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.

Body is Home

Last week a younger friend, 30something, commented in an email that she needed to work on loving her body. In the note she spoke critically of certain body parts, as she has before in conversations. She didn’t like the way this and that looked.

I emailed back a rant. Of the most supportive and loving kind. I wrote:

Every time I hear you critique your body I just want to SHAKE you, I have to say! My gosh, you are stunning! And healthy! In the bloom of life! Your body works great! Fricking enjoy your fabulous body!

OK, cranky bat’s rant over, lol. Just, I really hate the way this culture trains women to despise our bodies when we are so so lovely in all our gorgeous permutations.

And having come through years of being absolutely decrepit, I feel like the important thing—the only thing—is whether or not we feel good in our bodies. If they work for us, if they’re generally free of pain, then hey. Celebrate.

That about sums up my response to women who diss their bodies. Except: After I sent this, I started to notice the slightest bit of hypocrisy.

Yes, I do feel pretty good in my body, and I do appreciate it working. I’ll wear tights to yoga class and not feel self-conscious. I’ll even wear shorts when I haven’t gotten around to shaving my white-and-hairy legs, with their various scars and divots and bruises. (I don’t care about all that. My legs walk great, and pump my bike pedals quite effectively.)

But do I really love this 50-year-old body as unconditionally as I would hope all women would love their bodies? Isn’t my love contingent upon feeling half decent, remaining trim, and staying active?

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Crater Lake and me. With slight “bat wings” starting to show. (This was a few years ago.)

Back when I was living with chronic illness (the “decrepit” period mentioned mid-rant), I did not love my body much at all. Would I now, if some unexpected health challenge befell me?

Furthermore, why do I sigh at the way my blemish-prone skin is losing its suppleness? Why do I look askance at my newly floppety triceps?

I remember Jan Phillips. last year on a tear at the International Women’s Writing Guild annual conference, grabbing the flesh under her arm and saying, “Don’t waste another minute fussing about THIS.” She wanted us all to focus on getting our creative gifts out there, because “the world needs you.”

I think of Jan whenever I feel a tinge of dislike for my own baby “bat wings.” Jan says don’t worry about it!

Then again, part of loving my body does involve focusing on it—not in a fussy/critical way, but spending time doing what it wants to do. Stretching, walking, dancing, touching, resting, laughing, playing, enjoying good food…

All things that make me feel great. And theoretically make me look great too. Though I stop short of tricep curls and whatnot. So far.

Last night Gaynell ended her yoga class with an invitation, as she often does, to gratitude: “Pause and thank the miracle that is your body. It’s the best and only home that your mind and spirit have.”

That’s the space I want to live in. No matter what, this body is my home.

A Love Story

In the wake of a day devoted to romantic love, I’m thinking of a love story I heard years ago. It was in a yoga class in Point Reyes Station, CA, where I was on a writing retreat. The yoga instructor was fond of telling wisdom stories, spinning out tales over the course of a class. Two days before I was to return home, she told a story of the Hindu god Krishna.

She characterized Krishna as something of a playboy, full of mischief. In a particular village, his flirtations with the local maidens caused havoc.

I remember one example of his naughtiness: He stole the milkmaids’ clothing as they bathed in the river. He refused to give the clothing back until they came out of the river stark naked to beg him.

Then there was his flute-playing, which mesmerized the women of the village. The women, enthralled by the magic of his flute, left whatever they were doing to dance with him on the banks of the river.

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Lord Krishna with flute, via Wikimedia Commons, photo by Virumandi1

“Even in the middle of lovemaking,” the yoga teacher said, “any woman who heard his flute would leave her husband to come to Krishna and dance.”

After teasing all the milkmaids with his evidently irresistible beauty and charm, Krishna ran off with a particular milkmaid named Radha, who (though married) was completely besotted with him. If I remember right, when they left, the other milkmaids were bereft.

But in the end, the story reveals our relationship with the Divine, our one true love. The yoga teacher spoke of expanding into that feeling of being in love—only instead of falling in love with a person, we’re in love with everything.

