Vaccination Envy: Won’t Anyone Card Me?

I'm over 75! Please card me. Please!

Vaccination envy. Really.

Having made many adjustments, (and maladjustments!) to Pandemic conditions eleven months ago, the prospect of more change, more decisions, when and how to gain the little bit of “freedom” and “normalcy” that vaccination seems to promise – all this brings its own mix of emotion, reaction, response – Including vaccination envy. 

I am probably not a good judge which of the following are Adjustments and which are Maladjustments

  • Bargaining with myself: how often do I have to cook dinner to not feel like a total jerk – after more than 30 years of Gideon working evenings? If it were up to me we would both just graze as we are moved to. 
  • Changing relationship with clothing: some days I “dress up” for the hell of it (aka to cheer myself up) in an outfit I used to reserve for “special occasions.” Other days I throw on a sweater over pajamas to appear Zoom-presentable. And yet other days – and this would truly horrify my Mom, I’ll wear the same thing two days in a row if it passes the smell test.
  • Establishing a few new sustaining habits: in the morning, courtesy of Trader Joe’s, 2 oz. of cold-brew concentrate with a splash of macadamia-almond nut milk. I drink my 2 cups of green tea later in the day. In the evening: a jigsaw puzzle app where I can choose the number of pieces and whether I want them all right-side up to start with or if i can handle the additional brain challenge of needing to rotate them to find where they fit in. After waking hours without much in the way of dopamine hits, the little “click” the app emits when I move a piece into its right place is just a bit too satisfying.
  • Delighting in having found an outing that is fun and safe: Staples is my go-to: I can browse the various forms and colors of post-its, try out a new style of pen for note-taking or highlighting or coloring. Another dopamine hit.
  • Abandoning my neighborhood post-office the day I went to send a piece of certified mail: they had no certified mail forms and no idea when they would get them. Even worse, the selection of stamps was down to Scooby Doo and Hot Wheels. I’m sorry to be disloyal – the staff is great and obviously under huge stress. Now I go to different post office, where they conserve the certified mail forms by keeping them behind the counter. 

I have made all these avowedly privileged, first-world adjustments in an effort to maximize available pleasures and minimize unnecessary use of energy and  unnecessary provocation of agitation.

What does this have to do with vaccine envy?

I decided to expend minimum energy to capture an appointment. 

I decided that the following would be really bad for my mental health: hanging on the phone for hours, or constantly redialing, or scanning websites during the wee hours in hopes of landing an appointment.

I have been eligible in the over-75 group in Maryland since Jan 18, and I did snag an appointment on that date for February 17.

I was not surprised to get an email last week cancelling my appointment, and clarifying that the slot I had signed up for and had been confirmed for was actually reserved for people getting their 2nd shots.

Gideon got his 2nd shot today. I was relieved that the vaccine was there for him and that the process itself as orderly and uneventful as the first one.

Meanwhile, I am surprised at the mental health impact of not vigorously pursuing an appointment! Disheartened and depressed as I continue to hear daily in the news: get your shot! Along with the continued daily news of no clear path to do so. Emotions are not about “making sense” of course. And it’s not as if my daily activities would change dramatically if I had my two shots.

If you have chosen a different path, I hope your efforts pay off and the search itself brings you comfort. 

I   just    can’t    go     there.

Linear time has lost its meaning, which has opened up other opportunities, as I wrote in my last post. 

So, waiting another month or two, shrug. I hope I can continue to shrug longer if I need to. 

Meanwhile I will continue to practice inviting in all the parts of myself who have something to say on this topic:

  • the one who is ok with the adjustments and maladjustments I have made
  • the one who hopes for some kind of new normalcy post-vaccination
  • the one who suffers from absences – loved ones, hugs, a night out at the movies, a museum meander
  • the one who waits – sometimes with patience, sometimes with disgruntled entitlement – for clear direction on how to get an appointment
  • the one who prays that every shot given goes to someone who has been risking her health as an essential worker or first responder
  • the one who remembers to trust, from time to time, a Wholeness and All-is-Okayness beyond my need or capacity to manage.

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Are you a professional, seeker, and/or activist committed to race and gender equity?

Interested in participating in a Listening Group to help design formats to give you the support you need to be both  effective and whole?  Be in touch.

