The Peace of the Day

My brain has been snapping with ideas for this series ever since I started it. When I sit down to write, I can pull from many half-baked musings, brilliant-sounding phrases, and indecipherable middle-of-the-night scribbles. There’s this sense of urgency. I feel I will never run out of things to say.

But this afternoon I feel spacy. My spouse is doing one of her long shifts again (she’s been going twice a week to the hospital, but her hours add up to full time). I savor my solitude, but also feel unnerved, knowing just a bit of what she’s dealing with at work.

After walking Opal and reading Some Writer!, I melted into the couch for a while and felt my body breathing. It seemed so essential to stop moving, stop thinking, and just attend to my physical being. I even felt an upwelling of joy.

To spring from that spacious place into a super-duper wordy one… doesn’t seem possible. It seems right to stay in a bit of a fog today. Like maybe that fog honors the magnitude of what we’re going through.

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A recent foggy morning on the golf course. Yeah, it’s kind of like that.

So often I go around with my eyeballs and my jaw trying to run the show. My mind scrabbles for control, and says, “Get your ducks in a row.” I’m usually quite good at pushing myself.

I could. I just don’t want to. Resting might be my major contribution to the peace of the day. Letting the notion of control slip away. The world doesn’t need me to add more rigidity and drivenness to its orbit.

When in doubt, insert a quote. From Charlotte’s Web:

“I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

Gratitude: Breath. Body. Life.

Tip of the Day: Is it time to rest? To let fog descend for a time…trusting it will lift again?

Resource of the Day: I was captivated by this 5-minute message of hope from a British molecular biologist/activist.

“All that I Hope”

If you know me, you know I love to read. I usually have multiple books going at once to suit different moods, plus an audiobook.

But ever since this shit got real a few weeks ago, I’ve had such a hard time focusing enough to dive deep into a book. I miss getting lost in literature. I seem to have only so much attention span, and have mainly used it up on work and this blog. And on endless scrolling for updates.

This week I’ve started to see some improvement in that arena though.

That’s partly due to a sweet surprise: Knowing my love of reading and how frustrated I’ve been to not be deep in a good book right now, a writer friend left this luminous book on my porch earlier this week.

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It is a wonderfully creative mix of art and text depicting the life of Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White.

(A quote:

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”

Amen, E.B.)

So the last few mornings, instead of going to my smartphone before/during/after breakfast, I have held off, and instead enjoyed dipping into this treasurehouse. I go from there to my walk, instead of checking the latest, and from my walk to my work desk.

It is tactile instead of digital. That’s a plus. It strikes me that part of my struggle with reading right now is the reading material would be mediated through my Kindle, because the library is closed. And that’s one more screen in a day of already more screen time than I’m used to. (This feels like a mighty petty concern in the scheme of things.)

In any case, it really makes a difference in my mental and emotional state when I monitor my media intake. I can’t do anything about the news, and some stories completely unseat me, so it’s best if I take it in small doses. Even if it is history in the making, I don’t have to follow every single development.

Gratitude: Language, literature, creativity, life. Also: my neighbors’ magnolia tree, which I see from my front window. It glows even brighter on overcast and rainy days.

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Magnolia tree on a recent rainy morning

Tip of the Day: If there is a habit that doesn’t support your resilience (like my morning smartphone-checking), what if you replaced it with something else, just for a day? And then see how it feels. And if it feels good, try it again the next day.

Resource of the Day: Wendell Berry reads his poem about hope in this Bill Moyers clip.

 

 

Dispatch from Italy

I wonder if the entire world has ever been riveted on the same exact thing for so many weeks. What a powerful resonance. It doesn’t seem possible that humanity won’t come out of this completely changed. My deepest hope is that the shift brings more solidarity with people we consider the “other,” who live far away, or perhaps close by but not within our notice, or even those who have been called our “enemies.”

Americans have been so steeped in exceptionalism, indoctrinated with a belief that we are special. But this virus might be the great leveler, bringing one and all to our knees.

I’d love to start featuring the voices of people outside the US, to know how they are affected by the pandemic. To start, Elena D., a client who lives in Italy, sends these updates:

March 15

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Elena preparing to go to the grocery.

So far, I’m doing okay, it’s scary and complicated (my parents are old so even more at risk as you’ll know) but I keep going. The situation here is just surreal, somehow trascendental, cause it happened very fast, it’s impacting every aspect of our lives, and also cause imo the mind hasn’t managed yet to process it.. None of us has a previous, direct or indirect, experience of such a global event, so I notice that even in my self sometimes it (our brain) still tends to disconnect because it doesn’t know how to cope with it. At times, when I wake up or spend some time (at home, of course) doing things that I would have done also before, I see that I have to remind myself what is going on everywhere else, cause it’s still hard to believe. It’s like that, inconceivable, unthinkable. At least for me…

You know, besides the practical aspects, this situation is clearly a very important opportunity to reflect (I believe it just calls us for at least moments of personal spiritual ‘retreat’), and some of that for me is about the beautiful and delicate balance and interconnection of all that is, the importance of taking care of ourselves cause it’s a way to take care of everyone else in our small or big communities too, till it’s about the whole world at large, what our real priorities are, and more… supporting each other at this time is something really important.

