Toolkit Six? Really? Has this been going on that long? Longer, actually, because I posted the first toolkit on March 18, well past the early days of the pandemic.
I know there are so many people these days on various front lines: caring for the ill, selling us groceries, trying to find a cure or a vaccine for the virus, struggling to feed their families because they suddenly have no income, struggling to help those who have lost so much to simply survive.
There are other kinds of front lines as well. There are those who may or may not be combating the coronavirus directly, but they are dealing with grief or anxiety or fear from other current or recent life experiences. And/or from early trauma. These deep wounds, compounded by the daily stresses of the pandemic, can make for a very difficult life. And some, by nature, simply have a harder time dealing with stress and/or feel the suffering of others more acutely. And those who struggle along on multiple fronts? God, help them!
I, for the most part, am staying home, washing my hands, practicing social distancing, wearing a mask in closed public spaces, grocery shopping once a month, and worrying about chipmunks eating my veggie garden.
To be fair, I do have friends and family members who are on some of those front lines, so that brings the pandemic closer and can be quite worrisome. And I am trying to offer support to others, via these toolkits and more directly. And I understand that we just have to ride this out in order to flatten that curve. And I do get pretty scared sometimes. But on the most basic levels my life is okay.
AND...I am just sooooo tired of this whole thing!! As I expect you are. I just want things to get back to normal!! As I expect you do. Aauugghh!! My favorite frustration word.
So, the first tool is....
Admit your frustration, at least occasionally. You can't be noble all the time--sometimes you just gotta express it!
Swish your feet around. A co-worker I knew decades ago had been diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was nine years old. During the time I worked with her, she suffered through several serious, sometimes life threatening, diabetic crises, but no one could figure out a reason for them, so they kept happening. If anyone had a bona fide reason to whine--even scream and shout--it was her.
Somewhere in the middle of all this she shared a cartoon, sent by a good friend. It showed two older women talking, one looking kind of despondent. The other one says to her, "You shouldn't wallow in self-pity. But it's OK to put your feet in it and swish them around a little." I laughed. I still smile whenever I think of it. And I was so impressed. I didn't think she had been wallowing at all, just reacting reasonably to a difficult situation. But she said that's why she loved her friend so much--that woman knew her well enough to know when to remind her about balance. So, go ahead, swish your feet around a little. It's all about balance.
Talking funny. This zapchen exercise can help you express some of the more difficult emotions without tensing up nearly as much as you normally would. Here's how it works: Gently press the end of your tongue up against the back of your bottom teeth. Leave your tongue there, keeping it soft. And talk. It will sound really absurd. Do it anyway. Talk about things that are upsetting you. Talk about how absurd you feel. You may end up laughing and that's fine. This exercise helps relax the tongue, flexes the palate, opens up just a bit more circulation at the base of the brain, and generally helps reduce the tension as you acknowledge what is bothering you. But as zapchen creator Julie Henderson notes: "Talking funny is not the same thing as loss of compassion--not at all a way of making fun of suffering." While laughing at someone else's suffering is almost never kind or helpful, in my experience a compassionate and tender sense of humor towards one's own foibles and struggles can go a long way towards easing the pain of life.
Hand to heart. This one is very simple. Just place your hand on your chest, slightly to the left of midline, or wherever feels comfortable. I find myself doing this spontaneously when I feel compassion for someone else, or for myself. I'll do it when I need to calm down a little, when I am a little surprised, or when I have been shocked by something
Try keeping your hand there for 10 or 15 seconds (or more) and see if anything changes.
In these social distancing days, it can also be a hug substitute. You touch my heart. My heart to yours.
"Hand to heart" resembles some of the simpler zapchen exercises (though technically it is not one), in that it's something we may find ourselves doing naturally, without really thinking about it, like sighing or yawning. As we do these things more consciously, they can become everyday habits that can help lead us back to more calm, more centeredness.
Accept your humanity. This is one of those two-part tools.
Accept your limits. I feel like I shouldn't be bothered by minor pandemic difficulties, when there are so many others so much worse off. I expect, however, that I'll always be able to find someone who has it worse than I do. And/or someone who has it more or less the same but who is--apparently--managing better than me. But then I remember: "comparisons are odious." And I try to remind myself that I am seeing others' outsides through my insides--some just hold it in better. And it's true: some people are just tougher, or less sensitive. Can I accept myself exactly as I am, with all my limitations and humanness, without having to change anything? This is what Tara Brach suggests in her book, Radical Self-Acceptance. Even a very imperfect self-acceptance can be amazingly freeing. Can I truly appreciate the things I can do instead of beating up on myself for the things I can't? And realistically, that list of what I can't do could be endless. So I seek to live with gratitude, not guilt. To be able to say, "I yam what I yam."
Accept your mortality. I am going to die someday. All of us are. That can be a pretty scary thing to fully admit. In fact, it is one of biggest challenges we humans have faced throughout our history. Of course we are afraid (the vast majority of us, anyway). It is wired into our biology. That fear helps us survive. So I have been a little surprised to find an acceptance of my own eventual death coming a little easier these days. Perhaps it is my age? Believe me, I plan on doing everything I can to stay alive. But it seems that simply acknowledging that I have no choice but to die at some point helps me be a little calmer in the face of those particular fears about the coronavirus. It helps--a lot--that I don't believe I will just end when my body dies. Since that's a yoooj point of contention for many people, I won't even try to discuss it here. I'm just sharing my inner experience. Which is a gift during these frightening times. And I am very grateful. May you experience some of this peace, in your own life, in your own way.
So, that's it for this week. I am holding you in my heart.
Until next time,
Tyler Nix, unSplash (cover photo)
Matt Pet, unSplash
Jorge Gil, unSplash
Darius Bashar, unSplash
Greg Rakozy, unSplash