RADICAL INCLUSION PRACTICE: LEARN & TRANSFORM

FOUR OPPORTUNITIES FOR LEARNING AND TRANSFORMATION

#2 Come play with me - FREE 30 minute interactive video: GET REAL WITH RACE AND GENDER. I’ll take you through the basic practice of Radical Inclusion.

Time-sensitive: December 5-13

Get your free pass at https://sensiblewoo.podia.com/2020summitfree

Thanks to Portland diva-of-all-things-tech-and-alchemical Mary Ginger Williams, I am one of 15 “curated presenters.” Her Small & Mighty Summit features entrepreneurs who build transformational relationships with their clients and customers. Topics range from micro-habits to neuroscience, leadership to self- care. Check out my fellow-herbalist and MUIH-grad Katherine Hofmann ND’s talk on Small & Simple Strategies for Mighty Mental Health. Also Ellie Ballentine’s Magic  of Your Mindset – she has given me some very valuable coaching. 

Member of a group – colleagues, religious/spiritual buddies, readers, neighborhood or PTA who are wrestling with race and gender justice, questioning their own responsibility and capacity to nourish change, to be change?  GET IN TOUCH – and let’s talk about designing a two-hour session to meet your group’s needs (no cookie-cutter for this work!) Then I’ll send  on a full description you can share and discuss with your group. 

Some comments from workshop participants

“This is the work we need to do and what will shift things if we can do it.”

“This practice activates my heart.”

“Found the given exercises very useful and practical.”

“I came aware with clarity around where I am… and a plan for moving forward.”

“This program has opened the door to the possibility of healing 

my inner divisions, judgement, and shame.”

“…a container for deep, nuanced work.” 

#4 Check out Radical Inclusion Practice Immersion:

uncover and harness unconscious bias

New cohort group forming for a 4-week course to begin in mid-January.

Ready to go to your working edge with race and gender in 2021? 

  • Begin to notice your habits of seeing and making meaning of events.
  • Nourish curiosity and  empathy.
  • Gain freedom to act from a place of inclusion, to be inclusionary.
  • Learn to trust discomfort as a friend and guide.
  • Loosen the grip of your Rules for Living – the rules that govern  how you  appear, how you behave, whether and how you belong. These rules are our internal equivalents of the laws, policies, procedures, and  organizational hierarchies that dispense and withhold access, incentives and opportunities  in our society. 

Some comments from course participants

“surprising revelations,” 

“visceral empathy”  

“a strong emotional foundation for listening to others” 

 “a knowing where to dig” 

 “a willingness to step up and be more ‘out loud’ with a formerly shy voice” 

 “tools to move past limiting assumptions.”

With Sara’s teaching, encouragement and guidance, I was able to discover early narratives that impact attitudes towards racial and gender bias.  These surprising revelations, along with new practices have given me new tools moving forward.                                                                                                                                                                                                          Susan, Acupuncturist

 

The Radical Inclusion course helped me process a lot of unspoken thoughts and feelings around race, especially that uncomfortable topic of white privilege. It’s a very organic process, not linear, and that allowed it to be exactly what I needed to open up my heart and mind to a new perspective on how I view myself and others. I now have a strong emotional foundation from which I can do the continuing work of listening to others, listening to myself, and questioning my assumptions about how things work. In a world that is constantly changing, this is a valuable tool for understanding how the world really works (not just how I think it works or want it to work), and that is very empowering to me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                Sara Korn, Writer

 

This course helped me unpack and clarify long-hidden assumptions that I now realize were getting in my way.  I discovered personal insights that are already paying dividends…and I believe will continue to benefit me as I build on the course’s foundational, perspective-expanding structure.                                                                                                            Greg Conderacci, Good Ground Consulting LLC

 

Sara consistently created a space where moments of understanding could unfold. During one of the course’s many excellent exercises, I made a profound connection—it was about my own sense of belonging and the conditions of life for Black people in our country that could preclude a feeling of belonging…The connection is now visceral for me, as well as intellectual, and oh so powerful.                                                                                                                                           Deborah Green, Association of Environmental & Engineering Geologists Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee Chair

 

Post-Election: Carry On. Love the World.

When I woke up on Post-Election Day, November 4, 2020, I knew I needed to carry on. But how?

I REACHED FOR WISDOM. WHAT COULD I PULL UP FROM WITHIN MYSELF?

