Another Day of Liiiife

Is it crazy that in this time where COVID-19 is meant to be stopping everything in its tracks, I feel busier than ever? There are so many online offerings, so many sources of information/education/inspiration (of varying qualities), so many important people that I want to check on, near and far. (Not nearly enough hours in the day to connect with everyone I care about.)

I notice in myself a tendency to overconsume and overdo, just as in regular life, even while “regular life” is up in smoke. This will be an exploration for another day, because this blog commitment can easily become another way of overloading myself.

For now: Note the irony, because I believe that the frenetic pace of modern life is part and parcel of why we collectively required a pandemic-level disaster to get our attention.

Today, our governor issued a “hunker-down order” as we’re jokingly calling it, because of the folksy (read: confusing) way he put it in his press conference. (I’m glad we can still go outdoors and take walks and bike rides. On the radio I heard that Britain’s prime minister put some new stringent requirements in place, saying people can only exercise outdoors once a day.)

It is a strange new world we’re living in. I was operating in hypervigilant mode for much of last week, and that is starting to abate. Meanwhile I’m eager for sunlight to return after a string of cloudy/rainy/sleety days. I’m also eager to get some garden plants in the ground. It seems more essential than ever to grow some of my own food.

AND it seems more essential than ever to support local farmers. In the absence of a winter farmers’ market, where I usually get my spring plants, I can still connect personally with the farm community to get some things to eat and plant.

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Parsley and cilantro too.

Just today, in advance of the “hunker-down order” taking effect, I drove up to my friend Laura Karr’s farm to get some spinach, lettuce, kale and other seedlings. She let me snip some fresh greens for supper as well. We kept a good distance between us instead of exchanging our customary hug.

I’m so lucky to have these connections and the flexibility to make such a trip right now. (Local folks: you can email her at kgacresfarm@gmail.com to see what all she has available.)

20200322_183023 (768x1024)Gratitude: I woke up with this old song in my head: “I just want to celebrate another day of living. I just want to celebrate another day of LIIIIIFE.”

And check my fave bright sunshiny sweatshirt worn on a dreary day. I got it at a thrift store in Phoenix years ago (actually in December! but it seems like years ago!).

Tip of the Day: This comes courtesy of my friend Merry, an energy healer. If you have trouble sleeping (as I often do), it might help to do a little release ritual at bedtime to let go of excess energy and stuff that doesn’t belong to you. Try repeating to yourself something like: “I release all excess energy from my field,” and “I release all emotions and energies that aren’t mine from my field.” (Field just means your body and energy.) I tried it last night and it really helped.

Resource of the Day: Local people: definitely check out KG Acres, Laura’s farm, and other Indy Winter Farmers’ Market vendors who have alternate ways to keep you fed. If you’re interested in growing some of your own food, check out the Gardening Guru Exchange for tips and info.

Got a good tip or resource? Put it in the comments, or message me. And thanks for the sweet notes saying how this blog is useful to you. It really means a lot that people are reading and resonating.

Till next time….

Routines, Supports, New Delights

How are you finding comfort and stability in this wild new world we find ourselves in? Are there humble routines that bring you some sense of normalcy? Support systems in place to bolster you? Surprising new delights of any kind?

Just now the dryer is spinning my sheets dry, the supper dishes are in the drainer, and my sweetie and I are super-relaxed from a restorative yoga class offered via Zoom. My yoga studio has taken its offerings online, and I’m so grateful. Even in life pre-COVID, my nervous system benefited from the regular reset of a good yoga class. I would say it was a nonnegotiable before, and about a hundredfold more so now.

I can practice at home, and have restarted that this week, but there’s something about communal practice that takes me deeper. Even when the community is remote, it’s still very nourishing to be in a virtual “room” together.

As far as new delights, let’s talk about another kind of community. I have never seen so many people out walking the neighborhood. I have never taken so much time to stop and chat while I’m out walking Opal. I always had to hurry home to get my shit done.

I still have plenty of that drivenness, which is a blog post for later. But it seems so important to stop and smile and chat with strangers, and catch up with neighbors.

It does feel like this collective experience is already turning everything upside down—what we thought was so important…is maybe not.

Gratitude: See above. Plus: a hint of sunlight this morning!

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Some blue sky this morning.

Tip of the Day: This one is courtesy of Gaynell, who taught yoga last night (thanks for the good night’s sleep, Gaynell!) A practicing Buddhist, Gaynell reminded us of the transitory nature of… well, everything. Observing what is occurring—giving it space—allows connection with the wider awareness that everything is impermanent. So this is the big tip: Instead of thinking “I am anxious,” (as I sometimes do), try: “What is it like, this experience I call anxiety?” Then notice, allow, bring compassion. An excellent and timely reminder. We may feel fear or anger or confusion or grief, but we don’t have to turn it into an identity.

