Meditation, previously seen in the West as something more New Age than mainstream, has been around for thousands of years and is inherently the basis of most of the world’s faith systems. Meditation has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, especially in Western culture, as it has become increasingly connected with stress reduction and a boost in overall well-being. In a time of constant technological bombardment, reconnecting with space itself seems only wise. Add in the constant feelings of being stuck indoors and it makes sense to re-embrace the feelings long lost. 

However, there is no singular way to approach meditation, even if you are just coming into it for the first time. There is no right way to meditate. As an associate professor of religious studies Elaine Yuen, Ph.D. puts it, “The purpose of meditation is to bring a sense of calmness and awareness.” (1) As someone that practices meditation myself, let’s work through some of the basic components that will allow you to find peace in a time of Zoom calls and screen staring.  

Position/Movement 

What position do you find yourself most relaxed in? Are you the kind of person for whom a walk promotes your stress relief? Would you rather find yourself unmoving, cemented in place as the world moves around you? 

These questions do not need to be yes or no answers. For some it can be a mix, or it might depend on your mood on any given day. As long as you get into a mediation rhythm, position can vary. For me personally, I enjoy a walk to get away from the computer, and sitting meditation before bed.  

If you go with walking, where are you going to do it? Are you the kind of person for whom nature is the key to meditation, or are you someone who needs the power of a city to relax? For me here in New London, I love the Connecticut College Arboretum for some long weekend walking meditation. 

If you do choose to go the unmoving route, what position are you going to remain in? For some, cross-legged meditation is preferable, but others find that it can be straining on the joints. Laying down can be a valid option, as it lessens the stress on the body as a whole.  

A word of note, please do not feel guilty if in the process of meditation you happen to doze off. It happens to everyone, and perhaps it just means that your body needed just a bit more of a deep meditation.  

Indoors or Outdoors 

Where do you want to be when you commit to mediation? Is your home a comfortable space for you to exist and be in? Do you feel that you need to separate your mediation from your home? Do you have the ability to mediate outdoors safely? 

While nature for some provides the purest connection to the earth as a whole, others find the comfort of home to allow for the mind to feel at ease. For some, it may be an accessibility issue, living in a place where outdoor access may prove difficult. 

If meditating inside, I find it helpful to designate a space for it. Somewhere where your mind enters a meditative state when you enter the space. For me it’s the corner of my room, and I keep it clear so that my mind may also remain clear while within the space. 

Sound or Silence 

Do you find it hard to focus without something to focus on? Do you find relaxing moments in the purest of silence? What makes it possible for you to focus? 

For some, absolute silence is needed for their minds to come to a point of ease. Yet for others, something has to exist in the space for their mind to be at rest. Guided meditations are wonderful, and it sounds odd but certain voices work better for some than others. As a transwoman, I find that a woman’s voice puts me in a calmer place than a man’s, for instance. Everyone is different, and for some people, simple white noise or classical music provides enough of a focal point with which to focus from, no voice needed.  

The tougher the day for me, the more I find I need some sort of noise to occupy my mind. When walking, I like the sound of rain (over, of course, actually walking in the rain). For indoors, a fan running behind me will do nicely.  

Final Notes 

I am no expert, but these observations come from years of practice. Like anything, meditation just takes time. You just need to find your rhythm, and let yourself flow. There is no wrong way to do meditation, just as long as you are doing it.  

One piece of advice that has helped me immensely is that when you get those intrusive thoughts that come up, do not just ignore them. Like a dam, they will build up until it makes it impossible to focus on your breathing. Instead, acknowledge its presence, saying something to yourself like “I see you, thought, but I will come back to you later.” This simple act allows for your mind to return to a sense of ease, much like this rock as it balances, creating a lovely alcove. 

Remember, the key to meditating is just to do it. Let yourself find the way that works for you, and change if you feel like you need to. Let it be a place where you can just be you, and let your mind come to ease away from the world of technology that controls our every moment. Just breathe, and keep on going, whether that be for 15 minutes or an hour.  

  1. Melero, Angela. “This Trendy Meditative Practice Is Said To Help Combat Anxiety.” The Zoe Report. Accessed May 21, 2020. https://www.thezoereport.com/p/these-different-forms-of-meditation-take-both-fresh-traditional-approaches-on-ancient-practice-22888900. 

By Colleen Boken

Throughout my time in college history and art history courses, I wondered after reading diaries, newspaper articles and other primary source materials, how would our current system of information gathering, with a massive amount of social media, a political climate unlike what has been seen before, and a radical changing of faith, would cope with an event of such significant magnitude.  

One might argue that we already know, given that in 2001, an event that rattled the United States as a whole changed the very fabric of how we travel. Yet, 9/11 was now almost 19 years ago, in an age when Macs looked like this (and they STILL HAD A CD PLAYER)!

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(Image via Wikipedia by Marcin Wichary)

Also, Facebook was still 3 years before launch, in a time before MySpace was even created. 9/11 was also a distinctly American event. Sure, security around the world changed, but no other country remembers 9/11 in the same way. Even people outside of New York, Pennsylvania, or DC remember it best because of the news coverage. Lastly, let’s not forget that kids right out of college now, born in 1996, barely remember, if at all, the event as a whole. Our entire student body is full of individuals who will now remember the COVID-19 quarantine as the defining historical event of their youth. It’s sufficient to say that the world this generation is entering into is not necessarily one of war, but one of health and politics.  

One must ask then; how will the historians of the future remember the events of the present? Admittedly, it is difficult to determine as history is not about predicting the future but instead making sense of the past. However, by applying a lens to our current situation, perhaps we can make some sense as to our present. 