I’ve learned that I need to practice before my feet hit the floor in the morning or my mind and mood seize control of my day. I sit for anywhere from five to twenty minutes just noticing what’s going on in my body, my mind, the condition of my heart. Abdominal gurgles took me by surprise today, as they are a prime indicator of a physiology in relax-and-rest mode. I was expecting to wake up on this of all mornings, in more typical fight or flight state.

After I checked the morning headlines on my phone, I reached for wisdom again, looking for outside help this time.

After a few false starts, I decided to crowd-source my wisdom on Facebook. I count myself lucky the odds are I will find an abundance of uplift on my feed rather than urgency, smack-downs, or un-funny memes. (Depending on your feed, you might not want to try this at home.)

There were these words from a Mary Oliver poem from writer Juliet Bruce: “My work is loving the world.”

Then I found, one after another, a string of declarations from colleagues and friends of how each does their work of loving the world. Here are a few.

From shaman Lora Jansson: “I cling to kindness, compassion and love.”

From death doula Beth Almerini: “working on my new hobby of transformation – creating paper from my old journals and plants from my garden, proving to myself that something beautiful can be created from just about anything.”

My big shout-out is to herbalist extraordinaire Sevensong, who taught me field botany some fourteen years ago. His post began with this statement: “Here is what happens for me no matter who wins.” He went on to share a list of what he will continue to do/be, ending with “I will carry on.”

He inspired me to take on this no-matter-what exercise for myself, and I invite you to do the same.

HERE’S MY VERSION:

Here is what happens for me no matter who wins:

I will continue to be in conscious practice as an imperfect human being.

I will continue to show up and hold space for people to be themselves.

I will continue to revel in learning with and from my students as I teach.

I will continue to investigate and harness my unconscious biases as I guide others through  the inner work of race and gender.

I will continue to nourish and refine my moral compass.

I will continue to cultivate my urban lot as a home for medicinal plants, and share the bounty with pollinators, squirrels, birds, rabbits, foxes, domestic kitties, and keepers of the land.

I will continue to cultivate friendships both likely and unlikely.

I will continue to participate in communities of practice, of worship, and of action.

I will continue to wonder at the ways the universe is described and explained variously by the Hebrew letters, molecules, neuroscience, and group and institutional dynamics.

I will carry on.

These are some of the ways I “love the world” through my work. What are yours?

ARE YOU AN ACTIVIST IN POST-ELECTION EXHAUSTION, DISTRESS, OR TRAUMA? CONTACT ME FOR A FREE 30 MINUTE CONSULT, AND A SPECIAL RATE, 3 SESSIONS FOR $297, (REGULAR FEE $390) 

Re Voting Plans, Tilt-a-Whirls, and Trust

I have voted in every election since 1962.

“VOTING PLAN”   The words fell oddly on my ears when I first heard them sometime in late summer. By September I took them seriously, and based on what I knew believed understood mis-understood at the time, I ordered an online ballot, which would require me to hand-deliver my completed, printed-out version to election headquarters. A uniquely-coded electronic ballot arrived with unexpected efficiency, along with a lengthy set of instructions for accessing it.

Several weeks later, the Sunday Post reported that each such ballot in Maryland would burden the vote count by adding five minutes to the processing time: before being counted, that ballot would have to be hand-glued to card stock in order to be fed into a vote-reading machine. Few pieces of news have thrown me into such emotional turmoil, a toxic mix of disbelief, rage, and helplessness.

Fortunately, I was able to change my plan: I ordered a mail-in ballot.

The ballot arrived in timely fashion, with a set of instructions that seriously challenged my reading and comprehension level. And a whole separate page for a local charter issue correcting errors in language on the printed ballot. I searched a few drawers before finding a pen with black ink that would render my ballot countable, as long as it didn’t stray outside the lines of the small oval. The ovals definitely looked smaller than I recall them on standardized tests. But, as I said, I’ve been voting since 1962, so: aging eyes?

My online record with the State Board of Elections does not yet register that they have received it.

If I live long enough to read a trustworthy history of this election, I hope it will shed light on the facts, fictions, and deceptions around the capacity of the U.S. Post Office to handle mail-in ballots.