Resource of the Day: This is a spiritual resource. I love Nichola Torbertt’s conversation with redwoods about coronavirus. “What if this virus brings you to your knees so that you have to admit that you don’t really know how to move forward? And then what if you started reconsidering how you’ve been living? And then reaching out to each other—especially to those most at risk—and talking about what you long for and noticing the redwoods and the daffodils and talking to us, too? What if?”

See the whole post, it’s worth a read, and the photo is gorgeous.

Wings

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I got up and looked through my growing collection of COVID-19-related resources, and discovered that a likeminded friend was also up at an ungodly hour curating her own list. (See Anna’s new Facebook group,Community Connections, for “creative responses to hunkering down.”)

On my list was Rebecca Solnit’s nightly live fairy tale reading. Since I was up, I decided to watch the replay. I don’t usually have the patience to watch long videos, but I was glad I stuck with it to the end (and what did I have better to do anyway?). For one, it filled my heart to hear her naming folks who were watching live from all over the world. With that black swan behind her, she was mesmerizing.

And the fairy tale itself–The Wild Swans–was well told, magically interwoven with this mysterious moment: Our current time resembling a fairy tale, a challenge of mythic proportions that no one could have dreamt up while moving through our daily routines and distractions.

But the very best thing: At the end, she told a story about an imprisoned friend named Jarvis. One day in the prison yard, Jarvis spotted another inmate throwing rocks at a bird. “Hey, don’t throw rocks at that bird!”

The rock-thrower challenged him, “Why shouldn’t I?”

Quick-thinking Jarvis said, “That bird has my wings.”

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It’s hard to spot, but there is a Pileated woodpecker in this photo, right about dead center. I took the picture last summer on one of my many creek outings with my dog. Big poodle nearby, feet in creek, eyes on beech tree/bird: That’s pretty much heaven for me.

We may be restricted in our movements–some more than others, some for reasons that predate this COVID-19 wackadoodle world–but birds still fly, and maybe they have our wings, along with Jarvis’s.

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Sunrise from the airplane that flew me to a conference last fall, courtesy of my workplace. Wings…

Gratitude: I am so grateful for my job at Central Indiana Land Trust right now. Not just that it allows me to work from home and keep my income. I serve a mission that fills me with a sense of purpose and perspective. Yesterday I helped to draft and send this “Nature is Not Closed” letter from our executive director, speaking of the solace we can find in nature (even as we have to cancel upcoming events).

Today, in a telephone meeting about our nature preserves, I learned how 85-foot bluffs along the White River were formed: They are massive outwash deposits left by the meltwaters of receding glaciers, 12,000 years ago. The river itself would have been a massive gushing thing. The land was malleable, with great gouges and piles of sediment being formed in real time.

Isn’t that a thing to contemplate just now?

Tip of the Day: Sleepless in Shreveport or wherever you are? Think of me, awake at all hours too. If in distress, take a tip from Jen Louden (who may have adapted it from Tara Brach)… Hand on heart, breathe, notice: Can anything eat me right now? Am I safe in this moment? Then consider: Many people feel the very same way as you, right this very minute. Send them your love and care, and feel that love and care in yourself. We are all in this together.

Resource of the Day: Weekend’s coming. So many options for planning some fun. Check out this evolving calendar of livestreamed concerts--Indigo Girls starts in a minute here! You can watch a Broadway play (not sure how many are free though). Have a movie night with friends while staying in your own homes. Do check out Community Connections if you’re a Facebooker, for more ideas and support.

Above all, may the 50,000-foot perspective, the geologic timescale, the wings of birds, bring you some freedom.

Grief in the Time of…

How is it for you? Are you feeling like the floor under your feet has turned to water?

Myself, I can’t keep a thought in my head today. My short-term memory is shot. My muscles are all in a bunch. It was a day to get back to work after taking time off for my 96-year-old father-in-law’s funeral (a whole other surreal COVID-19 story). I pulled it together for a few hours, with effort–and with the support of my management team, who are wonderful people, who are reeling themselves.

Grief is part of my disorientation. Not just grief over our family’s loss, but grief over the “new normal” that so far feels anything but normal. In my area we are not (yet) on lockdown, but are instructed to stay at home unless we need to go to work, buy groceries, or get other necessities.

I know that many are dealing with greater losses and unspeakable pain, but my private grief is this: I miss my routine, my work camaraderie, my writing group, my yoga buddies, and the studio where I practice yoga several times a week. I miss knowing I can give a friend a hug without hesitation. I miss feeling like I know what to expect in the near future (even if that sense of security was always an illusion, at bottom.)

As my manager put it, “We are all mourning the loss of life as we knew it.”

And we had the first COVID-19 death in my county a few days ago. It feels horribly sad: The person’s partner could not be there, because of being quarantined at home. The couple had to say their goodbyes via iPad. Can you imagine?

