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?

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.

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.