A Better And Fairer Society Post-Pandemic

The group had wanted to discuss how society could emerge from this pandemic better and fairer from the lessons learned. So we spent this session imagining suggested changes and improvements.

Our discussion was set within the six topics of the ‘Post-Covid Compassion Wheel’. It was suggested that within an increasingly technological world we maybe need to rethink traditional jobs and economic systems altogether. Potentially there is a lot of scope for ‘Green Jobs’; for research, invention, creation and development of doing everything greener! From travel, to deliveries, food production and fuel. For example the cement making industries who are looking to reabsorb CO2 emissions from the cement making process and use waste products from other industries, such as steel, to reduce waste and further reduce CO2 emissions.

Whilst the economy is struggling it was discussed that capitalism has perhaps transgressed from it’s original ideas, that accumulated wealth is not being redistributed or trickling down anywhere but is just sitting which is not helping the economy if money does not get reinvested. This brought up the topic of taxes as a way to fairly redistribute wealth if large co-operations did not have loopholes around which to avoid fair taxation. If a few people are sitting on most of the money the economy will stagnate, whereas if people had more access to disposable cash they would spend it.

We asked why is it that a careworker is valued so differently than a CEO. The monetary recognition is low for careworkers and keyworkers but dis-proportionally high for large corporations. For example, one co-operative CEO was valued at the equivalent of 3 top lawyers, 7 top accountants and 150 ordinary wage earners (Collier and Kay, 2020). Perhaps the balance could be tilted slightly.

We are aware that different generations are suffering in different ways from the impact of the pandemic. Older generations are more likely to face very worrying health issues from the virus itself whilst younger people are struggling more financially and seeing education and employment prospects severely disrupted. Very young children are affected by not being able to attend school in the traditional way and separation from extended family-which of course is also a loss for grandparents. There is also a greater risk for elderly people to become very isolated and cut off from care and support. The group suggested that it would be helpful to not blame different generations; we have heard of older people blaming young people for spreading the virus, and young people blaming older people for ruining their lives because they have to stay home. Where generations can be understanding of each other’s fears and worries this could lead to great benefits. The group gave examples of how perhaps young people could assist older people with becoming digitally connected so that they did not have to feel so isolated. This led us onto the idea of community; this pandemic has seen some communities really pull together and in other places a more individualist approach -such as buying all the toilet rolls has increased fear and isolation and anger. The group suggested that community spaces are very important and to look to increasing these. They noted that in their neighbourhoods they often saw community buildings become renovated into flats, and green spaces where they used to play football sold to developers. When communities have shared spaces and arts projects and combined purposes in an area this promotes a collective community identity rather than an individualistic outlook.

Poetry Week

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In this group we had invited members to bring poems they liked, or to write a poem they would like to share. We ended up with a very enjoyable mix of poems sharing deeply felt emotion, fun, humour and even song! Some pieces were an observation and narrative of life in lockdown and others beckoned to the interests and comforts of life such as cinema and cups of tea. Some group members expressed feeling nervous about reading their poems and we discussed how poetry can be an intimate expression of our inner selves and therefore requires vulnerability to share. People also spoke about their poetry writing process; some write it raw and then refine it over coming weeks and months whilst others write line by line, fully forming each part as they go, different styles reflecting each person’s individuality and creative flair. We are very thankful for permission to share some of the poems here:

This person said their poem may change with edits over coming weeks, so we look forward to a matured version also in the future.

THE YEAR 2020 (To be continued…)

In the year 2020, week melted into week.
No fun or adventures, no matter how hard you’d seek,
COVID-19 had come out to play,
Worldwide people had to go home and stay.

As the numbers of deaths rose,
Lockdown measures were imposed,
Shops and pubs closed for their last time,
Their ex-staff spending hours on the dole phone-line.

The people who still had work, tried to work from home,
School kids struggled to learn on their computer all alone,
Friends and family only able to video call,
Everyone’s mood began to fall.

When summer arrived, the virus seemed to slow down,
Lockdown restrictions loosened around town,
People could meet outside, at a distance, of course,
Only small groups, that the police would need to enforce.

More weeks like that, the amount of deaths kept on falling,
More restrictions were lifted, normality seemed to be calling,
Non-essential businesses and shops could open once more,
Schools were opened, with safety measures, not quite like before.

Slowly small pockets of cases appeared,
Instantly people thought about, the second wave, we all feared,
Masks on buses, and in shops,
We wonder if this virus will ever stop!!