(If you are experiencing deep sorrow, you may be interested in this Community Grief Ritual happening remotely on Friday.)

We have to be strong, kind, and brave now, and lift each other as best we can. On my neighborhood Facebook group, someone has changed the banner photo to a drawing of children in a sunlit field and the words “Tiny Acts of Kindness.”

I’m lucky: my immediate neighborhood is already tightknit. But I suspect this period of uncertainty will draw many more people closer together. I hear stories of people talking with neighbors they haven’t seen in years… supplying toilet paper when a friend’s stocks are low (yes, it’s a real issue!)… and willingly going into the grocery store to shop for an elderly couple sitting in their car afraid to enter the store. Total strangers, mind you. People in general are being soft and caring with each other.

This thing we are going through together–affecting all of us, the entire world–has the potential to open us up, if we let it.

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Pea shoots, chickweed, salad burnett from my backyard

Are we self-perceived rugged individualists/proud nationalists evolving into a global community with the help of viral activity that shows us how truly interconnected we are?

Lest you point to ugly behaviors we might see in our social media feeds, consider this. For every mean story that gets magnified and reposted and outraged over (oh how we love to be outraged!), there are thousands of tiny acts of kindness that go unmagnified. And big ones too. We may be wired to notice and dwell on the ugly (negativity bias, anyone?) but we can train ourselves to see and celebrate and savor the good.

Gratitude: My major gratitude for a dreary day was the first chickweed harvest of the year. Chickweed grows abundantly, for free (they don’t call it a weed for nothing). It is a succulent little salad addition. I also celebrate the harvest of salad burnet that wintered over in my garden tower, and Austrian winter pea shoots that I planted last fall.

(It just occurred to me that I could have added chives to my salad too, but I spaced it.)

Tip of the Day: Forgive yourself everything. Others too. Practice radical compassion. If ever the phrase “Life’s too short” applied, I would say it does now. Not sure how? Here’s Rick Hanson, one of the wisest teachers around, on the subject.

Resources of the Day: I thought I would post some food options today since that is a basic need we all have, and speaking for myself, I can get triggered if I feel like I will run out. There is an abundance of food available. Indy-area people: Check out Becker Farms (local meat/eggs), Indy’s Food Coop (organic produce and more), Azure Standard (bulk items and more–there is a local drop but it is national).

Here’s a list of places where students can be fed while out of school because of coronavirus.

Also check out this marvelous recipe compilation, offering many great ways to use up nonperishable items you might already have on hand.

Till next time, friends. Feel free to comment with more resources, tips, or anything else you want to say.

Love in the Time of COVID-19

I keep thinking of the parable of the long-handled spoon. In one room, people starve, unable to feed themselves from a stewpot because the only available utensils have handles longer than their arms. In another, the people have the same utensils and stewpot, but they are well-fed and happy.

In untroubled times, those of us with some measure of privilege can act like we are in this world alone. We’re socialized to live cut off from nature and each other and our own hearts. And we’re impoverished even in the midst of plenty.

Society tells us that we dwell in the hell of longhandled spoons that can’t be brought to our own mouths.

But look: Right where we are, in the midst of our current pain, fear, and grief, can we find the paradise of feeding each other with the very same utensils? An identical world, with a shifted perspective.

OK, we’d have to sanitize the crap out of the spoons first. But you get what I’m saying.

We each have a say in our collective evolution at this critical moment in our history. How do we want to show up? Let some claim that perilous times bring out the worst in people. I intend to look for the softness and kindness afoot. I intend to create the world I want to live in.

Here’s an example: People are giving direct aid to those whose income is affected by this crisis.

I am going to post daily (?) gratitudes, stories, photos, etc. as well as I can. Along with resources and tips.

Gratitude: Here’s a video I made to record robinsong this morning. May birdsong hearten you as it did me. (If you can’t see it, let me know. I’m figuring out the tech part.)

Tip of the Day: Tap or rub the fleshy outer edge of the heels below your Achilles tendon to work your “shock points.” This is a Donna Eden Energy Medicine exercise helpful for moving through a traumatic event.

Resource of the Day: Watch Jen Louden’s short video on coping with the strain and uncertainty we are all facing right now.

Hacks for the Holidaze

If you, like me, are a sensitive sort prone to getting off-kilter this time of year (whether that’s about year-end goals, consumption of food/drink/stuff/media, family drama, past losses, expectations on the part of yourself/family/others, or any other cluster)… I give you five hard-won holiday hacks. These are good in any stressful time but especially useful this time of year.