Information is key to understanding any situation. The main issue of the past is that few people left remarks behind, and photo evidence can often leave us wanting more. Many people existed without leaving more than a passing note in a census of their very existence. We can only determine how things were by what was left by those individuals. In many of these cases, only the very wealthy were able to leave records that we could look back upon. 

Yet with the rise of social media, and sites such as the Wayback Machine, archives are becoming flooded with the digital realm. Take, for example, my Instagram. Over the course of the five years I’ve had my Instagram, I’ve posted at least 1,654 photos. Many of the places I’ve taken pictures of likely had never been preserved in such a way, such as this view of a nearly empty toilet paper aisle at the start of quarantine. Before the age of rapid digital photography and social media, images such as these would have no real purpose to exist. Now people can share images like this with the world. 

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(Photo by author in New London, CT)

It is not just in our Instagram posts either. Take this blog as a whole for example. In a way, it will serve as a sort of archive for future readers. What are seen as current thoughts and perspectives now will become primary/secondary sources in years to come. With a wide variety of authors and locations represented, Beyond the Pandemic will become a resource for future generations.  

Now, some argue that you cannot cite blog posts as “source material,” and that is true to an extent. A blog by anyone on the civil war may not carry much validity, but a blog written about the current situation by a witness? One has to make the argument that a blog in the latter case will serve to break the boundary, as it is not someone reading Wikipedia and writing about what they learned, but it is a witness describing their thoughts, sights, and overall notes on the situation as a whole.  

Lastly, this is a worldwide event. Unlike 9/11, which was largely focused on America, COVID-19 has spread, both literally and figuratively, across the globe, affecting nearly every country in different ways (some have not “reported” any cases). We all share in this lockdown, and the artists/writers are hard at work making sure we remember this event in every country. Archives are already starting to gather materials from this event, our digital memories preserved.  

So how will we remember COVID-19 after all of this? Will we remember the quarantine most or the political discussions more? What kind of world will exist after this, and how might it affect the way we live our daily lives? These are questions that nobody has the answers to, and will not for some time to come. As I sit here with the cat wondering why I have not left the apartment in a while, I can only speculate as we enter another week of quarantine. 

 

 

By Colleen Boken:

If you have ever traveled on the train between Boston and New York, chances are you have stopped briefly in the small city of New London, Connecticut. Located on the glistening shores of Long Island Sound, New London is home to the US Coast Guard Academy, Connecticut College, Mitchell College, and a whole host of small-town businesses. It is a town rich in nautical history, and is the kind of place that would seem right at home in a Stephen King novel.

I have been serving here as an Americorps member with the New England Science and Sailing Foundation, serving in the schools and getting an understanding of the integral structure that makes up the city of the sea. Therefore, when the coronavirus came, it forced us all to reexamine what it was about living in a small town that made it so much more different from other places around. 

It is important to note that I love everything that makes up a great, small town.  Walking down Bank Street, the main commercial hub, the variety of businesses making it their own is undoubtedly what makes it a town like no other. The two-story buildings that line the river and the railway tracks are usually bustling, with all sorts of emporiums plying their wares. There is a gay bar, a cute little coffee shop with memories of times once past, a few barbershops, a museum in the oldest operating customs house, and even a number of tattoo parlors.  On a usual Saturday, from nighttime to daytime, these places are bustling. Students, locals, people who came in on the train, and the occasional submariner from the nearby base turn bank street into a party alley.

It was right before Saint Patrick’s Day when the coronavirus pandemic became serious enough to the point that the governor of the state had no choice but to order all businesses closed.  It was a day that the town had been anxiously preparing for, with parades and all sorts of events planned, only for it to suddenly come to naught. I live downtown, not far from Bank Street, and with a view that tells a story of its own

I took time to walk down Bank Street that night, and what I found summed up many of the feelings that are being reflected in towns across the nation. Bars and restaurants that should have been bustling with people eating corned beef and listening to Irish pub music were instead graced with only the sound of the sea breeze and the occasional “toot toot” of the train. No lights were on, and a few places were doing take-out, but not many. In many ways, it felt like the town had become a ghost of itself, and it was quite easy to wonder if it was the end of the small town as we knew it.

Yet there is something to small towns that many people do not realize. When things like this happen, towns like New London do not just disappear. Instead, the people that make up a place like this find ways to remain positive. They bring forth a reminder of the good we can do if we just remember that we as a whole are a community–a community that needs to stand tall together.

I have had the great fortune of becoming friends with the local event planner extraordinaire. She is one amazing lady, and she embodies so much of what makes a small town wonderful. She recently began posting signs around New London: little reminders to thank the first responders who were helping everyone get through these unpredictable times. 

In addition, a firefighter who was back in New London decided to share some happy music with the good people on the street he was on by playing his bagpipes loud enough so that everyone could hear: a welcome surprise it was, and a needed one at a time when the sound of happy music was a welcomed addition.  

I have spent many years in small towns: growing up in one, going to college in another, and now serving for a year here. The small town is more than just a small gathering of people. Rather, it is a solid community that is built so strong that even when something like the coronavirus threatens the fabric of the town as a whole, it fights back even stronger. It may not be the biggest town in the world, but what is critical about the whole endeavor is that like many small towns, New London is built in such a way so as to thrive in the good times and show its strength when the going gets rough. 

On a personal note, I did not know what this town would be like. I had never even been to Connecticut before I took this position. What I have found is a place that does not care who you are, but instead on what you can do. It is a town full of pride and filled with hope. As you go on with your day today, think about your community–and how every place, big or small, has a chance to thrive even on its darkest days. 

Because when this whole thing is over, and when everything returns to some sort of normal, the communities we built will show us just what we can become.