Election jitters with a dash of pandemic entering its third season

The sensation is familiar. Taut. Stretched to the limit. Vibrating in response to atmospheric influences. Braced against too-muchness. This is election season 2020 overlaid on the fall seasonal changes of shortening daylight hours, overlaid on a seventh month of pandemic upheaval. The sensations of moving through a tilted landscape remain strange. I reach for words to describe how gravity and levity have both morphed. Some mornings I wake mildly nauseous, as if I have been riding for hours the Tilt-A-Whirl, my favorite amusement park ride when I was a kid.

These body sensations make even more sense as I read the manufacturer’s description of the ride as “a large segmented undulating spinning platform with 7 vehicles spread over the surface. Each vehicle spins on its own axis and depending on the weight location of each guest every thrilling ride is unique” which“can be themed…can even have custom themed characters for the vehicles.”

How much rooting, in what soil? How much dancing?

There are times when chaos sets my feet itching, rootlets emerging from my soles to burrow down into even the rockiest soil. Acorn aspiring to oak. And there are times, like now, when I am sustained by the mysterious movements of some internal gyroscope that helps me to keep righting myself as the earth heaves repeatedly and irregularly. Ever a dancer. 

What catches you when you fall?

What do you reach for when chaos turns your world-view, or your material circumstances inside out?

What do you know?

When you fall, have you practiced free fall? calling for help? getting up and moving on, scraped knees and all?

I grew up with a full-bodied conviction that whatever came across my path was mine to do, solely mine to do, and that was okay since I knew believed understood mis-understood at the time, that I could do it better than fill-in-the-blank. I might have been small, but my powers were Mighty.

Once again I have to effort to put my misunderstanding aside, and trust.

Trust that the emerging flood of shadow humanity – collective and personal – that inundates our world, is an invitation to heal. That the pervasive disruption and collapse of social institutions, structures, and norms – culturally and in the human personality – open possibilities for a new operating system. One that is rooted like an oak tree and resourced like a dancer, the natural and inevitable child of that Ongoing, Unbroken Continuity – the God that I cry out to in desperation and in thanks, or the Unshakeable call and response of cause and effect, or the Life-giving River of Compassion that flows through the human heart.

We may indeed appear to be a gathering of themed vehicles spread over the surface of creation, each undulating and spinning on our own axis.

Nevertheless this week, we can each:

Be kind.

Vote.

Act and replenish and veg out as needed.

Vote.

Call and respond.

Vote.

Listen for who your own deepest wisdom is instructing you to be, with all your warts. 

And did I say, Vote?


 

The patience to be who I am

PATIENCE is not among my weekly calendar notations:

The 26-hour Yom Kippur fast is over.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The opening Presidential Debate of the season is history.

Colleagues and students entered and left my Zoom rooms this week softened and strengthened by practice and by sharing struggles and wisdom.

A passion-project that has been on hold for some weeks moved a little.

Tomatoes that have been hanging green on the vine have suddenly reddened in the cooling, shortening daylight hours.

This list almost but not quite attains what my teacher Jason Shulman calls “the pure subjective,” a quality of is-ness that such statements display when they are just themselves. As you read through that list, you can pick up whiffs of preference and comparison and judgment that leave them short of “is-ness.”

I consider again the card I pulled for my High Holy Day focus this year: “patience.”

I am born an Aries, “the head” sign: I am a great sprinter. Marathons, not so much.

Can you tell from this post that this is a night when I am down to fumes?

Patience right now feels very close to: I am out of gas.

The Hebrew word for patience is transliterated as “savlanut.” It comes from a three-letter root  meaning burden, load, suffering, pain: the same root of the words used to describe the hard labor of the enslaved Israelites making bricks from straw for Pharoah. Its linguistic cousins include: porter, stevedore, passivity, endurance, tolerance. You can see how these belong to the same word-family.

I’ve devoted myself more to cultivating resilience – the capacity to recover – than I have to bearing burdens. Maybe, I wonder to myself, if I practiced bearing burdens with more patience and tolerance and less suffering, I wouldn’t have to tend so much to recovering?

Meanwhile needs Urgent and Real compete for my attention and energies to:

– stay safe, keep others safe during the Pandemic, with my home serving as  my workplace, since am both privileged and non-essential, a useful contemplation in itself when I have more brain cells to rub together.

– do/be/ join forces for equity: safety and protection under the law and access and well-being for people who have black and brown and olive skins

– figure out how to vote and maximize the chances that my vote will be counted. I already know my vote counts. This year I also have to do what I can to make sure it is counted. This is a new experience for me as a White person.

