Coronavirus & Mindful Handwashing

As we receive daily updates from the Government/Public Health England on the spread and suggested management of the coronavirus (COVID-19), you are probably aware that one key piece of advice involves hand-washing.

We should all be frequently washing our hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water or hand sanitiser. In particular, you are asked to wash your hands when you get to work or arrive home, after you blow your nose, cough or sneeze, and before you eat or handle food.

It’s like Public Health England have come over all mindful! Perhaps this is an opportunity to ‘step out of autopilot’.

As we discuss in the .b course, when we really look closely, we can see that much of our life is spent on autopilot, doing whatever we’re doing unconsciously. Whether it’s eating, brushing our teeth, or washing our hands, we are rarely present when doing so. Instead, we’re lost in thoughts about past or future. While this can be an efficient use of time, autopilot is often characterised by rumination and worry. Meanwhile, we become numb to what is happening around us, almost unconscious, time passing without us being aware, and experiences become bland. It’s as if we are sleep-walking through life.

With this new directive on hand-washing, we have a wonderful opportunity to practise ‘being alive and knowing it’. So, how can you practise mindfulness as you wash your hands?

  1. Before you even reach for the soap, consciously choose to stop and connect with any sensations of contact between your feet and the floor beneath them.
  2. Noticing the weight of your arms as you place the plug in the plug hole (we’re saving water here), and reach to turn on the tap.
  3. As your hand comes into contact with the tap, tune into the sensations this brings with it, including texture and temperature. Where on the hands and fingers are these sensations showing up most vividly? Try investigating how the hands respond to the temperature and movement of the water as you swish it around the basin.
  4. Now continue, as best you can, to bring as much present moment awareness to all and any sensations (including smell, vision and sound) involved in holding the soap, washing and then drying the hands. If you notice the mind wandering off, and the process of washing being taken over by ‘autopilot’, reconnect with the sensations of feet on floor, and then return to where you left off.

It looks like we’ll have plenty of time to practise this in the weeks ahead, but as Thích Nhất Hạnh once said, ‘The feeling that any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it is done in mindfulness.’

See our animation exploring what it’s like to be on autopilot in contrast to ‘being alive and knowing it’.