A RED SKY
Our home above the pub,warm,safe,fun,laughter,singing…Dancing with my mum round the jukebox to the Beatles. Riding round the bar on my wee trike before opening, then the locals giving me coke and crisps. My Beautiful Mum,23, small and pretty, funny and kind.  My Nan, my Grandad and my Uncle.

Then Ambulance men-a stretcher-taking her away, a sheet covering her, screaming, crying.  I wanted the Black and White television on. I was only four, they said no.
Six weeks later taken away from my family-confusion-fear-pain-Grief-Anger-Hatred…… Apart from …the memories, the night my mum died,my Nan and me at the window, in my lovely home above the pub, she showed me a red sky, that red sky has stayed with me, when I look up and see it, I know my mum,my Nan,my Grandad,my Uncle are with me …always.

Finally we discussed the poem ‘Certainty’ by 17th Century Indian poet Tukaram:

Certainty undermines one’s power, and turns happiness
into a long shot. Certainty confines.

Dears, there is nothing in your life that will
not change – especially your ideas of God.

Look what the insanity of righteous knowledge can do:
crusade and maim thousands
in wanting to convert that which
is already gold
into gold.

Certainty can become an illness
that creates hate and
greed.

God once said to Tuka,

“Even I am ever changing –
I am ever beyond
Myself,

what I may have once put my seal upon,
may no longer be
the greatest
Truth.”

Although we often discuss our intolerance uncertainty as creating anxiety and worry, today we considered that absolute certainty isn’t good for us, as the poet says being certain of theories or ideologies can be very harmful. Also if we are inflexible in our views or trust we are likely to be disappointed or hurt.

The poetry in this session was a lovely way for people to share their inner and thoughts, feelings and responses in this difficult time and connecting us in our shared experiences.

Please check our poetry page for more poems by group members.

Media; friend or foe?

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In today’s group we wanted to look at parts of the media which people found helpful along side the parts which people found to be emotionally damaging. Of course there are many forms of media we gain access from; newspapers, news bulletins, TV/radio shows which brings us up to the latest form of media which is widely used ; social media. Below are the examples given for friend or foe;

Friend of media; Facebook allows people to have fun and catch up with old friends or family who may live in different locations around the world. Twitter allows people to follow other people of interest and find out what is going on in their lives. Through online streaming services like Spotify and Apple music we are able to support and share emerging artists. Most websites now provide access to helpful forums which allow people to chat and leave comments on certain topics. Having these forms of media can help people feel less alone with a question or issue. Media can provide a great vehicle to raise awareness for things like mental health and suicide prevention.

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Foe; Targeted advertising after visiting a website can feel intrusive. The dis-inhibition online effect where people can become ‘Keyboard warriors’ and be abusive to others. Conspiracy theories and fake news promoted at large can provoke feelings of fear in people. Using electronic devices all the time can make it hard to maintain contact with people who are physically beside you. People can find that positive affirmations they receive on social media can become addictive and feel disappointed if subsequent posts do not reach the same level of ‘likes’. The way photos are posted using certain art effects or Photoshop tools can give a false presentation of someone who feels that they have to strive for perfectionism. Some media is set up to fit a certain narrative which does not allow people to have any dialogue or discussion. Echo chambers with a hatred for different opinions can grow which can lead to examples of ‘trolling’ and other dehumanising behaviour.

In conclusion It is important to remember as human beings we very much rely on connection with others for a healthy well-being, but as the above examples show we need to do so in a way which feels safe.

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Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is an area we will continue to visit often in this group as it is something helpful for us all to practice and something we generally struggle to do, so encouragement and reminders to be self-compassionate are helpful.

Compassion literally means to ‘suffer with’ and is an active word, implying movement, a rising up to alleviate suffering. The group spent some time reflecting on how they feel towards others when suffering and experiencing that sense of feeling moved to alleviate suffering. When asked about practising self-compassion, group members continued to talk only about others. This was noted! People were able to identify a strong expectation of perfectionism within themselves which could lead to self-criticism in ways they would not expect from or criticise others.

Kristin Neff’s component explanation of self-compassion of self-kindness versus self-criticism was presented. She puts it this way, in her website self-compassion.org:

“Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.  Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When this reality is denied or fought against suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism.  When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.”

Research into self-criticism and self-compassion have shown that self-criticism increases anxiety whereas self-compassion can decrease anxiety. We considered the three systems approach used in Compassion Focused Therapy to understand this more, from Getselfhelp

Group members identified a strong identification with an active threat system and less so with the soothing system.

