As a front-line family physician, I’m used to offering compassionate care to patients, and listening to the care team at work. I’m used to holding space for meditation and reflective journaling classes, supporting family and friends in ways that feel wholesome.
And sometimes it’s overwhelming. With the recent pandemic, the constant barrage of news, work email updates, protocols constantly changing, and questions, there has been little time to contemplate what’s happening within.
This body is also in greater pain than normal. After several months of physical wellbeing with PT and engaging in movement practices I love (yoga, hiking, walking, Qigong), the body has decided to speak (scream at times). I’m sure it’s contributing to the overwhelm with fear eclipsing the things I usually see and remember.
Over the years, I’ve cultivated a strong lovingkindness and compassion practice to face challenges. But somewhere along the way, I’ve forgotten to pause for fifteen seconds six times a day to really let joy’s sunlight reach all the dark places within me. To help me remember, I joined an Awakening Joy course.
For a few days I was diligent with the practice, opening like a sunflower to moments of gratitude throughout the day. The pain in the sacroiliac joints and gluteal muscles was improving. Yeah, I thought. I’m on the right path!
Then the body screamed. I’m doing the PT daily. I’m trying to take it easy physically. Where am I going wrong??? In a state of despair and overflowing tears, I reached out to people who could help me remember what I was forgetting. The incoming texts/emails of care and support definitely helped me to remember a few things.
1.) I must put my own oxygen mask on first before I can take on the suffering of others. This means meeting my own suffering with compassionate care and asking, What’s needed now? I’m not always in a quite space to listen, so it’s important to take this time when possible, pencil in an appointment for myself, like I did this morning.
2.) S.O.S. I heard this acronym through a prerecorded webinar my work offered titled “Managing the Unknown”. When you notice that you are on information overload, and the brain, body and heart cannot take any more, STOP what you are doing. Stop clicking on more news links online, more email. Stop engaging in conversation that is echoing doomsday. Stop immersing yourself in more secondary trauma. OBSERVE the thoughts and feelings within with kindness. If that’s hard, imagine a kind, supportive being/presence with you. Stay here as long as you need to really listen internally. SWITCH to something that is positive and nourishing – a cup of tea, a conversation with a friend, music, a walk, journaling, humor, etc. (I’ve also heard this as S.T.O.P.: Stop. Take a breath. Observe thoughts and feelings. Proceed with something nourishing.
3.) Stay informed so that you have the latest information from the CDC, WHO, your local state, county, and health care professionals AND ask yourself what else you need to hear so that the scales are balanced. It’s easy to listen to statistics, worsening conditions, and conversations around you that accentuate the negative. What do you need to hear that’s positive? Where can you find this? It might be an inspiring quote, book, movie, song, story, prayer, etc. If you are having a hard time looking, ask others! Try this one on:
"My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul.”
-Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves.
4.) Which brings me to my next point. Be a calm presence where you can be. Today I had the opportunity to speak with a relative overseas, a local business owner, and a stranger while shopping for groceries. The questions that used to sound like massive missiles attacking were surprisingly welcome. The conversations included some of what I am sharing here. If staying calm is not possible (it’s not expected, even for me), then can you be generous in other ways? Can you call someone who is currently quarantined, or check on them in other ways that do not place yourself at risk? Do you have an extra toilet roll, hand sanitizer, can of food that you’re saving for The Apocalypse? Do you know of neighbor you can share this with, someone who is restricted financially, physically, or by some other means? Generosity cultivates abundance of heart and mind, widens survival of the fittest perspective into one of interdependence. Just be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and don’t share if you’re sick.
5.) Impermanent/Imperfect/Impersonal. Physical pain and global pandemics can feel permanent, imperfect, and personal. It sure feels perpetual, messy, and personal to me right now. But if I take a closer look, there are moments when the body isn’t raging, even parts that feel neutral or pleasant. There are times when corona virus is not the main news infecting body, mind, heart, and spirit. It was not the main news when I dropped my daughter off or picked her up from school, on a mini retreat this morning in sitting and walking meditation, while brushing my teeth or taking a shower.
It can also help to remember that others are affected by what’s happening, just as you are. Knowing that so many lives have been affected, what can you keep doing regularly to maintain some sense of normalcy? (If you or someone you know has been significantly harmed physically, emotionally, financially, etc. please grieve the way that you need to. ‘Normalcy’ may be the last thing you need to hear/read.) Maybe it’s the way you comb your hair, brush your teeth, sip morning coffee or tea, go for a walk/run, meditate, eat, work, hug/kiss healthy family members, sing, dance, or any number of things you normally do (and are still doing:) Though change is inevitable, it’s healthy to maintain contact with who/what is familiar. It can nurture a sense of safety in times like this.
to a beating heart
an unsettled belly
a hand on each one
prana providing companionship
through every future unknown
This post is not written to negate the true feelings that are here: fear, anger, loneliness, despair, etc. It isn’t a spiritual bypass to a happier place untouched by illness or suffering. (If you know of such a place, let me know!). I needed to sit with all the paralyzing thoughts, feelings, and physical manifestations of them. I will likely be sitting with them for some time. Surrendering to a beating heart and unsettled belly, I placed a hand on each one, just sensing, just breathing, prana providing the companionship that was so desperately needed. I know that this simple act is not enough to heal the world, but it is certainly “mending the part of the world that is within my reach” through every future unknown.
May these reflections be of benefit to all beings everywhere without exception.