March 27

Sorry for not writing back sooner, these past weeks I’ve gone through a variety of mental and emotional states, as the situation kept changing; I felt scared, then angry, then sad, like spinning, like crying, even hopeless… I think it was especially due to the adrenaline, the instinctive response, the hyper attention to everything, the survival-mode, figuring out what to do for myself and my parents (in Italy the situation is dramatic and even if you are doing okay, that feeling is almost in the air)… After that, I somehow managed to calm my mind down, but emotionally now I feel a bit like ‘suspended’ or ‘disconnected’. To say, at first it hasn’t been easy to collect my thoughts, and lately engaging in conversations wasn’t easy either.

You know, for me living in hermit mode isn’t new at all, I intentionally chose it for years, because I felt called to investigate myself and life and at a certain point to do that I just felt the need to be alone and as much isolated as possible, so that’s not hard at all for me, not much has changed for me on that side. It’s instead quite weird to see everyone living like that now; and just when many feel lonely, for the first time in years I feel like I’m not alone anymore because everyone is living like I was used to, and have even similar concerns, about health, about making a living, about their relationships.

And just when that happens, of course, I feel called to redirect my attention elsewhere, towards the next step. It’s still not clear at the moment.

The void created by this event is immense, energetically speaking, and I don’t really know, or feel, much about what is gonna come from it, yet. Which is okay, of course. Silence and space have a beauty that in our complicated world is difficult to experience if you are not in nature, so I’ll do my best to just be with it.

I saw that also there you have a sort of lockdown, altho you can still go out for walks and meet people, if you keep the healthy distance. Here that has kept changing, and it has been messy. The PM issues decrees, other ministers publish their own advice, local governors sign different orders, so even understanding what you can and can’t do has been difficult because they contradict each other (even what the written decrees say differs from what the people who issued them publicly say about them), really confusing.

Right now, in my region we can go out only for work (the few who still work), groceries/medicines, urgent health related needs, nothing else. For groceries, only 1 person per family and as less as possible, meaning once a week should be the norm. We cannot meet anyone, not even if we wear gloves, masks and keep the distance. We cannot just take a walk to exercise a little and breathe some fresh air (running and riding bikes not allowed anymore), not even if we are alone and we do it around the block.

If you look outside, the only ones you’ll see walking are those who have a dog. Police and even the army check anyone who is around, both on foot or driving. So, at the moment it’s extreme. I’m lucky because I have a garden, I can’t even imagine how people who live in a condo, maybe even without a balcony, must feel…

There are many things I don’t like about the use of power I see authorities are choosing, both here and globally, if I think of the scenarios we might face soon, it gives me the chills. Way too many things aren’t said publicly, for anyone to know, at the moment. But I can’t focus on that, it doesn’t feel right to give it attention and in that, creating it even more.

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Butterfly kite seen from Elena’s balcony.

So, I’ll change the subject 🙂 Some days ago I was on the balcony, when I saw something colorful in the distance… it was a dad making a butterfly-shaped kite fly from the balcony for his kid!, it gave me a huge smile 😀 I took a picture, it’s not a great one but maybe you can spot ‘the butterfly’ dancing in the wind. 😉

Gratitude: I bow to the creative spirit and sense of play that the Italian papa demonstrated with that kite. The promise of renewal it evokes. The universality of the human drive for connection.

Tip of the Day: How about writing down what you’ve been feeling and experiencing in this historic time? If you’re not comfortable writing, maybe express it through other means, vocally or through movement or visual art? Let me know how it goes for you, or share if you feel so led.

Resource of the Day: More bird stuff! I trust you like birds? A reader, Helen H., sent me a link to a New Zealand albatross-cam! I like it as much or more than the feedercam from Cornell Ornithology Lab. I mean, look at that blue water, those mountains. Reminds me of the epic New Zealand tour my mom, spouse and I took last spring. If we can’t travel right now, at least we can experience some big expanses in this alternative way.

Magnify the Good

I’m told there’s a body of research showing that people rise to the occasion when faced with a collective crisis. Rebecca Solnit, in A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, writes about the solidarity, altruism, and improvisation that emerge when humans go through hell together.

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Human spirit flowers in a crisis.

