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  • Cory McGowan

Looking in the COVID Mirror

As some of you out there may already know, I have been practicing mindfulness meditation off and on for over 20 years. The past year has been my most consistent year yet in terms of regular practice (something tells me I’m not alone in this), and one of the tools that has supported in that is the Waking Up app by Sam Harris. I won’t go into detail here about why I find the app so useful, but one example that often comes up in the meditation sessions is the idea that when paying attention to our mind, it helps to think of the different things that come up as if looking in a mirror. What is meant by this is simply that there is nothing we actually have to do to observe our minds, in the same way that we don’t have to do anything to make a reflection appear in a mirror, the mirror simply reflects what is in front of it.


I bring up this analogy because it has occurred to me off and on since the start of the global pandemic that COVID in a lot of ways is acting as a mirror for all of us as well. In the forced pauses and isolation and slowing of our lives, we have been given a great chance for reflection. Or rather, our lives are now reflected back at us in ways that we have never known before this.

Before continuing with generalities that may not be true for others, I’ll share what has been true for me. First, at the start of the pandemic, and as things started to go south at my old job, both in terms of the business getting hit by the impending brakes being put on all tourism and in terms of a team that was in its own state of fear about their futures including questioning my ability to manage them, it became clear to me that I am not very cool in a crisis. Sleepless nights, stomach issues, seemingly constant anxiety and exaggerated mental imagery of just how bad things could (and probably would!) get were the norm. It was a state of being that was unsustainable, and so I had to reach for whatever resources I could to rein back in some stability.

For me that ended up being two main things - the first was reaching out to family and friends just to have conversations - open, vulnerable, and often emotional conversations that at the minimum showed that someone was out there who could empathize with my situation and was willing to listen without any expectations or judgment. And while this was hugely helpful in feeling more stable in the situation I was in, I decided that what was really going to get me to whatever the next stage in my life was would likely require hiring my own coach. I can share more details about that another time, but suffice to say it ended up being exactly what I needed to move forward.

The other resource was my daily practices. I got into a very clear morning routine of journaling, meditation, and exercise. I know this is not anything earth shattering, but it has been incredibly useful in creating some kind of stability and energy charge before heading into another day of uncertainty. It never ceases to amaze me that I can wake up after a restless night of ruminating on a seemingly endless number of issues in my life, sure that I must be doing everything wrong, but after even just 30 minutes of what I call ‘throwing up’ on the pages of my journal, I can be back in a place where I am ready to take on the day with optimism and energy.

Another thing that has been reflected back to me when looking in the COVID mirror has been about the pace of life. Our family moved to Minakami from Tokyo three years ago now, and I’m still surprised to feel the pace of Tokyo sneak up on me regularly. The other day was a great example, as I was getting ready to take my son skiing, and found myself telling him he needed to hurry up and get his stuff into the car. What was my rush?! There was no one waiting for us, we had no appointments, and even on holidays in Minakami, there are almost never lines for the ski lifts. The idea of so often being in a rush so we can hurry up and get to dying has been popping into mind as some kind of dark joke.

But being forced to stay very local by the pandemic and therefore paying closer attention to nature is slowly helping with that. Spend enough time looking at trees and you really start to notice their different characteristics in the different seasons. And the jungle that seems to grow every year in summer has some quite distinct timing in terms of what plants grow when, and how even the weeds that dominate our vegetable garden are on quite a particular schedule. Then of course there is the local fauna, and how sweet it is to have my furry friends in hibernation for a few months in the winter instead of munching on black walnuts outside our window.

When you take time to reflect on your own experience in the pandemic, what do you see in the COVID mirror? What are the things you are doing or can do to change the things you want to, and what can you do to get more of the things that are bringing you joy?

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