Coping With Crisis Through Heartfulness Meditation

Vedo Chatterjee

The world is currently going through a strange and difficult period. For the first time in history, almost every corner of the globe has been hit simultaneously by a crisis. Indeed, some news reports suggest that we may be facing something of the magnitude of the 1930’s Great Depression, or perhaps even worse.

In spite of the single, common source of the problem, there are many ways in which each individual may be affected, depending on where they live, their means of income, and many other factors. I am currently in the UK, maintaining isolation at home with my wife, and we are both fortunate to be able to work from home, and have some semblance of occupation. There is, of course, an enormous slowdown in terms of projects and work, however, we are learning to take one day at a time, and are still grateful for having something to do. We are making use of some the time we have at hand by enrolling on online courses. However, staying indoors for such long periods of time, and a lack of environmental stimuli can also take a toll on the functioning of the brain and mind. In the UK, so far, individuals are allowed and also encouraged, to go outdoors for one form of exercise each day, while maintaining the social distancing guidelines.

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However, the unpredictability of the future, concerns about the health of our family members in other parts of the world, the future of our jobs, and the health of the economy in general, can sometimes be quite overwhelming. The days seem to be long and painful, with a lingering sense of anxiety about where all this is going. But, such a crisis is also a signal to bring about change. Not just for the global leaders and policy makers to rethink business models and operational structures, but also for each individual, to rethink our own world-views. It is an almost established notion that human beings are resistant to change. And right now, when we are standing face to face with uncertainties of such great magnitude, we know deep in our hearts, that we have to change. And for that we need courage.

While the mind is busy with different possibilities and threats, we need to build courage in our hearts to cope with the uncertainty that lies ahead. One way to build such courage is through meditation, and I am glad that my wife and I have been practising a form of meditation known as ‘Heartfulness’ meditation for many years and which has been a great support system for us.

Heartfulness meditation uses a ‘heart-centred’ technique, whereby the practitioner imagines a source of light within their heart, and tries to keep their attention anchored to this source. At home, we begin our day with about 40 minutes of meditation, and only then go about doing our daily activities. I can tell from experience, that there is a tangible difference in the quality of my mind on the days I meditate, from the days that I don’t. With better control on my emotions, I can decide to focus on things that I like to do, or want to do. This is important since we are all faced with the challenge of keeping ourselves constructively occupied, in order to cope with the stress and anxiety of what the future might turn out to be.

The human mind-body system is designed to respond to threat. Our physiological and psychological response is actually meant for us to take some form of action in order to deal with the threat. The peculiarity of the current situation is that although there is a threat, we cannot take any action. And therein lies the conundrum! We have to accept what is to come, and patiently tolerate everything. This kind of whole-hearted acceptance and patience cannot be processed in our minds. It is only possible, when we sit down quietly, shut our eyes, and nurture a glow in our hearts, with which we can develop the strength to accept and endure. When we learn to deflect our attention towards our heart, we can get a break from our constantly chattering minds.

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When I started my journey with Heartfulness meditation, my first trainer, an experienced practitioner, had suggested to me that “meditation is like pressing the pause button of the mind”. Right now, those words come back to me, when I desperately search for this pause button. This does not mean that the world outside ceases to exist. What it means is that when I come back to deal with the world, I have more mental clarity and emotional control, in order to attempt a better response. I know that if I have to think through all this, I might go insane with worry. But, through Heartfulness meditation, I am able to use my heart to endure a little more, and utilize my mind to do something else. That is not to say that I have reached a form of perfection, whereby I am able to maintain this state all the time. But, whenever I feel disoriented, at any time of the day, I allow myself to press the pause button again, and tune in to the acceptance of the heart. Heartfulness practice also teaches us to perform a visualization exercise at the end of the day, whereby we imagine that all unwanted emotions and complexities are removed from our system, so that we can attain a more desirable state of equanimity.

The Heartfulness approach to the current situation was very elegantly communicated as “if you cannot go outside, go inside”. This, although sounds quite mystical, is partly true. Thus, in the middle of all that is happening, lies the faint glimmer of an opportunity. At an organizational level, most companies and groups in the world have for once turned their gaze to something other than mere monetary profit. It is heartening to see the levels of charity and social work being undertaken by several entities all over the world. The effects of the crisis may be irreversible and tragic for some, yet it has to some extent brought forth, even if temporarily, the better side of all our social systems.

This makes us think, can a similar idea be applied to our individual selves as well? If crisis compels us to take another path, then can there be something to learn, gain, or explore on this path? Maybe with a practice such as meditation, we might find something in ourselves or about ourselves that is different or unexpected. Maybe there is something within us which is above the vicissitudes of the physical world, something strong enough to accept, endure, and perhaps, even, grow in the middle of this chaos.