Years later the milkmaids were said to have located Krishna in their own lives, no longer needing his physical presence to feel the magic of love. “Krishna is in my needlework,” they told his emissary. “Krishna is in my cooking! Krishna is in my flowers, he’s in my grandchild.”

(One hopes, for the sake of those poor husbands, that the milkmaids also found Krishna in their married life!)

While I was writing this post, I went into the kitchen and saw my glass of water lit by sunlight on the counter. So beautiful.

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About that mean trick Krishna played on the river-bathing maidens: As an allegory, it imparts a spiritual teaching. When we expand into love and passion, we are brave enough to appear unclothed—to be vulnerable enough to show ourselves in our true form.

The Krishna story turns out to be all about Big Love, finding magic in the everyday, feeling all the passion that comes with falling in love. When we’re falling in love, all our senses come alive, and we vibrate love-love-love, all the time, and nothing can interrupt that feeling.

(I remember a bulletin I heard on NPR last year about the European migrant crisis. Two newlyweds were among the displaced people interviewed. They viewed their trek across Europe to an uncertain future as a grand adventure. Being in love made them soft, hopeful, present, and open.)

How wondrous to imagine living this way without regard for outer circumstances. It would be bliss.

Still life inhales and exhales. We may not always notice the things that freely offer their beauty to us. We may go for weeks in a humdrum frame of mind. Or we might be in chaos, barely able to tread water.

But the minute we return to noticing and appreciating, we can expand again, and set ourselves anew to the Love Channel.

***

I had the opportunity to write a Hoosier Locavore blog post, which was all about the delicious and abundant chickweed. I link to it here because, in retrospect, I see that I find Krishna in a common weed.

Catching Abundance

One day early in June, I looked down at my salad plate and realized my good fortune.

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The abundant salad

I saw that an incredible number of friends and acquaintances had contributed to my meal. Here were lettuces I’d purchased as seedlings from a farmer friend. Serviceberries I’d picked from a neighbor’s tree. Roasted chickpeas given to me by another neighbor, and guacamole from yet another neighbor. I dressed it with a drizzle of superspecialyummo high-end olive oil that another neighbor-friend gave me, along with beet kraut from local fermenters Fermenti Artisan.

I mean, seriously now.

And that’s not even mentioning the contributions of all the nonhuman cocreators of my food, the bees and tiny bugs, the sunshine and rain and minerals and fungi and soil itself.

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Dan’s tree was loaded. Enough for birds and neighbors to enjoy, while still filling his freezer.

This time of year especially, the sheer plenitude just delights. That is, if we let it.

Nance Klehm of The Ground Rules calls it “catching abundance”—the idea that our job is to show up and appreciate, and make use of, what we are freely given.

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I picked these yesterday. Blackberries, red raspberries, wild black raspberries, mulberries, and a couple Alpine strawberries.

It can be food, but it can be other things too. Recently I’ve felt grateful for an abundance of ideas, an abundance of encouragement and support, an abundance of beauty, on and on.

One night, at bedtime, I saw the quarter moon reflected in my neighbor’s window. I let myself be awed.

Gratitude opens the door to awe and wonder, two emotions that promote loving-kindness, so essential in this jaded age. (This article posits that “chronic awe deprivation has had a hand in … making us more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others… We need to actively seek out awe-inspiring moments in our everyday lives.”)

Contacting this state then, which I also call spaciousness, is not just the icing on the cake. It may be the entire smorgasbord.

Saturday I took a space at a wellness expo, where I asked people where they encounter spaciousness, or what it means to them. Many generously contributed to my inquiry, as you can see.

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I invited people to contemplate spaciousness and add a thought to this board. I caught an abundance of responses!

A few of the answers:

  • Expansion ♥
  • In the green of nature
  • Simplicity
  • Freedom to be me!
  • Contentment ♥
  • Awareness
  • Love!
  • Open heart ♥
  • Unlimited
  • The stillness inside of myself

And my personal favorite, a drawing of a tree. (Yes! Thank you, Tree!)