Each time we tried to talk about how to be self-compassionate, people started talking about compassion for others. Indeed it is the full vision of compassion focused therapy that all; ourselves and others, are treated compassionately. However the deflection from self-compassion to compassion for others was explored. What we discovered was a well documented feeling of resistance towards the practice of self-compassion because of deeply ingrained self-criticism, and that the idea of kindness caused an unwelcome emotional response and began to expose painful experiences of being criticised, hurt, let down and having trust betrayed by others.

Kristin Neff compares this reaction to self-compassion as a backdraft:

“Some people find that when they practice self-compassion, their pain actually increases at first. We call this phenomena backdraft, a firefighting term that describes what happens when a door in a burning house is opened – oxygen goes in and flames rush out. A similar process can occur when we open the door of our hearts – love goes in and old pain comes out.”

Group members were keen to learn how to be more self-compassionate, so we introduced the ‘Compassion break exercise’. This is a nice way to start practising self-compassion because it allows us to start thinking about how to be kind and care for ourselves as we start to notice and identify having a moment of suffering. This could be anything such as feeling acute loneliness, words spoken that really stung us, feeling left out of something, or feeling horrible about things said and regretted in an argument.

You can find the exercise here: Self-compassion Break

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Guilt and Forgiveness

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We began the group discussion looking at how sensitive we are to feeling guilt by exploring a couple of scenarios;

If you received too much change in a shop and kept it without saying anything, how uncomfortable would you feel about this?…

This led to a discussion about guilt in relation to values, moral relativism and context. Levels of guilt depended on whether it was a big store or a local shop and whether the individual cashier was considered.

and….

You shared a friend’s secret, and even though they never found out, do you now take extra extra care when keeping secrets? There was a common consensus with this scenario that people would feel terrible guilt about breaching confidence.

Forgiveness is a helpful relative of guilt and so we spent some time looking at ideas shared about this topic from writers including; C.S Lewis, R.T Kendall, Lewis B. Smedes, Pema Chodron, Corrie ten Boom and a podcast from P’s and G’s church Edinburgh.

Sometimes the news takes an interest when we hear of atrocities and where victims or families of victims say things like:

“The aggressor could be my son and I forgive him.  He was not in his senses.  I am a great believer, I forgive what he did.” (Man whose daughter and son-in-law were shot in a supermarket orphaning their children).

The above man chose to forgive. Forgiveness is not an easy choice. It is tough, challenging, demanding, and is not an easy option because we have to face what happened and be in the painful feelings.

We might hope we would be forgiving in the face of a great offence, or even a small one, but we don’t know how we react or what we would feel inside until something actually happens.

C.S Lewis said “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a good idea-until there is someone we need to forgive.”

Revenge can seem like an attractive option for dealing with the pain. Indeed when we watch TV, films and read books we may be routing for people to get their ‘just desserts’. There is a big difference however between revenge and justice. It is cautioned “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

Lewis B. Smedes says: “Vengeance is a passion to get even. It is a hot desire to give back as much pain as someone gives you. The problem with revenge is that it never gets what it wants; it never evens the score. Fairness never comes. The chain reaction set off by every act of vengeance always takes its unhindered course. It ties both the injured and the injurer to an escalator of pain. Both are stuck on the escalator as long as parity is demanded, and the escalator never stops, never lets anyone off”.

Group members talked about their own experiences of forgiving and the weight it took off them. Some had also reconciled stating however that this can only occur when someone has taken responsibility for the wrong they have done; reconciliation must go hand in hand with truth.

We might be familiar with some very powerful stories of forgiveness, the power seems to be in the release experienced when we forgive. Although when we have been deeply hurt we feel angry and bitter, this can eventually become destructive, the person who suffers most from unforgiveness is us.

It is important to understand what forgiveness is and what it isn’t.

R.T Kendall suggests that forgiveness isn’t approving of what the person has done, or just pretending like it didn’t happen.  It does not mean excusing or justifying what they did and it doesn’t mean reconciling. The other person may be dead so we can’t always reconcile, or they may not be a safe person to be in contact with. But we can forgive.

Forgiveness affects us, not the other person.  Forgiveness is not denying what the other did, or denying the hurt and angry emotions we feel or denying the consequences. Forgiveness is not about forgetting-we may need to remember in order to forgive.  It’s not about ignoring the pain, the wrong or the hurt or taking it less seriously.

