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Reframing Pandemic Life Using Mindfulness

Published Monday Aug 9, 2021

Author Annabel Beerel

Reframing Pandemic Life Using Mindfulness

What title would you give to the chapter in your autobiography or memoir that focused on the year 2020? How would you capture the essence of that epic year; a year that brought the world to its knees? A year that doubtless upended your life in some way.

Will it be a lost year? A year where life was on hold? A year when you were constantly waiting for it to end so that normality, as you knew it, would return? A year filled with pain, confusion and frustration? Or a year filled with insights?

With optimism and personal growth? What kind of year was it for you?

I posed these questions to 25 people, of various ages and backgrounds, who have regularly participated in a weekly Zoom mindfulness and meditation practice since April 1, 2020. With little exception, participants responded spontaneously to the question. As they formulated their responses, there was minimal twisting, turning, fretting or frowning. On the contrary, I barely had a moment after posing the questions to draw the next breath before the first person piped up. She was immediately followed by the next and the next.

These were some of the chapter titles offered:
•    The Year of the Family – Reconnected
•    The Great Awakening
•    Reflection and Reinvention
•    Time to Explore the Gifts Within
•    Hit the Reset Button
•    Pondering
•    A Wake-up Call
•    A Wonderful Year of Knowing and Growing
•    One of the Best Years of my Life!

An energetic discussion followed these offerings. The person who claimed it was one of the best years of her life described how she had been forced to pause and look at who she was, and what she really wanted for herself. Many spoke of the opportunities to slow down, to walk in nature and to get a healthy dose of fresh air and exercise, things they had been previously robbed of by sitting in traffic or burdened by long commutes. Others mentioned how much the time had taught them, and even though they missed their colleagues, their friends and the opportunities to hug, it had been a special time.

Yes, it was (remains) challenging, and yes, they had to make many adjustments, and yes, home life did get difficult on occasion, but overall, they were the better for it.

Over the year, several of the participants had to deal with non-COVID related, in some cases life-threatening, medical conditions, and many knew people who died, some of those being relatives or close friends. Yet, they had survived, were enormously grateful and grew through it all. They insisted that without the regular mindfulness and meditation practice, and the group support, the year would have been way more challenging, and they doubted they would have weathered it with the same resilience without the weekly get-togethers.

So, what is the magic behind mindfulness and meditation that, despite a torturous year, can help people find meaning, hope and even joy? What enabled them to ascend to a different perspective, to see radical upheaval as an opportunity for growth, to find inner solace in the case of loss and to experience transformation?

The so-called magic of mindfulness and meditation lies in its calming simplicity. It is first and foremost an invitation to slow down. This slowing down process then leads to a journey in self-awareness, where one turns the spotlight of one’s attention that normally flits frenetically from one external event or person to another, back on oneself. This does not mean a trip into self-absorption or a feeding of one’s narcissism. It means paying gentle and non-judgmental attention to one’s own attention. It is as simple as that.

This paying attention to one’s attention provides an opportunity to witness what one is giving attention to, and to observe the quality of that attention. It is the quality of our attention that radically affects our lives. It determines what we see and what we don’t see. It shapes our experience and our interpretation of that experience. And it influences the stories we tell ourselves about our own existence and about others.

With mindfulness and meditation, we observe ourselves, and we get to see in real time how we construe our reality. Now this might seem daunting, yet, if done with open curiosity, over time, it becomes enormously freeing and empowering.  

As we pay attention to what we attend to, we are also paying attention to our own bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings.

For once, we are truly present. We are there in our full embodied humanness, consciously participating in each moment and how we are living each moment.

Mindfulness and meditation are not self-improvement programs. They are not intended to make us better, nicer, smarter or healthier. They may and usually do that, but that is a bonus payoff. That should not be the primary motivation for our engagement. We should take up the practice for its own sake; for the love of getting to know who we really are.

Mindfulness and meditation also enable us to access our inner resources in new ways. We get in touch with our enormous capacities for adaptation, compassion and resilience in times of radical change and stress. This self-knowledge is grounding.

It gives us greater self-confidence to meet the twists and turns of life with a greater equanimity.

Mindfulness and meditation are a way of life. Once we begin the journey, like most journeys, it takes on a life of its own.

And that life is strengthening and life-giving.

Annabel Beerel, PhD, is a leadership and change management executive in Massachusetts who works with senior executives to advance organizational effectiveness and on mindfulness leadership. She is the author of “Mindfulness: A Better Me, Better You, Better World.” For more information, visit, call 781-771-5663 or email

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