– plant seeds for collective civic grieving, repair of wrongs, and reconciliation. To lift my spirits, I’m putting a pin in this topic  for a future post.

What you have just read is a narration of my practice of letting myself be the size I am. Which is what I counsel you to do .....during these times and ever after:

Do what you can from where you are, with what you have to work with.

If you’re tired, rest.

If you’re hungry, eat.

If you feel defeated, do a small kindness for someone.

If you’re full of pep, or you have “discretionary” dollars,  choose who and what gets the benefit.

And this, from the Talmud, immediately and perpetually useful:

It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work,

neither are you free to desist from it.

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I just wanna pull the covers over my head

“I just wanna pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.” For years I have used this as a throw-away line.

Last Friday I actually tried it for the first time. Ever.

At 11:00 in the morning.

Care to lay odds on the outcome?

I had tried to get on with the day and overcome a funk of over-wroughtness.

I had read the Wash Post headlines, which featured the Occupant’s lead balloon of a proposal that the presidential election should be postponed; a large graphic of the tanked economy; and Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton speaking at the funeral service of John Lewis. The text of this last article noted that Obama spoke from the pulpit where Martin Luther King had preached.

I had wrestled with with what was going on with me in my current writing project: the more I tried to be clear and specific, the less I felt I was writing in my own voice. After an hour of practice, all I knew was that I was on to a subtle and troublesome knot.

A light drizzle that had ended a record-breaking 25-day heatwave brought no relief to the thick air.

So my body and my brain were both way overheated.

I headed for the bedroom, the one room in the house that was cool.

As I pulled the covers up over my head, a window AC unit whirred along

But every time I drifted off, I found myself in another anxiety dream.

At one o’clock I threw the covers off and wandered back into the livingroom.

I picked up my phone and began to scroll through emails, felt queasy and put it down.

It was another hour before I had anything to eat.

Rescued by getting ready for Shabbos

Finally at 4:00 I turned to another strategy: cleaning. Because I like to go into Shabbos with a clean and orderly house. An hour of being able to exert control over my immediate environment calmed me a bit. The aerobic side energized me a bit.

But the funk still had hold of me.

How had it gotten to be Friday again already?

Six days of the week have become interchangeable and increasingly indeterminate.

But what really turned me around was overhearing my next-door neighbor’s afternoon outing with his dog.

Dan had brought Tawney outside for a late-afternoon poop.

Tawney is a beautiful Giant Boxer, maybe 7 years old. 

He has Parkinson’s and has been progressively losing function in his back legs since last September. He has not lost his delightful disposition, his playfulness, or the strength of his “upper body.” Twice a day, Dan helps Tawney down the front steps and around to the back yard, using a long sturdy sling to support his hind quarters. And Dan talks to him, encourages him along. Dan does this with every step Tawney takes. Every day. Twice a day.

At that hour, I took Dan’s encouragement to Tawney as my own. With gratitude, restored to sanity,
and a bit more in touch with my own stamina.

An invitation to listen, and to hear

Feel free to read this on the fly: then set time to spend with yourself

So the invitation this week is to listen, and to hear. At this point in civic life, the level of static is profoundly distracting, exhausting and dissonant. At the same time some voices are newly heard, and deserve our thoughtful attention, engaged response, and discerning amplification. 

 

We all have times when we are both interested and able to be attentive, and times when we tune out – out of habit, out of actual self-protection or out of defensiveness. Some of us listen to ourselves as we write/so we can write. Some of us are professional listeners, whether paid or volunteer: we listen to clients, patients, colleagues. In Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting taking notes is my way of listening and not spacing out.

 

A listening practice: DO try this at home, not while driving

In the same way that we can practice softening our gaze as we move from one Zoom room to another, I invite you to soften your listening. 

Shift your listening to your immediate environment.

Listen as if you have peripheral hearing (you do!) 

Stay here and rest for a bit. 

 

Now shift your listening within.

Sense your own system.

Attend to the sensations in your body.

Notice the area of your body where your attention is drawn first.

Let the sensations register in your consciousness.

Let them be vivid.

You may find you are able to stay with these sensations. Or you may find you quickly begin to follow associations or attribute meaning.

