As the lockdown gradually lifts, and you cautiously emerge from the relative safety of your bunker to, you know, “live your life,” you may experience a familiar feeling: dread.It’s perfectly normal. After all, there are any number of ways your life, as you know it, can go sideways.
For one, the virus is still out there. No matter how much you mask up, sanitize, keep your social distance, take it from Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa: S—t happens.
Then there’s the heightened level of insecurity from the secondary effects of the pandemic: Will you still have a job, and if so, for how long? Can your children go back to school? If so, could you still afford it if the economy tanks? How many of your family and friends won’t be there next time, God willing, you finally get together?
The world outside has changed while you were busy baking sourdough bread, trying your hand at painting and amusing yourself with online challenges from your social media friends. It’s more fearful, intolerant, unstable, oppressive and harsh than before the quarantine, at least that’s how it feels.
Like it or not, this is the “new normal.”
“Uncertainty leads to anxiety,” says Dr. Ma. Lourdes
“Honey” Carandang, well-known clinical psychologist and the country’s only living National Social Scientist. “We are together in this anxiety, knowing also that we are not alone.”
So, how to deal? Anxious and afraid is no way to live what’s left of your life.
“Mindfulness practice gives you a way to accept whatever comes in a state of calm and peace,” she says.
Best known for her pioneering work in dealing with childhood trauma and family therapy, Carandang established the MLAC Institute for Psychosocial Services Inc. in 2010 with a team of psychologists. The main work of the foundation has to do with helping Filipino children and their families, specially the underprivileged, attain a state of psychological well-being and wholeness through various therapies.
As well as her initials, “MLAC” stands for Mindfulness, Love and Compassion, the key elements which inform the group’s work. Carandang considers the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nat Hanh one of her “gurus,” and the foundation combines his teachings on developing awareness through meditation and cultivating kindness and compassion with her own decades of study and research and clinical experience on healing childhood and adult trauma through play and family therapy.
“Meditation is a part of mindfulness, but it’s more than that,” says Carandang. “It becomes a way of life if you practice it. It doesn’t have to be peaceful and quiet, you can practice mindfulness even in a noisy marketplace. It’s a way of paying attention without judgment. Mindfulness teaches you to respond, not react. It allows you to regulate your emotion. You respond thoughtfully, not impulsively. It’s almost the same as EQ (emotional quotient).”
It may begin with a regular practice, she suggests, but eventually mindfulness will come to permeate your everyday life and help you navigate the new normal. And when you do get stressed, which you will, adds Carandang, “mindfulness will help you be aware of what you are feeling, and own it,” instead of reflexively taking it out on your children or other family members.
Although it comes from Eastern spirituality, meditation has been adopted throughout the world as an element of psychotherapy, with numerous clinical studies attesting to its effectiveness as a means of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. However, says Carandang, the West often misses out on an important dimension of mindfulness practice, which is developing kindness and compassion.
“Meditation and mindfulness lead to a sacred space where you can connect with the basic goodness inside you,” she says. Resting in that basic goodness is, in itself, healing.
Basic psychological needs
Over the past seven weeks, on MLAC’s YouTube channel, Carandang has been delivering a series of talks on “The Seven Basic Psychological Needs During the COVID-19 Crisis.”
“One message of the virus is that we have to have a new way of living,” she says. “We cannot go back to the old normal. We need to learn from this and do something new, something different—a new way of living.”
The series of talks is based on Carandang’s book “Back to Basics: The Seven Basic Psychological Needs” (Anvil Publishing), which seeks to answer the question, “Why do we do what we do?” According to her, these are:
• The need for personal significance. We need to feel that we matter, that we are not nonentities.
• The need for unconditional love, acceptance or affirmation. We need to feel accepted for who we are, and not just because of what we do.
• The need for clear and consistent limits. We all need discipline, but with dignity.
• The need for a sense of competence. We need to know that we are good at something, in order to have the self-confidence to take us through life’s challenges.
• The need for affiliation. We need human connection, even though this might have to happen digitally during the pandemic.
• The need for a wide scope of self-expression. We need to bring out what is inside of us, into the outside world, and not just accommodate to what the world wants us to do. Again, during the quarantine, this might have to happen through social media, but there is also music, art and other forms of expression.
• The need for transcendence and beauty. We need to have faith that there is something beyond, a light at the end of the tunnel. We also need to open ourselves to beauty, which takes us outside of ourselves to appreciate creation, and is healing and uplifting.
Of course, says Carandang, the primary need is for survival. But without fulfilling these seven needs, life is just that—surviving.
“With understanding comes compassion and resilience,” she says. INQ