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.

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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

We live in a story deeply tied to our identity

Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda, for this potent lyric.

We live in a story deeply tied to our sense of self, our identity

Most of us alive in America today have grown up with a single story about race and gender. A single story that features certain people and events and renders others invisible. A single story that seamlessly includes and excludes. A single story deeply tied to our identity and sense of self.

One of the consequences of this is that our stories divide us from ourselves even before they divide us from one another.

Yet there are few avenues where we can explore, or even name the the wisdom and the limitations, the innumerable gifts and wounds of the social and cultural groups to which we belong. That go to the heart of who we believe ourselves to be.

Radical inclusion with A Life of Practice © (RI) applies the power of consciousness skills to the inner work of race and gender, shifts our perceptions of “differences,” and strengthens us to respond rather than react – in our personal lives and to the headlines.

At the heart of the work of Radical Inclusion are fundamental practices for awakening to the fragments of our racial and gender identities that tend to be fixed, and highly resistant to even being seen. These aspects of our identity are often linked to our earliest life attempts to be safe and whole. They maintain stability, consistency, and continuity. They are hidden, and well-protected, out of conscious awareness. Mixed up with our beliefs of what is “good” and “bad.” Guardians of tribal outlook, appearance, and behavior. And these fragments cut us off from the whole, continuously-changing and vibrant fabric of life, from the tender intelligence of the heart, from trustworthy discernment of right action, from freedom, from our full humanity.

I have spent the past four years using and adapting the skillful means of Nondual Kabbalistic Healing© to inquire into my own early influencers and origin stories, the storytellers behind them, and the Master Storyteller, who runs the show of my identity. An archeological dig in which fragments of my racial and gender identities have become visible bit by bit, conscious bit by bit, integrated bit by bit. 

I remain committed to my personal work as an ongoing and holy project to which I see no end. And now I look forward to sharing this work of Radical Inclusion with you, one to one and through a two-hour introductory workshop. In the works are two four-session courses which offer a practical and nourishing immersion with the support of a practice-based community.

Here’s the good and discomforting 21st century news: our single stories are disrupted every day by the telling of versions that are new to many of us and old to many others. 

How we play out these differences will ripple through our family, neighborhood, workplace and civic lives for years to come.

National Museum of African American History and Culture, October 2016

Radical Inclusion brings the power of consciousness skills to these potent flash-points of controversy, confusion, and contentiousness.

Helping professionals can waken to and make a place for self-judgement and shame about our prejudices and implicit biases, our anxieties about offending or re-wounding, our fears of appearing awkward, thoughtless or insensitive. These shifts free the people we work with to more fully presence their own shadowed, gaslighted, injured parts – cultural as well as familial. And those of us who work in institutional settings are better prepared to observe and address language, policies, norms and structures that perpetuate racial and gender harm on our clients, patients and co-workers.

Activists find in RI practical, honest, kind supports to be the change we want to see in the world. RI builds resilience in the face of the frustration, rage, guilt, shame, and self-judgment that can shadow us and hollow us out. Whether fired up and standing strong or worn out with effort, we need nourishment for the stamina needed to keep showing up.

Spiritual seekers wrestle and relax into the Radical Oneness named by many spiritual traditions, poets and scientists, which is the root of RI. The embodied listening aspect of practice plants and nurtures seeds of humility around the racial and gender identities our stories illuminate, so that our words and actions contribute to healing ourselves and the world.

Questioners learn to deeply engage our integrity, power, discomfort with honesty and kindness as we notice the Otherness within, the parts of ourselves we have orphaned, exiled, or reviled and the parts of ourselves who are steeped in preconceived notions of race, gender, and human identity. Our very presence in the world begins to grow and mature into a healing remedy for the differences in gender and race that divide us from one another. 

Radical inclusion is designed for these explorations – to help us awaken and heal. 

To learn and share a community of practice that goes to the very root of what ails us, divisiveness in ourselves first of all, and in our culture, our communities, our public and private dialogues .

And this is where the exploration starts: we look within ourselves, we look at ourselves, we look at how we move through the world, we come into a friendlier relationship with our own wisdom and limitations. 

Freed to offer our own story with awakening consciousness and to receive others’ stories.

Freed to meet the full imperfect humanity of others with our own.

A living remedy for gender and racial ills.

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Does this invitation to look through a different lens as you wrestle with race and gender resonate with you? Are you a member of a group that would welcome a new approach to their struggles? Schedule a 30-minute free consult. Let’s talk.

A radical new foothold since I last wrote

New shoes

I purchased these Relaxed-Fit, Memory-Foam Skechers just a few days after I posted my last blog on New Year’s Eve. I put them aside for spring, figuring the pair I was using to slog through the winter would be ready to be retired by then to use as garden-mudders. Turns out I wore them for the first time just a few days ago, well into summer.

These shoes hug my feet. Each step I take connects firmly with the ground. When I stand, I am fully at the X that marks this particular spot. Je suis arrivée. I have arrived. “The Eagle has landed.” 

The Memory-Foam inner soles are not yet broken in, not yet shaped to my habitual posture or the way my right foot rolls outwards with each step. The outside of the heels are not worn down, so each step lands solidly on the four corners of my feet, something that never failed to challenge me in the years I took yoga classes.