See if you can stay with the sensations…

Consider whether the area of your body your attention first went to is a source of immediate information that you rely on to make your way through the world.

Listen with ears and heart. 

Listen to yourself in the world as One Thing.

In Hebrew we would call this Shma-ing, it comes from a prayer that is recited daily during prayer services, the last words before sleep, the last words before death:

listen, you who struggle with Reality/ Reality is One thing.

Now try a few variations: it’s a bit like turning a faceted jewel that catches the light in new and surprising ways with each bit of movement.

Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank, of Blessed Memory, taught there are many meanings to the word Shma found in the Talmud:

Play with substituting any of the following for the word Listen in the practice offered above, and see what you notice.

Hear                Infer                      Give evidence

Obey               Prove                    Be still

Gather            Assemble            Sing 

Minister           To Invite              Attend

Surrender        Teach                  Make music

Understand     Proclaim            Show yourself willing

Become an attendant of

Now, Hear the Great Listening that holds us all

Know also that you are listened to in the very design of things – whatever that is like with your partner or your boss or your kid, who ever the ones are in your life who don’t listen to you…

We are always surrounded by a Speaking Silence that takes in all the ways we speak – in our minds, with our hearts, with our actions. In Hebrew, the word is Chashmal…this is a Constant Presence that is always listening. This is a silence that is, as Toni Morrison notes, is little appreciated and yet “as close to music as you can get.”

Listen to birdsong if you are able. 

Listen for the vibration of thousands of feet hitting the pavement, dancing along protest routes all over the world. 

Listen for the resonances with your own life.

Let this listening be a remedy for your urgency to act, 

so you are freer to choose well. 

Let this listening be a refuge, a nourishment, a give and take.


 

Are you longing for your presence, your words, to be deeply heard, attended to, gathered? A healing and awakening relationship whose only goal is for you to become more and more yourself, as you unwind expectations – your own and others of who you are? Let’s talk.

Interesting, if true: 3 useful words

head leaning against arm

Interesting, if true: three useful words when facing uncertainty, sorting truth from fiction

Among the most useful 3 words I have practiced over the years I learned from my healing teacher, Jason Shulman  who reports having learned them from his high school science teacher: “interesting, if true.”

These days I find myself forgetting to apply this in two key sets of circumstances.

On the one hand,  I find myself unquestioningly dis-believing and dismissing most of what I hear or read in the news. Too often I forget to remember: “interesting, if true.” 

On the other hand, I find myself unquestioningly believing most of my own thoughts, which this week have tended to the dark, personal, and prosecutorial. This “dilemma” I am up against, (usually in the form of an actual human being), will never change: “it” is, “in fact” unsolvable. This is an old, well-worn` pattern, familiar when I am aware, debilitating when I am not. Too often I forget to remember: “interesting, if true.” 

These are two sides of the same problem

In each set of circumstances some part of me – who is both limited and unacknowledged – masquerades as the whole of me. I have also handed her the keys to the bus and invited her to take the wheel: she steers me this way and that, sides-swiping bystanders along the way.

I have split myself by relegating uncertainty to the outside world, and by embracing the certainty of my own stories. 

I am used to thinking of myself as a nuanced and dimensional human being, so this binary thinking is in itself a distressing phenomenon. I have cast myself in a play with many enemies and no friends or allies.

There are more resourceful options when up against uncertainty

I had to reach back to a piece I wrote three years ago to re-presence three parts of me I need to heed right now.

The one who is willing to learn: to seek out trustworthy enough information, while realizing that in a few days I might as well be prepared to go through that process all over again. Because whether it comes to understanding how the novel Coronavirus spreads and does its damage, how public behaviors are trending, or how the economy is faring – the data is in continuous update mode.

The one who is willing to persist like sunrise and sunset with some mix of bargaining prayers, grief, courage, urgency, helplessness, trust, terror. Who is willing to mobilize inner resources and outer supports. Who discerns, perhaps after having wept, howled, or broken plates.

And the one who is willing to put down all her tools for taming the Uncertain: what is left then is to simply rest my head up against the unknown. Actually rest. Allow myself to be comforted. To relax, physically. Nothing to figure out. No need to listen in the way I’ve thought of listening. No need to open my heart or even be concerned about whether it is open or closed. Neither pattern nor meaning to seek out. An open mouth. No words. Neither are words precluded nor actions hindered. Just my head resting up against the unknown, on a soft, rock-solid shoulder.

