This week, Dr Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, reflects on the little things that have helped her survive the past year.
For me, it’s the red joggers. I bought a pair in August, when I returned to Edinburgh after five months in Oxford for lockdown 1.0. They were Marks and Spencers, brushed cotton inside, extra long. After a week, I bought a second pair. Soon I was wearing them all the time: one in the wash, one out. Working from home, there was no situation they did not suit. At the computer, there was none of that waistband difficulty that you get after hours in jeans, and for wandering around the flat they were just a bit warmer than the usual leggings. As the autumnal days turned wintery, I put baselayers under them for my walks, and for the shivering hours at my desk under droughty windows. It feels cheerful to wear red every day, even if no one sees it. Over the last several months, I’ve bought new jeans; I’ve even, in a fit of optimism, bought new work trousers – but they sit in my wardrobe, unworn, awaiting a smarter time. It’s the red joggers for now.
This week our Mindfulness Chaplain Kitty Wheater shares some practical tips on how to meditate and how it can help during difficult times.
People tell me that this third lockdown has been the worst. Even though it’s spring, and even though we’re getting vaccinated, and even though there are dates for unlocking, we are worn down. At a certain point, the knowledge that things are moving just feels abstract. We’ve heard this before, we think, and there’s still much further to go.
With the changing of restrictions in Scotland, Peffermill and Easter Bush bootcamps have started again.
The sessions are a mixture of circuit training, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), sport style drills and bodyweight exercises. Instructors from Sport & Exercise will be there to guide and help you through the sessions, whatever your ability.
Although the first programme is fully booked, the sessions starting on 12 April at Easter Bush and 14 April at Peffermill are now available to book onto for both members and non-members.
You could be forgiven for thinking it has felt like a long lockdown. As the prospect of it ending comes into sight once again, Dr Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, shares tips for holding on and waiting just a little bit longer.
In the early months of 2020, we waited to see if coronavirus would get to Britain. Surely not, we thought. Then lockdown came and we waited for it to end, a few weeks, maybe, and then everything would go back to normal. We made plans, accordingly: we moved in with loved ones, or they with us; we travelled hundreds of miles to places we thought we would be safe; we deferred decisions. This is what you do, when you wait: you hunker down, you suspend, you watch. And wait.
As spring veered towards summer, we waited for the numbers to change. We waited for doctors to call us back, we waited for Teams to develop breakout rooms, we waited for money, for the post, for the day we could walk with a friend at a distance and not be picked up for waiting for them on a park bench. We waited because we still thought we would go back to normal. That’s what the waiting was about. In a way, that’s what made it possible.
We waited for decisions from our governments, our institutions, because these would let us figure out how to wait, and what we were waiting for. We filled the time that we were waiting, as best we could. We watched Netflix. We sent each other GIFs. We took long walks. Some of it was so hard that we went on autopilot, because it was the only way to get through another day of home-schooling, or another week of Zoom calls. We drank more coffee or more wine. We read all of Twitter. We watched Normal People and thought about ‘normality’ and it was a bit uncomfortable on a number of levels, so we went back to Twitter.
At some point, waiting began to become unbearable, and we shook with anxiety, or curled up and zoned out, or exploded with rage and grief. At some point, even that passed, and it turned into something else. Perhaps it got worse, for a time, but then, better. Perhaps you’re back in it now.
And maybe a few months ago, or yesterday, or even this morning, we realised that we couldn’t wait any more and that was nothing to do with the decisions not yet taken, or the rules not yet lifted. It was about realising that waiting had become stale, old, grey. It was no longer the ‘watchfulness’ of its etymology, the ‘looking-out’, the ‘attending’. We were no longer watching for anything but threat, for the confirmation of our disappointed hopes. We were no longer attending to anything but the buzz and clutter of our screens, our boundary-blurred home-workspaces, our pains and fears and frustrations.
If this is waiting, we need a new kind. We need forms of watchfulness that are neither about Netflix nor hypervigilance and we need forms of attention that are not about imperfection, or fragmentation. We can do those ones already. We’ve been doing them brilliantly.
Here are some different ways to wait.
1. Watch, with interest
Pause on Blackford Hill and watch the sun dip down behind the Pentlands. Wonder about the snow up there and whether it’s lingering in crevices still. Watch the students playing tennis on the courts by the Meadows and remember that wonderful essay in the New York Times. Watch the tennis games in your own mind – the ace, the double fault, the volley – and pause in-between rallies to take stock. Watch your parlour palm putting out new leaves, and think about repotting. Watch the daffodil spikes, coming up centimetres day by day in Bruntsfield, and wonder which they are of the tens of thousands of varieties. Watch popcorn popping in a pan and remember dinners past; watch the friends sitting at opposite ends of a bench eating burritos and think, what a good idea. Watch the flickers of anxiety as they bubble up in your stomach, even as you’re just sitting quietly in your room, and think about how amazing it is that your nervous system is showing up to protect you; how many millennia ago, you fled from and survived a lion, and that’s whispering in you still.
Feel the ground beneath your feet when you walk outside; the springiness of earth, the tread of tarmac. Feel your body sitting on the chair while you work, the sit-bones, the support behind the back, the place of the body in its space. Taste your lunch and smell your tea before you put the milk in. Sense what happens inside you when you get to the top of Calton Hill, or Arthur’s Seat, and look out over the city and feel the wind on your face: the poignant lurch, the dizzy soar, as if you could spread wings and fly. Bend to touch the cold silk of the crocus, gently, and the soft chin of the shy dog. Nurse the tiredness, when it comes, and feel how your body wants to fold up and rest on soft things.
Sense, wonder, and tend. Here is the world.
