There is a old Irish proverb Níl leigheas ar an gcathú ach é a mharú le foighne – There is no cure for regret but to kill it with patience. I have always loved the idea of it but it has taken on strong significance in recent times.
The world is anticipating a surge in mental health problems as result of the current covid-19 pandemic. Isolation, separation anxiety, fear, uncertainty, weakening job security and a lot of time on a lot of hands and heads to ponder, ruminate and entertain regrets. Can we inoculate against it, is there a way to kill it it before it spikes – maybe patience is the answer? And by patience we can include equanimity, self-regulation, stoic mindsets and good old mindfulness.
Regret plays a big role in the prolonging of a depressive episode as well as often being the initial trigger to an episode. That disappointment or remorse over a recent set back or occurrence can be the thorn prick that allowed infection in, can be the depletion of energy and motivation to get beyond the setback and in to the flow of better occurrences. Well, here’s how to not just stop it in its tracks but slay it – have patience.
In the Irish language ‘cathú’ is a word that can mean temptation, regret or sorrow – the unholy trinity of many a suffering soul. The trick is not to be tempted by prolonged regret, not to indulge it, its ok to experience it, to observe its effect upon your mood and energy levels but it is also ok to let it pass. To not get attached. To remove yourself from it. Don’t repent, relent – yield to tolerance, apply forgiveness, allow self-compassion, embrace resilience.
It doesn’t have to a war of attrition, you don’t have to wait it out with your life on hold, you can move on with grace and self-compassion and fortitude and live your life with the patient understanding that past regrets don’t need a future or a presence in your now.
Impatience is intolerance. Intolerance is exasperation and aggravation. Exasperation and aggravation are irritation, agitation and discontent. Irritation, agitation and discontent are loss of control, annoyance and anxiety – see how it multiplies. Patience is the capacity to not go there, to simply accept and not attach oneself to delay, complication, problems, or personal suffering.
We can strengthen our capacity for patience through mediation and other mindful exercises. The more we experience patient and grounded moments the more we attune ourselves to that mode of behaviour.
Exercise. The body scan.
There are a few versions of this, varying in duration, intensity, orientation of progressive focus and also posture (standing, sitting, lying down), but all serve to connect you with your body as a means of mindful engagement, all facilitate a honing of observation skills and learning to focus on real-time experiences. The long-term goal of returning with regularity to this meditation or scanning process, is to experience with equanimity the body we inhabit and by extension to be able to experience the world and its vicissitudes with equanimity too. It requires some patience but it also strengthens patience.
This version here can be begun as a 5 minute exercise and stretched out over time to become a 10-15 minute practice. It is a seated version for beginner’s ease and it only employs observation, no attempts are made to soothe or solve sensations noticed. Practice it as an observation meditation until you are proficient (not restless within the process) then you can evolve it into a wind down relaxation process or even a progressive muscle relaxation technique. The aim for now is to notice, acknowledge and move on without the need to interfere or alter – to notice, recognise and allow it be of no concern. It is not just acquiring calmed composure but strengthening of self-control.
So sit comfortably, on a chair or on the floor. There is no pressure to assume any posture other than one you will be able to sustain for 5 minutes. Take a few breathes and settle into being seated. Close your eyes and follow your breathe for a few moments. Bring your attention to the parts of your body that are touching a solid surface, feel your bum on the yoga mat, your back against the wall or supported by the chair rests. Feel your solidity in the posture, be a corporal presence, this is about checking in with your body – Hold that a moment, continue to follow your breathe and as you inhale and exhale be aware that you are of a body, any thoughts that arise let them go, be a body siting, be yourself sitting.
You may at this point start to feel sensations within the body, a tight neck or a mild lower back ache or feel a pulse in your feet – that’s ok, that’s just your body saying hello back. We are just going to observe in a systematic way the sections of our body from head to toe or vice versa. There may be no noticeable sensation in some sections – that’s ok, there may be pressure, tingling or even temperature noticed in some – that’s ok too. The emphasis is on noticing, no need to react. It is a scan through the parts, think of a computer scanner, methodical and unruffled – no judgement or other action, just the process of going through line by line.
Bring your attention to your toes, no need to wiggle just allow your focus/experience to be of your toes, next your feet, your ankles, your calves, resting a few moments on each to check in and be present with, before moving on, your thighs, your buttocks, hips, lower back, torso, take as much time as you need with each, fingers, wrists, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, observe any sensations present but don’t intervene, no need to try relax that area, you are observing the reality of that limb or muscle in the now, it is what it is, you just are, you are there with it, present but unruffled, your neck, your jaw, your head, simply scan each, witness, acknowledge, move on, when complete, follow your breathe a few moments then bring your focus to the entirety of your sitting self, a whole body, your whole self, inhale, exhale, allow yourself to feel solid and grounded, unruffled, just a being sitting, in the moment of sitting and being, inhale, exhale, there you are, here you are, you are, inhale, exhale, slowly open your eyes and when you are ready return to your day.