A cautionary reminder to myself - and all of us

There is no single way or “right” way to respond to the uncertain and the unknown, there is just our effort to be in relationship to it, and kindness when we are not able to carry that off. 

This stand, I am willing to say, is both interesting AND true.

God is calling and She has the right number

My week started with a twist, when I picked up this voicemail:

“Hi, hon. Just calling to check in on you.  I know you have a lot on your plate. Just wanted you to know I’m thinking about you. Talk to you later.”

The voice was sweet, concerned, and unfamiliar. It was clear the caller thought she had left the message on her daughter’s voicemail. So I hit the unknown number to return the call, and the same sweet voice answered. 

I told her I had just received a message, clearly intended for someone else, and what a beautiful lift it had given me – I wanted her to know that. I also wanted her to know so she could place the call and deliver that message to the person she intended it for. She in turn was touched. We wished one another well, and without exchanging names, hung up.

I call this an  “Are you there, Sara? It’s me, God” moment, a play on one my daughters’ favorite Judy Blume books, Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret.

Here’s the moral I wish I could share from God catching my attention in this way: I let it set the tone for my week. Ok if not my week, then my day?

Here’s how it actually worked: the call became a moment in a day, a week filled with other moments. 

Moments when I showed up unmoored and uncertain. When I showed up with presence. When I found myself undone by the smallest kindness. When I was lost in fear of the unknown. When I felt held by reality. When I didn’t trusting the universe has my back. 

AND: leaning a little more into kindness and a little more into honesty as needed. In short, this was one more week of showing up as imperfectly human, and mostly in good cheer.

The story in which I will eventually locate myself and the moments of this week and the weeks to come is an unprecedented one for humanity. 

Sacred texts of many traditions have long instructed humans on our connectedness. Scientists and philosophers have described it their own language, from the Harmony of the Spheres to quantum reality. Each has had their regional and cultural followers and disbelievers, sometimes linked to nation-state or tribal boundaries. The reality of our human civilizations, the beautiful blue sphere that we are as seen from deep space is real to us in a whole different way.

Now we humans across the globe share the language of epidemiologists to describe our connections, the connections of direct touch, of shared surfaces like doorknobs and counters, the connections that take place through the air we breathe. And those of us who are able rely increasingly on the interconnectivity of technology to check in with loved ones, meet with colleagues, organize our communities to help one another, have a cup of tea, celebrate, pray, and even mourn together. 

The imperatives of social distancing invite us to create sacred and nourishing online refuges.

COME AS YOU ARE

….determined, anxious, spinning, grounded

Wednesday, April 1, 12-1 EDT – Join me on Zoom

FOR AN HOUR OF GUIDED NONDUAL PRACTICE, REFLECTION, AND SHARING

REGISTER HERE by entering COME AS YOU ARE in the message

Covid-19, anxiety and other contagions

COVID-19, ANXIETY AND OTHER CONTAGIONS

As I wash my hands, I sing “Happy Birthday” to myself twice through – twenty to thirty seconds depending on the tempo. I take this common-sense and now widely-publicized step many times a day since the outbreak of Coronavirus. I do this to protect my personal health and the health of the countless others with whom I may share respiratory space and door knobs over the course of a day.

I notice an unexpected side-effect. When I actually listen as I sing, and take in the words of this common ritual song, I connect to a deep well of teaching from the Jewish tradition: God continually renews the work of Creation. That is, the Creation story as told in the Book of Genesis was not a one-time event, but is sustained by an ongoing Act of Goodness. This is a Goodness that encompasses all the wisdom and the limitations of life as it is, including illness, suffering, and death itself.

As I place “my” birth-day in this Meta-Story, I place myself in a timeless stream of life. Which proves to be an excellent remedy for the contagion of anxiety-triggering urgency. Urgency fed by news clips, shared posts, selectively-emptied store shelves, and a growing list of cancelled events. And by the genuine uncertainties, unpredictabilities, and unknowns of this biological threat.

It is under such a perfect storm of conditions that we find our resilience tested. 

We each have our particular set of challenges to resilience. A baseline of health, perhaps a mix of managed and  unmanaged chronic conditions. A mix different sets of responsibilities for and to others in our families, workplaces, and communities. Different stress loads and capacities to manage ourselves. Different contexts of meaning. Different conscious practices.  Different unconscious practices, aka habits. Different access to material, physical supports.