I bow in gratitude to the people willing to scribble something for me, and to those willing to pause a bit longer and try out my uber-short meditation for grounding and expanding. What a privilege to encounter so many openhearted souls.

What about you? What is your experience of spaciousness,  or where do you encounter awe and wonder? Are you catching the abundance in your life?

To Pause and Give Thanks

Gratitude is not just a seasonal thing for me. I look to be aware of the blessings in my life all the time, the better to enjoy them. Lately I’ve been taking a few minutes before I eat a meal (when I remember to!) to celebrate all the contributors to my food.

I will look down at a humble bowl of oatmeal with raisins and almond butter and pause for a second. I will think (or say), Thank you! I love you I love you I love you! And then, if I feel like I have the wherewithal in this moment, I get focused and consider:

  • the farmers responsible for growing these oats, grapes, and almonds
  • the bees that pollinated them
  • the sun and rain
  • the worms and microscopic wee buggies that do so much unseen
  • the people involved in processing and transporting
  • the folks at my local food coop where I bought these foods.

Thank you, I love you!

What’s really fun is to look down at a meal and realize how many personal connections it embodies. I’ll think: Oh yum, I get to eat Amy’s spinach (from South Circle Farm) or Randy’s squash (from Stout’s Melody Acres). The celebration feels even more expansive when I know my farmer. And the food tastes better too.

Today’s lunchtime moment: thanking Earl (Blue River Natural Foods) and his pastured hens for the beautiful eggs, Laura (dear friend) for the tomatillos that went into my salsa verde, Matthew (Big City Farms) for the gorgeous carrots.

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Local eggs cooked cooked “over hard” and topped with homemade salsa verde, with dilly carrots and spicy sauerkraut on the side.

Also Joshua and the folks at Fermenti Artisan for the spicy Latin American kraut known as curtido. And…myself for the small part I played in planting and harvesting dill from Seven Steeples Farm, where I sometimes help out Mike, the farm manager.

Thank you, I love you!

No matter where the food comes from though, this mindful, grateful state brings texture to a meal. A good thing, to pause and give thanks.

What’s Already Here

This week in yoga class we opened our arms wide and bowed in surrender.

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How I feel in yoga class at Irvington Wellness Center. Photo by Mitchell Joyce, via flickr Commons

Our teacher, Gaynell Collier-Magar, invited us to open in gratitude for the extraordinary privilege of experiencing what’s already here. We stood as trees with arms outstretched and my fingertips brushed the hand of Joyce at my left. Then later, lying back in a spinal twist, my fingers contacted Scott’s on my right. Each student deep in our space but connecting with the other.

The goodwill and warmth created in that space fed me, like it does every week.

And not just because they sang Happy Birthday to me before class. (“It’s not just a yoga class, it’s a community,” Gaynell said, and she’s right.)

She led us in half sun salutations, invoking joy as we raised our arms high, surrender as we opened our arms and bowed, equanimity as we rose halfway with hands on shins, surrender again as we folded to the floor, joy again as we rose to circle-sweep our arms high, and finally connection with the sacred as we rested our hands in prayer position at our hearts.

Yeah, it’s that kind of class. The kind where you know you’re just really lucky to be able to sit and breathe in awareness—even though the same breath walks in with you, and you could easily(?) contact it any old time.

In this studio I often tremble in release while holding postures, and even if I don’t understand it on a conscious level, I know that things are moving through me. Sometimes I cry. I cried this time while crimped into a half pigeon posture, leg folded under my torso, forehead on the floor, listening to Donna De Lory sing of being a sanctuary.

The tears came again in a forward bend while the song Mercy poured over us.

“One by one, could we turn it around,” etc. It slayed me. The longing, the heartfelt wish for healing of the world. For everyone to feel joy, surrender, equanimity, surrender, joy, connection.

What more is there than that?