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“Stress Elf” Photo by Dylan Tweney, via Flickr Creative Commons

  1. Switch off the sirens. Your nervous system is most likely on alarm overload, like a firetruck siren that keeps on shrieking long after the six-alarm fire is out. In the modern world, this is a widespread issue that leads to adrenal burnout—and that’s why it’s so important to develop calming practices. This video shows some calming practices derived from the energy medicine tools of Donna Eden, but you can also simply take deep slow breaths, note your surroundings and safety, come into your senses, place your hand on your heart/belly/cheek and send your nervous system some love. Especially helpful: Leaning against a tree while doing any combination of these.
  2. Strenuously commit to missing out. I skip holiday parties if my body says “no.” I tune out most media, and turn down the noise of social media in particular. I know I miss out on certain things. Whole categories of pop culture and current events pass me by. I enjoy airplane mode from time to time, even when not inflight. I figure I can take a little trip to the insides of me. This tends to give me more energy than endlessly scrolling, which is what can happen if I’m tired.
  3. Reframe your emo-pictures. This tip comes by way of creativity coach Jen Louden, who suggests renaming unwanted feeling states. The goal is not to bypass the uncomfortable emotions, but to experiment with widening out in possibility. I tried it and found that I could reframe my anxiety as alertness, my sadness as soulfulness, and my judgment (sometimes) as clarity about my boundaries. An interesting tool to play with!
  4. Give yourself a big gift. Do what you want, only and exactly what you want, for a few hours. If you worry that this is selfish, your family will hate you, etc., consider the findings of Adam Grant, a generosity researcher: People give more over the long term when they keep their own goals sacrosanct. To my mind, if I avoid burnout by giving myself this gift…I’ll be more resilient, more loving, more present, and more generous over the long haul.
  5. Watch the birdie(s). By this I basically mean: watch your emotions and sensations come and go. (We just got a bird feeder and I’ve been watching the birds come and go, like my internal states.) I’ve also heard this skill taught in terms of identifying with sky vs. weather or (Jen Louden again) observing fish in an imaginary aquarium without getting in the tank.

However we can, as soon as we remember, the idea is to separate identity from emotional state. A friend who intensively practices mindfulness will say to herself, “sadness is present in my awareness,” to put distance between her essential self and the emotion. Isn’t that so much lighter than “I am depressed” or “my life is miserable”? It’s a ninja move designed to decrease reactivity. Bottom line: The more we can observe ourselves with compassion and curiosity, the more we are able to pause in the presence of strife, confusion, or (in my case) that fudgy brownie that will jack up the nervous system for sure.

Bonus hacker tip: Look for the nourishment. When deciding what to give (yourself or others) or how to spend your time or what to consume, discern with your body what feels truly nourishing to you.

My earlier post, Tips for the Anxiety-Prone, may help too. What about you—what hacks do you have to share for holiday time?

A Safe Space

When someone says all is lost, do you agree? Do you match her intensity of lament with your own, amping up the despair?

Or do you try to talk her out of her fear and angst, knee-jerkily attempting to cheer her up so you don’t have to hear her pain?

Or do you make a safe space for her to express what she needs to express, without agreeing or negating, so she can hear herself and move the lostness and pain out of her body and mind?

I do all three, though I aspire to the latter. Depending on my own emotional state of the moment, I may or may not be able to offer that spaciousness. Sometimes I turn away from another’s declaration of lostness. My own fears get triggered, and I shut down. Or try to shut the other person down. “Don’t catastrophize,” I snapped once when a friend told me of her overwhelming fears. Not my finest moment.

Sometime earlier this week the streetlights on my block mysteriously went out. I am sure someone is following up with the city, keeping the neighbors informed on Facebook, monitoring when they will be turned back on. In the meantime it seems more important than ever that our porch lights stay on and illuminate the street. (I’m adjusting the timer on ours today to match the shorter day length of this season. Happy fall, though it feels like endless summer around here, just another disquieting “new normal.”)

But you get what I’m saying, about the lights, right?

Last night in yoga class our teacher guided us through an experience of mutual support that could be felt in our very bones. We stood four and five across in the small studio space, and each took a tree pose (balancing on one foot with the other pressed into ankle or thigh) while pressing palms into our neighbors’ palms. Some worried they would destabilize those around them and trigger a domino effect of falling tree-bodies.

But that didn’t happen. We stood separately yet connected, a grove of human trees. No one toppled, and if we wobbled a little, the contact with another’s hand steadied us.

I was in the back row and got to glimpse this roomful of interlinked trees, like life-sized paper doll chains.

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Photo by The Real Estreya, via Flickr Creative Commons

Balancing in mutual support felt effortless—even when Gaynell next had us reach one leg backwards and bend forward into Warrior Three, this time with our arms outstretched and resting straight across the arms of our neighbors.

What a pleasure to bend forward in synchrony with my yogini friends. I felt that we could sail across an ice rink as one! Simultaneously holding and being held.

When times seem dark, we have this to count on. In the press of each other’s hands, we are stronger and steadier than we could ever imagine.