the stores you have. Do some yoga stretches and deep breathing every day. Turn off the radio and tv and read a book instead. Observe the best current guidelines to reduce your exposure to the corona virus. Practice good mental hygiene to avoid anxiety and depression.
What if your chief value is compassion? Call up a friend or relative who is alone and have nice long chat. Call someone you know is in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction and could use the support. Write letters to people in prison or call a family member. Reach out to anyone in your wider circle going through a hard time because of divorce, illness, family separation or for any reason. Make at least one such call every day. Don’t
expect anything in return. Just listen and offer love and compassion. And don’t forget to have compassion for yourself. Practice self-love with increased self-care. Don’t be hard on yourself when you feel anxious, blue or irritable. Place your hand on your heart and whisper, “I love you.”
You can make a list with all the values you cherish and figure out how to tend to them like a garden, during these days of isolation. Consider the values of justice, honesty, loyalty, beauty, faith, community—each one suggests unique ways to practice living from your values. Our values keep us in touch with who we are. When we tend this garden the growth will surprise and cheer us and increase our resilience.
If you don’t know what your values truly are now is the time to discover. Just google “a list of values” and get started. Good luck!