The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime ’Black Swan’ event. Its scope and impact is even more devastating than World War I or World War II.
Naturally, the trauma that has resulted is unimaginable. Society needs to find ways to cope with this now and for the guaranteed post-traumatic stress that will linger on for years to come.
Today, as we all endure the lockdown- stress, uncertainty and fear affect our minds.
All of us feel the emotional impact, less or more. First there is disbelief, then shock, and panic. As sporadic news becomes a neighbourhood reality, we see tragedy close by. Then fear turns to deep sadness. It is difficult to deal with disruption and loss, without any rationale.
In some ways, the psychological health issues are more extensive than the contagion itself.
Humans have six primary emotions – joy, surprise, fear, disgust, sadness and anger. You can see the majority of our emotions are negative. Joy is the engine that must prevail against the many other emotions and pull us to safe harbour. Joy must beat the negativity.
This is a big challenge because evolution has wired human beings to react more negatively then positively. As we evolved as a species, emotions linked to negativity of outcome often became a life saver. We learned to take our negativity seriously.
Without cognition, there can be no emotion. Hence, we tuned our cognition especially for negative stimuli. Basically, we have an in built bias for negativity.
As humans, we notice, process and react to negatives. This impacts our mood. Therefore, we have to mindfully alter the proportion of the various emotions being felt and the overall disposition that it results in.
We must strive to overwhelm the negative with the positive.
But how exactly do we do this?
This can be done by focusing on the present. Our moods are corrupted because of memory from the past or apprehension regarding the future. It is only ‘in the moment’ that we find our ‘neutral gear’ so to speak. Only ‘in moment’ can one be calm and unbiased. The mind is quietened when it focuses on the present. But it is very hard to keep it focused.
This is where the importance of deliberate mood challenging comes in to play. We must be wary of our emotions and thoughts and cancel out the negative and emphasise the positive. We must cancel anger and replace it with gratitude. By focusing on what we have and what we must be thankful for. By turning bad news from elsewhere into a marker for gratitude on our situation. We must look at our condition and always put the spotlight on those things which we can be grateful for.
In a lock down situation, we also can insulate ourselves from psychological distress by depending on music as a mood builder. There is no human culture that does not have music or the concept of melody. It is inherent in nature. The sound of flowing water, rustling of leaves, singing of birds et cetera are all part of cosmic music. Charles Darwin claimed that music proceeded speech as an elaboration of mating calls. Rousseau – the philosopher – wrote that, in prehistoric times, speech was subordinate to song.
Studies using MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) scans prove that a simple musical composition engages several parts of the brain. This includes the temporal lobe for pitch, melody, patterns and chords; the cerebellum processes rhythm and the front lobe responds to meaning and emotion. It also engages both the left and the right brain and the response to music lights up the reward centre – a region of the hypothalamus.
Music has the same impact as any pleasure, thrill or euphoria. It activates the mind in neuroanatomical and also Neurochemical ways.
In processing music in a mindful way, we enhance blood flow to the brain structures collectively called the Mesocorticolimbic system. This surge of blood here stimulates the sense of reward and reinforces joy.
Therefore, music and meditating on music reduces stress, enhances joy, leads to heightened positive emotions, leads to a sense of well-being and modulates blood pressure, muscle tension and pituitary growth hormones.
Last but not the least, I come to the dual aspects of mindfulness and meditation.
Meditation is about ’in dwelling’ . It is about experiencing the infinite within the finite. Mindfulness is enhanced by meditation because it is engaging the spirit within the self. If we recognise what is inside us is beyond birth, death and infinite , then all the issues outside seem puny and meaningless.
Meditation is to be one with our inner stream of consciousness and that is why it is also referred to as the transcendental.
Meditation helps us to build stores of internal energy. It sharpens those faculty is that are essential for emotional wellbeing.
It is not a retreat. It is an advancement. Only provided that it’s done with full consciousness.
We are all together in a crisis. The outcomes for humanity are not clear except that we must persist and do whatever we can to fight this global pandemic.
Now, it takes discipline to develop positive mindfulness and conscious meditative practice. It’s also difficult to let the music truly soak the soul. But it is a lot easier than being morose and defeated. It’s our choice. And we must make our choices count.
When we emerge, let us be better in every way -collectively and as individuals.
Over to Music ,Meditation, Mindfulness and (good) Moods !
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.