This week's Positive People blog is by Anna Jezuita, counsellor and mindfulness teacher. Also a dear friend and supporter of Wandsworth Oasis who always makes us smile and lifts our mood when needed. 

Mindful giving – joyful survival practice for social isolation, and an antidote to panic buying

A few weeks ago we witnessed a phenomena of panic buying. People were acting out of fear trying to save the lives of their families – because this is what it was, even though it looked like an act of utter selfishness and surreal panic. It shocked some, outraged others. Now, with some distance and when we all feel assured that shops are not running out of food, I would like to offer a reflection on panic buying with an antidote – mindful giving, the practice which I find incredibly joyful, spacious and helpful in the times when we are all worried and unsure.

Let me begin by stating that I am the last person to cast the stone on people who buy items of food to provide security and sustenance for their families and their children.

I have been a single mum, and if this situation had happened at that time, when they were little, I would have been absolutely beside myself with fear, and the first one to snatch the last loo roll from under your nose and take it back to my cubs. Yes ma’am.

Also, I grew up in communist Poland where there was scarcity of everything, all the food items and hygiene items required coupons distributed by councils of your residence. You couldn’t travel freely because your coupons wouldn’t be valid elsewhere. You planned your meals according to what was hunted on the day in shops not by what you fancy. People going around with the necklaces of toilet paper were just a normal occurrence and object of envy.

So I understand that. The irrational action coming from fear is very much like panic breathing – we take in more and more and more, thinking it will save us, but instead we get stuck – passing out with too much air and too many bags to carry.

An antidote to the feeling of fear and of breathing being restricted …. is to breathe out and then you relax and open. Can you imagine this? A long outbreath, telling your body to shift from fight or flight to rest and digest.

In terms of a physical action that needs to accompany the outbreath is practice of giving. And I'm not talking about giving the items, physical items, the objects that you've just bought. Neither of giving away items you don’t need any more, as charity shops are closed.

Rather that giving away what is in our possession (which may be difficult and anxiety provoking) I suggest giving anything that is within your experience, like a beautiful landscape, new moon, or lovely cup of tea; the sense of safety or a joy of having a laugh. You need to imagine giving from your heart not from the mind, because your mind will object – “Oh, are you mad? Are you going to give anything away? We may die. It's not safe”. So you are giving from your heart and feeling opening of the space, relaxing the muscles, no need to hold on to anything…

Every time I eat something nice, I remember to share it with my Dad. He is not with us anymore, but when he was alive, he was really, really into his food.

When I wake up in the morning, I feel warm and safe, and I remember to share this feeling with this one homeless guy outside Halifax in Holborn.

Even if you breathe, you can offer this breath. Do it for people who struggle for breath in cold emergency wards. Or give a glass of wine to your friend on the other side of the globe (or of the street – which nowadays feels equally far away). Share the feeling of joy of playing with your dog with someone who is stuck alone.

You can make it as deep or as simple as you want, or feel like on the day. Just have a go. Even though it may feel a little bit weird, because the recipient will never even know - I promise if you do this, you'll feel a little bit of space inside and you'll feel like you're breathing a little bit better and lighter.

With a bit of perseverance you may also start feeling another powerful effect of this practice - letting go of guilt and self-blame. How is this possible?

In our culture whenever we think of people who have less than us, the habitual response is something like – I am so ungrateful for what I have, I should appreciate my life more. We run away from a suffering person back to our ego, indulging in guilt and self-blaming. Because no matter how uncomfortable, it is still easier than to stay with suffering and just be, being helpless. Practice of mindful giving helps us stay connected with them, with their pain, wishing that you can help, giving whatever you can at the time – even if it is just an idea of a hot meal or safety.

No, it doesn’t help them out of their pain, of course not. It’s too abstract, elusive, airy-fairy…

But it helps US out of our self-centredness and fear of human connection. And the beauty of this practice is that you can connect despite lockdown, social isolation and global pandemic. There are so many people that we could give to…