I don’t know the science myself, but it feels true in my bones. And I am seeing people support each other in so many marvelous ways, and putting their compassion and creativity to use. Musicians serenade us on Facebook live, feeding our hearts vital nourishment. (As I write this, I’m enjoying a live concert of John Prine songs from my friend Wilma, in honor of Prine, who is dealing with a serious case of COVID-19.)

A local arts center is organizing a “Flower Power Knit Graffiti Project”–sending supplies and instructions to community members to create flower petals for a knitted garden installation.

In the practical arena, I heard of a woman collecting plastic laundry detergent containers and water bottles to make handwashing and sanitizing stations for homeless camps. Meanwhile many of my friends and acquaintances are sewing masks to be used by healthcare facilities at-risk folks. “Sewing Grannies” from a retirement community organized an elastic drive, when they heard supplies were low. (One note said, adorably: “Some of this elastic is really old. I hope it still works. Thank you for doing this important work. If my old pants fall down because I don’t have any elastic to fix them it will be all your fault!”)

Businesses are stepping up too–not just in the mindbody field, where the amount of online support is dazzling, much of it donation-based or free. A maker of leather aprons has designed a hospital mask using special high-filtration HEPA material, and is converting production to meet that need. A local distillery switched from producing gin to WHO recipe hand sanitizer, and offered it for free while supplies lasted, no purchase necessary.

⁣I’m sure there are many more examples of entrepreneurs pivoting to meet the needs of the day, and people in general being the innovative, kind, fabulous beings we are at our best. These are just a few things I know about from my little perch.

Tell me something good! If you know of a good thing to amplify, contact me or put it in the comments.

Gratitude: Can I just give a minute to the technology and Internet availability that is keeping me connected? The Zoom staff meeting where I can see the faces of my team, who I miss awfully. Another Zoom meeting for my weekly writing group, so we can keep supporting each other through this madness. Facebook Messenger to share a guided meditation with two friends, and debrief afterwards, face to face (or next best thing). Countless Zoom yoga/dance/movement classes peppering my days and keeping me in contact with my adored community. Most miraculously of all: just today I used Whatsapp to have a long and refreshing talk with my dear friend Lydia who’s visiting her family in South Africa.

Tip of the Day: Pick up the phone (or Facetime or what-have-you) and connect. Here’s Hank Green talking about this act as an antidote to “the anxious scroll.”

Resource of the Day: I can’t get enough of Cornell Ornithology Lab’s FeederWatch Cam. Sights and sounds from Sapsucker Woods. Birds doing their thing, completely unapprised of any pandemic.

Touching in the Time of…

Strange days indeed. When a hug or handshake could be, I guess, lethal? When what human comfort we long to give, we must give via pixels?

In this time of COVID-19, when “social distancing” has become our norm, I wonder what is being ingrained into the minds and energy-bodies of today’s children. Everything is a potential threat, particularly the hands of others. Any surface we touch could potentially be contaminated. We must be on high-alert at all time.

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Sign at the entrance of my father-in-law’s funeral.

This is starting to be ingrained in me as well. How strange it is that now, when I see people interacting on a TV show, I’m conscious of how close their faces are? Back up, I find myself thinking. Droplet alert!

I don’t know what to think about all this. But it makes me sad. Isolation is not a healthy state for any human, and I can’t imagine living alone right now (or living without furry companions).

What I do know is that there are more ways to touch than through the physical realm. When a friend was barred from seeing her dying mother because the nursing home closed to visitors, I texted, “I believe that you can contact your mother by getting quiet and reaching for her in your mind and heart.”

Maybe this time of physical distancing will shorten our learning curve (as a species) for connecting through other means. I don’t mean Zoom or FaceTime, though those are a godsend.

I mean: Think of someone, put them in your heart, and part of you is with that person in that moment.

I mean: Connect by touching the same earth, reaching for the same sky (as a recent EmbodieDance class explored).

I mean: Feel how we are each more than our molecules, bigger than our bodies, part of the All in All. Meet me there.

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Gratitude: A snuggly nap with my cat, Edgar (Eddie).

Tip of the Day: See if it’s possible to replace worry with a heart-connection, or prayer, or spiritual delegation. Send the object of your concern a lighter energy than worry. (But don’t be hard on yourself if you do worry. Lord knows these are worrisome times.)

Resource of the Day: Meditation teacher Tara Brach is offering a free online mindfulness class to improve sleep and address anxiety. It is free until March 30, so check it out soon. You can download it and take the course later.

Wishing you expanded awareness during this contracted time!

What’s Important

I wrote last time about the long hours my brave wife was putting in at the hospital. She’s a nurse, working under intensely stressful conditions like all healthcare workers right now.

I hold extra tension in my body on the days she works. But that’s nothing compared to what she goes through. She didn’t get home till 11 that night, after going in at 6:30am.