Family headlines are especially potent…a grandson’s sore throat and fever diagnosed as strep…an aging family member hospitalized overnight with stomach pain and sent home the next day with Tylenol…a daughter who works as a mental health clinician on a college campus that has closed down for the rest of the semester, which goes on into May. They wash through me, waves of disruption.

Yet, as I sing throughout the day, my triggered anxieties are periodically swept up and carried along harmlessly in that same unending stream. I am left relieved and grateful. And so it goes with the hand-washing.

…OTHER CONTAGIONS WE LIVE WITH

I am also left to reflect on how other contagions, barely recognized as such, have faded further into the background. 

I seriously doubt that the disappearance of news stories on harm to women, to trans people, and to people of color reflects an actual drop in incidents. And I see how challenged I am to stay actively and effectively engaged with the race and gender work of my heart. 

I took this challenge to stay focused as a call to poke around in my origin stories of contagion. How was I schooled to see the danger of catching something bad through unwelcome contact?

“Eeeww, cooties!”  Playground words that claimed separate space by taunting. In my kindergarten days that was one arena where gender equality held sway. Girls and boys each adopted the words freely to convey we considered one another dangerous, a source of something mysterious, bad – and contagious. All you had to do was stay with your group and you could avoid “catching” the condition, being cast out and becoming isolated and mocked.

On the playground, those words were an early exercise in solidarity, belonging, safety, superiority, and domination in one sphere or another. The stakes then might have meant hanging onto a patch of blacktop or possession of the monkey bars for the twenty-minute recess.

If you had asked me what was wrong with boys, I can only imagine myself inarticulately wrinkling my nose as if at something dirty and smelly.

That same vague “dirty and smelly” linked poverty and racism in my early childhood

I grew up in a Cleveland suburb, one convenient block from the Lynnfield Rapid Transit stop. A black and white police cruiser regularly sat for hours just past our driveway, ready to spring right or left onto the nearby boulevard in chase of – something. It was the 1950s, suburbia: segregated from despair, poverty, and color. 

Loudly enough to be shushed, I used to ask my mother about the poor people as the Rapid took us through trash-strewn gullies and neighborhoods of shabby, grey, tilted homes. I hit a rust spot in my imagination when I try to recall, or construct, her answer.

“Dirty and smelly” also defined the questionable wholesomeness of my female body.

By the time I was an early teen, watching the bodies of some friends developing faster than mine, I was caught between the brief, sterile explanations of female bodies and reproduction and the living realities of dealing with sanitary napkins and tampons. Especially on gym days. My sister called it “the curse,” (which Google informs me is still in common use.) By the time I was pregnant, at age 23, birthing had long been medicalized Nursing was clearly considered less convenient, less taxing, and outdated when compared to bottle-feeding. 

The messages about my own body, about the male gender, about poverty and about dark skin: most forms of contact were dangerous. Observing the norms I was taught about who it was safe to get close would surely protect me from catching…Something Bad.

It has taken a lot of focus and attention to bring these and other biases into my foreground and begin to unlearn them. Thankfully, several generations of scholars have revisited the stories of plain people and activists of the past, writing versions of history that are more complete and truthful than the “Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock” version I was taught.

Last night we had dinner out in our favorite Szechuan restaurant. It was unusually empty for a week-night at seven. Chinese restaurants are among the businesses most frequently cited as suffering from loss of business since the Coronavirus first appeared to jump species in China.

I can start to place my learned history of race and gender in this context: contagion, “harmful or undesirable contact or influence.” And to continue to discern as best I can what is required for my actual safety, and what is required for an imagined safety.

I take to heart the timely fortune that I received at the end of our meal – whatever the contagion – viral or bias-related: face the facts with dignity.

__________________________________________________________________________________

AND A FEW TIPS FOR SELF-CARE

Deep breaths are to the contagion of anxiety as hand washing is to microbial exposure

– Stay hydrated.

– Do one or two of the many things you already know to manage your stress.

– Say please and thank you.

– Offer a kind word and a smile.

– If you are in a high risk health category, check with your physician about appropriate cautions (yes, there is an assumption about health care access: that’s a whole different post.)

– Seek facts and guidance from trustworthy sources: your local public health officer and the CDC https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html