Forgiveness is being fully aware of what someone has done and yet still choosing to forgive them. Corrie ten Boom said: “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

Forgiveness is a conscious choice to keep no record of wrongs, a desire to keep it quiet. To stop telling the story to everyone. It is often tempting to talk about how outrageous they were and how deeply we feel hurt, forgiveness is a decision to stop doing this.  We recognised that when we hurt it is important to process it and to talk it through. But, resentment, where we literally re sense it, over and over again, feeling the pain with whoever will listen is generally not productive.  Forgiveness desires the idea that the other may forgive themselves. Those being forgiven often struggle to forgive themselves, it can be very difficult to believe someone else can forgive them.

We considered the unforgiveness we hold towards ourselves. When weighed with self-compassion and an understanding that all humans are flawed and have shortcomings this can start to make forgiveness easier than holding standards of perfection with expectations that no one should ever get it wrong. Recognising the common humanity that every one of us messes up sometimes can help us to be more compassionate and forgiving to self and others.

Group members talked about Brene Brown who we have spoken about in the group previously. Guilt, was discussed as a sometimes helpful emotion as it indicates we are doing something wrong, other people may refer to this sense as ‘conviction’ or conscience. Shame takes it all to a personal level, believing that we are wrong in our entirety as a person. Shame is not always helpful.

Forgiveness is a deliberate choice each and every day. It is also a process that can take time to process what happened and how we feel before we are ready and able to forgive.

Pema Chodron said: “My experience with forgiveness is that it sort of comes spontaneously at a certain point and to try to force it it’s not really forgiveness”.

Like boltcutters, forgiveness sets us free from being tied to what someone else did, the first person to feel delight at forgivness is you! You feel release when you choose to release them.

Lockdown survival kit

It is fair to say this is the first time that any of us have lived through a pandemic. As we have kept in touch as a group over the last few months, first by telephone and now online together we have shared with each other how we have managed time apart, time alone, ways to feel safe, connected and manage anxiety amidst the constantly changing landscape of culture, society and social interaction.

Nearly six months in to this new way of doing life is feeling quite wearisome for many as we look at how we settle in and adjust to perhaps a more long term societal change than we would have hoped. While most people would like Lockdown to come to an end, we are aware this time has allowed some of us the space to learn new skills like dancing, meditation and yoga alongside rediscovered activities such as reading, studying, walking and exploring local history, and baking.

In order to get through these challenging and uncertain times we looked at the different things people used in their own survival kits to get them to get through this period. A common thing in survival kits was the entertainment industry and how it provided a welcomed sense of escapism. It was also interesting to note how many people had a shared fondness for mafia movies and TV shows. People found them to be very exciting and were particularly fascinated by the dynamics of how family life and morals are shown. It was the strong emphasis on family and togetherness that was the appeal which perhaps feels quite poignant in a time of separation. Similarly people had been enjoying the radio for it’s feeling of companionship whilst isolated, and the range of topics offered to think about to stimulate thinking.

Outdoor coffee has become a real treat and people have found inner creativity and got more involved in photography and poetry with the extra space and time we all found to discover a little more about ourselves.

Group members, like most people have found new and different ways to stay connected, such as Zoom and WhatsApp. The common theme here shows how extremely important it is to have connection with others. Just knowing that someone cares can make all the difference.

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Mindfulness after the storm

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A couple of nights before the group met last week, residents of Edinburgh and neighbouring parts of Scotland encountered the most dramatic storms we have seen in quite some time.

We met online for a session on mindfulness, firstly defining mindfulness as:

“The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally to things as they are” (Kabat-Zinn).

Group members spoke about their experience of mindfulness, some people commented how that they had sometimes found it hard to get into and hard to relax because of continually worrying. Some had found it useful and wanted to practise more exercises. We discussed how even slowing down the breath can help to calm our threat system.

We considered where our minds had predominantly been this morning before the meeting, whether in the past, present or the future, and where our minds were normally. We agreed that for the most part, being presently minded was most useful to us. Dwelling too much on past events could lead to rumination and low mood. Overthinking the future with all it’s unknown and uncertainties-especially during this pandemic, could create high levels of catastrophising and anxiety.

Being grounded in the present moment allows us to be focused, present and have joy in the moment. Mindfulness then, is acquiring the great but simple art of just noticing where we are, and possibly who we are, right now. Mindfulness also just watches where our mind goes off to, where it may drift and wander. When we are aware of this we can have more control over not being pulled in rumination or catastrophising or worry.

Because of the storm, internet connections were a bit intermittent, so some group members lost momentary connection with the group and had to connect back in again. Maybe this is a parallel with what can happen with mindfulness, where we drift off in thought and perhaps lose contact with our conscious mind for a moment, but then we notice and actively connect back to ourselves in the present moment. This is precisely what mindfulness is, noticing where our mind goes; sometimes it goes away because it needs to attend to something else.

