At a time when our inter-relatedness is extremely obvious, we need mindfulness more than ever. But there are lots of mindless people out there. That’s not meant as an insult. It’s simply an observation that many people don’t recognize that they are not their thoughts and emotions and they don’t fully understand that we are all connected. Mindfulness includes observing ourselves and observing others in a nonjudgmental way. Sometimes that’s challenging, believe me. But in seeing the number of people crowding trails and beaches over the holiday weekend without wearing masks, I really tried to think about what they were thinking. And I realized that most of these people could still believe that wearing a mask protects them from the virus. I’ve heard this from people as recently as last week. So, if they don’t wear a mask, they think it just affects them.
In fact, wearing these cloth coverings doesn’t protect us at all from catching the virus. Wearing a mask is to protect the people we come in contact with. I suspect that if a person was hanging out with their friends, shoulder to shoulder without a mask on, they weren’t thinking about making their friends sick. They think that it’s an individual choice, a risk that they can choose for themselves.
Wearing a mask is actually an act of compassion for others. We wear masks so our own spit, not to be indelicate, doesn’t hit someone else when we are talking, singing, coughing or sneezing. If someone sneezes in my face while I’m wearing a mask, I’m not protected from the virus if they have it. And of course, that’s the biggest problem that some people don’t seem to understand. There are lots and lots of people who have the virus but have no symptoms. They are unknowingly the spreaders.
I choose to believe these risky behaviors are not a lack of consideration for others, but just a form of mindlessness. And here’s the truth. We can’t change other people. We can only change ourselves. So instead of getting upset at other people’s behavior, I focus on my own. I wear a mask when I go out. I do my best to stay at least six feet away from others, although that can be almost impossible in a store aisle I’ve discovered. So, to protect myself and others, I just don’t go out much and accept that it’s not my job to try to force others to make me comfortable.
It is my job to spread mindfulness, so when it’s appropriate, I absolutely do. Mindfulness provides me with an effective way to manage my own anxieties and to catch myself when I get too judgey. And yes, I do. All humans judge. But when we’re judging others, we’re creating our own suffering. Our judgments don’t affect those other people, they only affect us. If I get all hot and bothered by people’s behavior, whose mood plummets? Whose blood pressure rises? Whose stomach gets upset? Mine! The person not wearing a mask or behaving rudely to a store worker is not upset in the least bit by my judgment, so what is it accomplishing, other than to weaken my own immune system? It doesn’t make much sense, does it?
We’ve been so focused on dealing with all of the anxieties and challenges of the last few weeks, I think it’s important to point out that mindfulness isn’t just a tool for dealing with negative events. Mindfulness helps us improve good relationships, focus more clearly on whatever we’re working on, reduce weight, feel more compassion for others and more. As we begin to transition back into public and return to our workplaces, you might be interested in how you can spread mindfulness in your communities or companies, so I’ve invited a guest today to discuss just that.
Wendy Quan is an innovator and leader in training & certifying Mindfulness Meditation Facilitators through her company, The Calm Monkey. Her program is very practical, showing experienced meditators the best practices of how to start and sustain mindfulness in workplaces. She is also a pioneer in combining change management with mindfulness to help people and organizations successfully navigate transitions. She has worked with Google, the government of Dubai, and hundreds of facilitators worldwide, including me.