Fiona Monsell: On Shaping a Mentality in the Coronavirus Crisis

While we’re closed, we believe it is important as ever to stay connected, inspired, and help each other. As each of us is impacted by the current health crisis, we enter a space where we can reflect deeply. While we’re closed, our journal will feature one member of our Floatworks family, where we’ll share what they are doing to stay well, be mindful, get creative, and find meaning in this moment.

Just before the UK Coronavirus outbreak, we saw Fiona Monsell at Floatworks every few days. February was “the month of the float,” she joked with us. When we called Fiona to share the news of our closing, it represented more than a routine business call – more of a sombre goodbye-for-now to a friend.

To interview Fiona during Lockdown was a gesture towards our sense of Floatworks family. To say we are thinking of you, and we hope you are feeling ok. To pause, exhale, and go, Wow…What is even happening? What’s been on your mind?

Fiona’s presence itself is a sense that a sophisticated world of insight lives not too far below her surface. When asked to share her insights in self-isolation, Fiona spoke about her mentality towards COVID-19, one formed over her lifetime and through her floating practice. With the gentle wisdom of her mentality set against the backdrop of this health crisis, Fiona offered a perspective that is reassuring, constructive, and timely.

Lifted from our conversation are three simple ideas to consider in this moment:

1. Allow for contradictions

Where Fiona’s mother lives in Ireland, Lockdown is called ‘cocooning.’ Fiona paused on the poignancy of this reframing, noting how it can soothe people in distress, herself included. At the same time, she suggested that while ‘cocooning’ helps, it doesn’t fully capture the approach she wants to take during this crisis. Fiona says part of her is cocooning in self-isolation, and softening, while part of her wishes not to become too complacent as a person or citizen.

Fiona is being gentle with herself, but not too gentle. Firm, but not too firm. She wants to still the mind, but not become too still. Wakeful to the complexity of this moment, Fiona described she is feeling “positive and optimistic that everyone has a chance to review their lives and heal.” Simultaneously, she shared, “the worst of this moment is this feeling of my god, I can’t bear it.”

In expressing these contradictions, Fiona gave the sense of moving towards the full experience of this crisis. In doing the same, we can give ourselves permission to fully feel what is happening, and to better connect with ourselves in that process.

2. Ask yourself, what matters?

During this suspension of normal life, Fiona spoke to the impulse for determined individuals to self-declare they’ll learn a foreign language or new instrument with the downtime. Without undermining that impulse, Fiona said it is important for us to relieve ourselves of unnecessary pressure in difficult periods. She suggested reflecting on what is achievable and essential each day.

“Each day, ask what matters to get done,” she said. “If it matters, do it. Make a balance sheet of what is essential. What must be done, what’s achievable, what matters. Ask yourself, What matters to me as a person, and what is the thing I really want to do? Does it matter if I don’t do it today?

Although these questions are always available to us, they seem especially important now. Guided by these ideas, we can make effective use of sef-isolation, learn and do new things, while staying realistic and forgiving of ourselves.

3. Accept a feeling of not knowing

Fiona brightened when sharing that her floating practice, too, is a source of current inspiration. With each float, she said, “I never know what will happen.” Fiona reflected on sometimes having what she affectionately calls “a shopping list float,” or a hallucinogenic float, or anything in between. “You can’t prepare your mind for a float,” she said.

What feels important in Fiona’s floating practice is “shedding the notion of ought,” surrendering, and letting an experience unfold. The challenges of the current moment ask us to surrender in similar ways – like a trust fall, she said, or letting your back hit the water at the beginning of a float. While we can cultivate a sense of mindfulness, there is no way to truly prepare for what is unknown.

Pulling back from our conversation, what became clear is just how carefully and deliberately Fiona is bringing a certain mentality to Lockdown, one she has developed over time and has come to know well. Her approach felt brave, gentle, and honest. Through our conversation, a question revealed itself that is worth our sincere attention and reflection at this time, What is the mindset we are bringing to this moment?

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Before letting her go, we of course asked Fiona what she was reading.

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