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Kindness in the time of COVID: The Importance of Practicing Self-Kindness by J. Jeff Ray

As I write this, the United States is entering its fifth—or sixth, who is counting anymore?—month in the battle against the deadly pandemic-causing COVID-19. In my life, I can't recall a time where the entire planet has essentially halted in such a manner (and, for the record, I hope I never see it again). The past few months have forced us to limit time in proximity to others as we practice social distancing, and we've been encouraged to wear masks that cover the majority of our faces. This is, without a shadow of doubt, the single most isolating time in a lot of lives, including my own. All the time spent alone has forced me to look inside myself in a lot of different ways. With the overall theme of this publication being kindness, I had to question how kind I truly am. What I discovered is that I work hard to be kind to others, no matter the situation, but am I kind to myself? Well, I found the answer through a lot of introspection, and in short: not very.

Like everyone else, the quarantine life has pushed me into new ways to spend my time, as there are only so many hours a day that one can work. While others have taken up baking, I have found myself exercising more than I ever has an adult. The last time I was this physically active was when I was in high school when I'd mindlessly walk the track around my high school football field during 10th grade gym class. Quarantine-life has seen me running, jumping rope, and, for the first time ever, practicing yoga. The simple act of exercising and giving my body what it needs to be healthy, were completely forgotten in my life before COVID, as I "couldn't find the time." In a unique way, these activities are an act of kindness, as I pay attention and care about the physical vessel my brain operates. As an academic and teacher, I have found myself worried far more about the mind than the body, so giving my body the exercise it needs to build a healthy body is the type of kindness I’ll enjoy when I’m older.

However, these activities have also seen a dark part of myself come to the surface: negative self-talk. You see, as I run each mile, jump each rope, and enter each new position, I find myself negatively reflecting on my ability. As a youngster, I was regularly active in baseball, basketball, soccer, and football leagues at my local park. There were weekends where all four sports would draw me to my local park and I’d spend the day there with a bag full of jerseys and equipment for each sport. That kid looks at the “ancient” man trying out downward-facing dog or trying to break a 15-minute mile and laughs. Unlike treating myself like a man who is trying new activities for the first time, I am expecting myself to be a professional and I, of course, am left wanting.

All of these activities have forced me to reconsider how I treat myself, and I’ve spent a lot of time fighting back my inner voice. While not always successful, I have found a helpful way to win these arguments. As I remember how I interacted with friends (you know, before COVID), I was always super supportive. When they need a bit of uplifting, I would do my best to help them get what they needed, and when they needed someone to say a kind word, I’d give them all the love and care that I can muster. But in these first time experiences, I haven’t been able to do it for myself. What I’ve taken to doing is treating myself as my own friend. By mentally stepping out of my body and trying to support myself, I’ve found great success in defeating the mental monsters that pop up during these new activities.

It seems silly for a grown man to need such a thing, but as my dad always says, “if it works, it ain’t stupid.” My hope for everyone is that they are finding ways to fight back those bad inner voices during these isolating times. And if you aren’t, I hope that you are reaching out to your friends and loved ones. We’re all in this together, even if it doesn’t look or feel like it.



Take care,


JJR


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