Being yoked to someone “on the front lines” (as they’re calling it) means I don’t have the option of forgetting the real human suffering that COVID-19 represents. I may be trying to figure out how to live in this new social-distanced reality, making meaning as best I can… but people are struggling to breathe, possibly dying without a last touch from their loved ones, just a few miles from where I sit.

When my sweetie got up yesterday after sleeping late to recover from the long shift, I was in the middle of my workday. I went to sit with her as she drank coffee on the couch. I put my arms around her and listened to her talk about what it’s like. At some point I had this guilty thought: “I should be at my desk, working.” Then I recognized this for what it was: a remnant of my pre-pandemic priorities.

Offering my presence and touch, supporting her—what’s more important than that? And isn’t it just as much my “work” right now as anything?

I remember when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Suddenly everything else receded in importance. I feel like this time is parallel to that, making me more grateful for the relationships in my life, more attentive to community. Bringing me back to what’s really important.

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” —Margaret J. Wheatley

What do we care about? And how shall we direct our power for change?

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Crocus

Gratitude: A couple of blue-sky days. The flowers are really popping.

Tip of the Day: Look at a flower. Really look at it. That flower knows nothing of COVID-19. It’s going to do its thing, make seeds and fruit. (It’s going to die doing that! That is the way of nature.)

Resource of the Day: I love this guided meditation from Dawson Church, which my sweetie and I listened to together last night. I’m cooking up a blog post addressing fear in the time of COVID-19, but in the meantime this is a useful tool to calm anxieties. Never mind that he refers to fear as a “negative” emotion and speaks of “suppressing” it. That language doesn’t totally resonate for me—but the meditation is soothing. It starts around minute 7. I’ve only done it once without falling asleep.

How is it for you? Do you find that you are loving your special people a bit more tenderly (while maybe also feeling—at times—cranky and snappish due to a little too much togetherness, if you’re all in the same house?) Or are you using technology to connect, and missing the touch of the people who know and love you? How are you staying distant-but-connected, if you are in this situation like most of us?

“Creating Beauty in the World We Find”

Last week I listened to a podcast with author Terry Tempest Williams, in which she says that one job of writing is to make other people feel less alone.

I started this series partially for that reason (as well as for my own sanity) and I’ve gotten a few notes from readers affirming that they do feel less alone. Because we’re all feeling it: The uncertainty and pain of everything we know being upended, the sorrow of losses (ours and those we empathize with), the loneliness of isolation, the fear and dread of what may come, the anger too.

These are things we have to breathe through. The only way out is through.

Terry Tempest Williams also talks about staying in the present:

“If you are present, then there is no past, as you well know. And there is no future. You are there. And whether it is being with a family member who is dying, you are present with them. You are breathing. And in that breathing there is this commitment and communion to that breath. Presence. And you don’t look away…I think when you are present, fear is still there, but you are moving with it. You are breathing with it.”

Seeking pathways to stay in the present: That is one of my top priorities now, when thinking too far ahead can completely derail me. My hope is that this blog series can contribute to some grounding for others, even as I regain my own footing over and over after being knocked off balance.

There’s this idea that “If we’re not all OK, none of us are,” and I feel like we are being shown its truth in real-time. If I have something to contribute to that OKness, it isn’t medical care. (That is the role of my nurse spouse, bless her, and other healthcare workers all over the world, who all need our support and light.)

One thing I can do is send these words out, in case they are a comfort, because “…finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.” —TTW

I’m not used to sending words out without first parsing every single syllable. But these are different times. And even though I often write these missives in the evening when my brain is tired, and I don’t remember all the insights I planned to share, I feel like this is an evolving conversation. There’s time to explore.

Gratitude: The sun peeked out today while I walked Opal. Also, I got to see my mom (we sat on her back patio, 6 feet apart). Plus: online dance and yoga classes  saved my patoot during a tense day when my beloved was pulling a long shift at the hospital.

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If a sycamore sees its shadow, how many more weeks/months of pandemic will persist?

Tip of the Day: From Lani Weissbach, who teaches EmbodieDance, here’s a good way to ground yourself if you feel off-balance. Put your hands firmly on/around your upper leg and draw down with strong pressure, all the way to the foot. Do this several times for each leg. Good for rocky times such as these.

Resource of the Day: The body and breath can lead us back to the present moment. See the links above for good mindbody options, and also find Sanctuary Community Yoga here with many more offerings. My adored neighborhood studio, Irvington Wellness Center, has gone completely online, and you can find the full schedule here. The classes are free to all for the next 30 days and include t’ai chi, yoga, self-care, meditation and more. You can click the class name and then “More Details” in the lower left corner of the pop-up to find a Zoom link. More info on the studio here.

Steady on, beautiful people!