We used an exercise today to practise being aware of our ‘self’ observing our thoughts, feelings, sensations and motivations. Learning to observe these parts allows us to step back and objectively realise that we do not need to be taken over by an emotion or thought process and we can start to take a little more control of our state by increasing this awareness.

It is maybe important to acknowledge that dwelling in the present may sometimes be painful and stressful if we are in crisis. However, a self-compassionate response to our pain with empathy, understanding and caring for what we need in the moment may help us to face rather than avoid difficult times.

It’s like all the chaotic energy firing around in a thunder storm, it needs be discharged to find ground and be earthed. Likewise for us, sometimes the way to calm the storm is to put our feet on the ground and take a few deep breaths and see where we are and what we need right in this moment.

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What we may be

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says “Lord, we know what we are, but not what we may be.” This quote points to future possibilities and potential being unknown. For Ophelia and Hamlet, whose lives were written by someone else, namely Shakespeare, they didn’t get much say over how things turned out for them. However, we can create our own narrative in life. Piero Furrucci took forward a passion, believing that visualisation and imagination can change and determine our situations; that through, love, kindness and creativity, lives may be transformed. In this week’s group we used one of Ferrucci’s visualisation exercises together. The exercise allowed us to meet a part of ourselves (as we all have many parts, for example, the part that wants to go for an early morning walk each day and the part that wants to sleep in). Ferucci’s exercise allowed us to meet a part and find out a bit more about it.

Our group experiences included finding perfectionist parts, and seeing that perhaps things did not always have to be exact. Some found parts that were looking for nurture and care and realised the ways this could be achieved, some realised the part that would like to just relax and be, and others found a hope in future possibilities.

When we find a part of ourselves, and what it might need and start to be kind to it, this will hopefully help us to be less critical towards the parts of ourselves that we feel uncomfortable with and try to avoid. If we find out what the part needs, we can transform that part through our understanding of it.

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More lighthearted jokes from group members!

Fun is an important part of our well-being

“Don’t buy anything with velcro, it’s a total rip off!”
“Hedgehogs eh? Why don’t they just share the hedge?!” 
“I’m not doing this stay at home thing for the good of my health you know!”
“Don’t buy a spider from the pet shop, you can get one cheaper from the web!”
“So without telling her, I swapped our bed for a trampoline, my wife hit the roof!”
“Today I built an electric fence around my house, my neighbour is dead against it!”
“I Wish I could get a job cleaning Mirrors, it’s just something I can see myself doing!” 
“Russian dolls eh? They’re so full of themselves!” 
I bought my friends an elephant for their room. They said “Thank you” I said ” Don’t mention it”!
“There’s no real training if you’re a bin man … you just have to pick up things as you go along!”
“I just wrote a song about a tortilla…well its more of a rap really!” 
“People are making apocalypse jokes…like there’s no tomorrow!” 

Enjoying Nature During Lockdown

In last week’s meeting online we discussed where we had been for walks during lockdown and what we had discovered or rediscovered and enjoyed during this time. Some had stayed quite close to home and in doing so discovered a great deal more about their locality than they had previously noticed. People had found new pathways, historical sites and places which brought peace and pleasure. Those who had ventured a little further had seen some more unusual wildlife, whilst others had become familiar with the birds which visited their garden. Wherever we had been it seemed that everyone had a bigger awareness of natural spaces and places of peacefulness.

Walking and getting out into nature are good for us in a myriad of ways. Physically walking increases heart rate, decreases blood pressure, boosts immunity, strengthens bones and aids sleep. Socially, walking allows us to have connection with our fellow human beings as we say hello, point to a beautiful sunset, comment on the wind or say hello to a waggy tailed dog. Group members commented that during lockdown people were more likely to say hello to each other on their daily walks, and hoped that this would be a feature that continues as restrictions are eased. Walking with another person facilitates open conversation and a mutual appreciation of the landscape and allows a physical rhythm of walking together. Walking is good for our mental health, it improves mood due to the release of endorphins.

If we are unable to physically go out walking, looking a picture of a calming natural scene reduces stress. Activities like looking at pictures, looking out of a window, going for a drive in nice scenery or virtual tours, sitting in a garden or growing flowers in a window box or feeding the birds are all beneficial.

Walking is also good for our brain health, as we walk and navigate we increase brain activity in different brain regions which helps us to problem solve and get creative.