3. Play, daftly
Make a den from the wood tossed down in the gales. If the snow returns, make an igloo. Play Scrabble over the internet with your friends, with double points for rude words and foreign languages. When you feel terrible, write a poem; it can be as short and as bad as you like. Make playdough, even if you are 20, and squidge it into shapes and maybe smash it up a bit and pretend it’s your least favourite politician. Dig out the 50-year-old board game you inherited from your grandmother and look it up on the internet. Buy a colouring book (yes, really). Sit on the floor, pour out beads and buttons from that random drawer and put them on strings. Sit on the floor and make things out of the cardboard Amazon boxes, with sellotape and scissors. Sit on the floor and open your backlog of Christmas body lotions, one by one, and try them all.
Play, daftly. It will wake up a part of you that the waiting shut down.
When we wait in different ways, interesting things come through. A puzzle falls into place, an insight arises, an action seems clear. And then, suddenly, somehow, we are no longer waiting; we are living, and life is right here.
We have all been through a lot this year. As the pandemic and its restrictions drag on Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, shares how once you notice it, love is everywhere you look.
A few days ago, Ben the collie suffered a violent interruption of normal gastrointestinal duties. Because he is a collie, he seemed none the worse for a few days – running, demanding his ball – except that he wouldn’t eat. He was ok, until suddenly he wasn’t: limp, unresponsive, collapsed. We bundled him into the car, the vet put him on a drip, and he came home to be hand-fed pieces of chicken thigh dressed with liver paste, and to doze, silky head between paws, while we kept watch.
Thus it comes to pass that I am holding his head, telling him how good he is, while Pam attempts a rectal thermometer reading at the other end. This is a two-woman job, we think. There will be growls. There will be wide-eyed collie disbelief. There will be that tossing head.
This Thursday is University Mental Health Day, a national awareness day that aims to bring together the university community to make mental health a priority.
Working from home and ever-changing government guidelines have undoubtedly affected all staff and their wellbeing. It’s more important than ever to make sure we’re talking about mental health and offering our friends and colleagues the opportunity to share how they are.
How often are you aware of your sense of smell? Here Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, shares how to use your awareness of smells to reconnect with your environment and ground yourself.
The crisp tingle in the nostrils, so pure it almost hurts. A smoky tea to keep you company for long hours at your computer. Thyme in the community garden on the Meadows. The lingering coconut butteriness of the yellow gorse in Holyrood. The scent of a candle in the rain. The smell behind Ben the collie’s perfect ears. Pizza in the oven on a Friday, and a lavender oil that lulls you to sleep.
Just like that, the Christmas break feels like a distant memory. Here Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, explores how we can navigate the cold, dark winter months, when everything feels a bit bleak.
Over Christmas, my books piled high, and on a theme. There was Katherine May’s Wintering, a New York Times bestseller, about the power of rest and retreat in difficult times; the Chronicles of Narnia, beginning with an endless winter; and James Rebanks’ The Shepherd’s Life. As the Meadows disappeared beneath the snow, I saw the Lake District in my mind’s eye: the thick white fells, the shivering sheep, the wind-chapped faces.
The University’s Transport Office is partnering with The Bike Station to deliver online bike maintenance classes, free for all staff and students to attend.
The classes run from the 1st to the 12th of March and take place on Zoom. You can sign up for sessions through the Bike Station website until the 17th of February. Use the code UofE-spring to book into a session for free.
There are three different topics to choose from, with classes repeated at different times throughout the fortnight. They will cover the very basics of bike maintenance, puncture repair and everything else you need to know to get your bike ready for springtime cycling. The classes are capped at 10 people, meaning you will be able to get plenty of help and live support from The Bike Station’s head mechanic, who is leading each session.
The Bike Station is a charity which formed nearly 20 years ago as an informal bike swap at Sciennes Primary School in Edinburgh. They have since grown to become a Scotland-wide professional bicycle recycling business. Their Edinburgh branch is located on Causewayside, halfway between the University’s Central Area and King’s Buildings campuses.
“During Covid-19, with its lockdowns, restrictions, physical distancing, and self-isolation, connecting to each other and the people we care about is more important than ever. Yet our forms of connection and community have turned upside down.”
This is the thought that sparked Dr Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, and Reverend Geoffrey Baines, Associate Chaplain, to embark on a new project to connect the University community last December. Why Don’t You Write Me is a rolling six-month project from the Chaplaincy for both the University community and your own families and friends, to help connect us to ourselves and each other during this time. Kitty shares more about the project.
Last October the Chaplaincy launched the Abundant Academy as an opportunity for our staff and students to safeguard their mental wellbeing over the winter months. After a highly successful first course, this semester sees the project begin the second session, focused on reflection.
Here Reverend Dr Harriet Harris, University Chaplain and Head of the Chaplaincy Service, shares more about what it will entail.
Although we’ve been working from home for a while now, that doesn’t mean that it has gotten any easier. Bringing work into your personal, private space can take a while to balance. Before we sign off for the winter break Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, reminds us how important it is to pack away the work part of our homes, to properly enjoy a restful break.
The past few weeks have seen a huge step forward in the search for a vaccine against Covid-19. This week, Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, explains how to deal with the news after a long and incredibly difficult year.
The past few weeks have seen more and more details emerge about an effective vaccine against coronavirus. Pfizer and BioNTech’s RNA vaccine, one of 11 in the final stages of testing, has a 90 per cent success rate in preventing the illness. The UK government has already purchased 40 million doses – enough to vaccinate up to one third of the population. There is the possibility of ‘normal life’ – whatever that means – from the spring. Those of us who are shielding, or have vulnerable family, are breathing easier. Nor is it the only good news of the last few weeks: the multi-day limbo of the US election has resolved, and our American members of the University are getting some sleep.