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Easing the Journey Through Shadow & Light

Anti-Covidanxiety Toolkit #2

In case you missed it, you can find the first edition of the toolkit here, with lots of ways to reduce anxiety and increase calm and ease in these troubled times.

This new version includes a number of new suggestions, many of them from those of you who responded to an email I sent out with a link to that first toolkit, including a couple of great corona virus-related cartoons, and another poem. It was wonderful to hear from all of you. And many, many thanks for your ideas and contributions!

First a correction: I had indicated that Sarah Cuddy was the Power Poses researcher. I got it wrong--it is Amy Cuddy. My apologies--how embarrassing!

Gratitude. Noticing the Little Things. Several people have indicated that gratitude, and noticing the little things, are some of the most helpful tools they are using. I agree. Neuroscientist Alex Korb, author of The Upward Spiral, notes that, “dozens of studies in recent years have shown the benefits of gratitude. Perhaps most importantly, gratitude improves mood. When you think about and express more gratitude, it’s easier to feel positive emotions.” Gratitude also improves physical health, improves sleep and increases social support. Writing in a gratitude journal can be a helpful way to focus on adding more gratitude to your life.

More Zapchen. A reminder: The object of these exercises is to relax and enjoy, not force. So don't do them if you don't want to. I f you do want to, then do one for a short while, and rest a bit, noticing any gentle ripples of feeling that may move out through your body. Do a little more, then rest again.

  • Whispered Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. I forgot to mention that you can whisper aaahhhhhhhhhh as well as give it voice. That way, you can use it while you're wheeling around the grocery store or walking on the sidewalk and people won't think you're weird! Or in bed so you won't wake up your partner. Or whenever you want to be a little quieter or a little more private.

  • Hum with someone.This is a wonderful way to connect with someone, or a group of someones. You don't need to try to coordinate the notes. Simply hum peacefully, keep humming and see what happens. Being close and/or touching while you hum together is great, but you can also hum together standing at that six foot distance! You could even experiment with hums at different distances--see how far apart you can get and still feel connected. Caveat: I tried this on the phone with a friend and both our phones seemed to get confused--if we were humming ourselves we could only hear the other humming very sporadically. I'd be interested to hear if that is true for you as well.

  • Jiggling. This one is lots of fun--its one of my favorites for reducing stress. Jiggle your entire body, gently but loosely. Or as much of you as is comfortable jiggling. Flap your hands and legs and arms. Wiggle your torso. It works best if you jiggle pretty maybe 130-140 times a minute! Okay, maybe don't jiggle your head that fast. Except you could consider horselips to be lip-jiggling! Julie Henderson, zapchen's creator, says, "Because jiggling is a 'kid thing,' our willingness to jiggle helps us ease out of being too serious about ourselves." As with all zapchen, do it a little, then rest a little, then do some more--if you want to.

Become aware of your feet. Frequently when people are upset or anxious, they are either way off in the future or back in the past. I know that is true for me. I am certainly not aware of the present moment or my body in those times. When a dear friend notices that I am lost in the past or the future, all bunched up with worry, she reminds to simply feel my feet. Just become aware of them, feeling the sensation of socks or shoes I may be wearing, or the ground or floor I am standing on. This brings me back in to the present moment, where there are often resources for facing whatever is happening in that moment. Ahhhhhhhhh.....

Thanks for sharing. This is my own quirky twist on an informal tradition in a number of Twelve Step programs. In many of those programs, after someone has finished sharing something, everyone says, "thanks for sharing." That's it--just "thanks for sharing." And then the next person shares. The group says it to everyone, no matter what each person has said. It acknowledges the value of every person, without editorial comment, approval or disapproval. So, sometimes when my anxious "monkey mind" is in its whirling maelstrom mode of "what if?" and "how come?" and "but he said!" and "oh no!" I try to remember that my attempts to wrestle or argue or engage with monkey mind in any way in the past have only made things worse. I don't need to try to fight it, I don't need to interact with it, or even really listen to what it is saying. I can just acknowledge it. "Thanks for sharing." And go on to something else. It works pretty well sometimes!

A important note about why zapchen, power poses, etc. might work

We usually assume that our emotions take the following path:

  1. Some event or memory occurs,

  2. our brains react,

  3. we have an emotion,

  4. our face/body expresses that emotion.

And it's true; that happens all the time.

But what if there's another pathway as well?

  1. We move our face and/or body to mimic an emotion,

  2. our brain says, "oh, my body is experiencing _____ [some expression and/or posture] therefore I must be feeling that emotion,"

  3. we have that emotion.

There's lots of research-based evidence to support the reality of this alternate pathway, including Amy Cuddy's research on power poses. However, since we've all grown up assuming the first pathway is the only one, we tend to get stuck there, to feel like it is the only valid one. Check out Alex Korb's wonderful book, The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression One Small Change at a Time for other examples of research on this second pathway.

One day at a time, 100 times. It’s way too easy to get into worrying these days—there are so many unknowns about this pandemic. Worrying gives us a (false) sense that we can control things but it doesn't do anything except stress us out and "borrow sorrow from tomorrow" as the old saying goes. But sometimes the worry can overtake us and not let go. The brain can get stuck in a very negative loop no matter what you do. In the past, I’ve found that sometimes repeating something like “one day at a time” many, many times, like a mantra, can help my brain get out of that negative broken-record state. Other sayings can work too: Easy does it. Let go and let God. Or something of your own choosing. I've repeated a line 50 or a 100 times or more when I'm stuck in that worried mind. And it does seem to help.

Reading inspirational books or material. Several people suggested this. Of course the specifics of what that material might be would be up to you. One person said, "It gives me peace and reassurance that God is mindful of us, knows what we are going through, and gives us advice on how we can carry on His great work." Another person quoted the New Testament, "“Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Coloring. No need for a coloring book; you can create your own designs to color simply by holding two pens or pencils in your hand and swooping around your paper, and by turning your hand in different directions, make ribbons and/or various shapes. Then color whatever areas you want. It’s the steady, gentle back and forth motion of coloring that can be so calming. Even just looking at it later may bring back that sense of peace.

Remember spring? It's happening out there, and it's beautiful. My neighbor said, "My dog is oblivious to the corona virus." So is the rest of the natural world around us. So get out in it, breathe deeply, say "aaahhhhhhhhhh..." and remember that there is still good in the world.

Here's a poem by beloved Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh

The Good News

The good news They do not print. The good news We do print. We have a special edition every moment, And we need you to read it. The good news is that you are alive, That the linden tree is still there Standing firm in the harsh Winter. The good news is that you have wonderful eyes To touch the blue sky. The good news is that your child is there before you, And your arms are available: Hugging is possible. They only print what is wrong. Look at each of our special editions. We always offer the things that are not wrong. We want you to benefit from them And help protect them. The dandelion is there by the sidewalk, Smiling its wondrous smile, Singing the song of eternity. Listen! You have ears that can hear it. Bow your head. Listen to it. Leave behind the world of sorrow And preoccupation And get free. The latest good news Is that you can do it.

Thich Nhat Hanh

in Call Me by My True Names

And finally, a couple of covid-related cartoons for your viewing pleasure.

You are probably aware that in the Hindu tradition some of the deities have multiple arms. I love her expression...

Thank you again to all who responded to the first tool kit.

Until next time,


Photo credits:

Saiph Muhammad, unSplash

Toa Heftiba, unSplash

Ester Marie Doysabas, unSplash

Aaron Burden


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