The Memory-Foam has no preconceived notions about whose feet they will carry where, and remind my body that it can actually stand upright in a different way, move through the world in a different way, pivot or leap as needed. 

It’s not confidence, exactly, or assurance.  It’s not connected to the self of self-confidence or self-assurance.

 

 

 

More like a state of feeling the truth of something

A base. A point from which something unimagined might develop or unfold. A center of operations. A location of mills and machinery. A gravity, a force that draws my body to its own center even as it is drawn by the center of the earth.

Freedom. Freedom from habit, from preconception. Freedom to move.

In that December post something in me knew I was entering 2019 with resolve: “no choice but to know intimately, my yearnings, aversions, despairs…instructive, dignifying, and precious…the very features of God’s world and my way home.”

I’d spent the prior three-and-a-half years studying with an inspired group of my healing colleagues,  revisiting the nondual healing curriculum I first traversed from 1996-99,  inquiring ever more deeply into the dynamics of the universe and how they play out in my own body, my family, my cultural groups, and the public arena.

As the work has unfolded in 2019, it has been a means to heal a split that had plagued me between the parts of my life that were contracting in distressing ways, and the parts that were expanding in exciting, creative ways, to settle into the One Single Life with which I have been gifted.

 

 

 

The work of noticing preconceptions

I continued to follow an unfolding passion for justice that had re-ignited with the 2016 election.

I plumbed my relationship with boundaries and how both personal habits and cultural norms shaped how open or closed I am to others and to the flow of life. My relationship with agency and choosing and a peculiar disconnect between cause and effect that kept me from taking responsibility when appropriate and even from drawing nourishment from any “success.” How these same dynamics play out among in and out-groups in our country, all of us white folk in a trance to various romanticized notions of our nation, too often innocently asking wrong-headed questions about what is going on and why.  My relationship with my own desires and yearnings, which I had been schooled to suppress, and the consequences for society of the limited opportunities and dashed hopes and expectations of so many different groups. I struggled with patriarchy, within myself, my marriage, and everywhere I looked.  I struggled with my whiteness, my femaleness, my Jewishness, my aging

I read voraciously about all manner of things gendered and racial.  I revisited my own origin stories of race, gender, and feeling different. Adult experiences working as a middle-class white woman in Baltimore City, and working as a Jewish woman for church-based advocacy and health-care organizations.  

I worked with nondual practices, meditations, exercises, in small groups with my colleagues. I explored the states and shapes of the ever-shifting ego through movement and through playing with pipe-cleaners. I have a notebook full of practices for perceiving and naming parts of me, the “who-ises” that too easily remain in the shadows.

I wrote and wrote and wrote to transform this into teachable, transformative material, practices, exercises. My nondual colleagues helped me hone them.

 

 

 

I  call this work Radical Inclusion © : deeper than the stories that divide us – from ourselves, from one another, from our own and our shared humanity.

This is work that respects and honors our family stories and our tribal stories, even while we are intent on bringing our own preconceptions to light. This work nourishes in us a life-changing humility, a readiness to admit and wrestle with the fact that we each have a partial view of the world, and typically stand invested in partial truths.

 

 

It offers us skillful means to cultivate a new, freeing and creative capacity to listen, take in and value the tough differences.

With honesty and kindness we practice: we include one more piece of life, one more piece of life, one more piece of life. Which allows us to be the size we actually are – neither better and wiser nor smaller and more foolish than we are.

For those of you who have followed my blog, or worked with me one on one or in Bend the Arc online, the NEW here is a healing and awakening Presencing of the cultural alongside the personal, the Human Family alongside our family of origin or adoption or construction.

 

An invitation and an offer:

If you struggle with the state of the world, the chaos and sheer meanness, the unrelenting flow of information and misinformation; with the harsh treatment of immigrants and refugees; with privilege, supremacy, and what does it mean to be white; with a family, a workplace or a place of worship where gender, race or other differences bear down on you.

If you hope for a better world or town or neighborhood and could use support to find your way to help make it so.

If you are a helping professional who needs a place to work out your own stuff so you can better help your clients or patients navigate their worlds.

If you want to step into a new pair of shoes, and stand in your own new place…

… let’s talk about how the work of Radical Inclusion with A Life of Practice can

  • nourish and restore you to yourself
  • wake you up to your preconceptions
  • enliven you with new perceptions
  • strengthen you to stand in your identity as your precious self and as an imperfect human being, and stand in the place you choose
  • soften and fortify you to  engage creatively with people who do not share your identity or your story

 

 

E-MAIL ME at alifeofpractice@gmail.com, using #RadicalInclusion as the subject – and we’ll set up a 30-minute consult to talk about how we can partner in this work to guide and support you.

 

Gratitudes: My heartfelt thanks to my teacher Brenda Blessings: you guided me through 4 years of nondual Teacher Training for the Marketplace and many treacherous waters. To my colleagues Kathy Bernstein and Terry Nathanson, you helped me to hone the material and practices and inspired me with your own specialties. To my poetry and all-around nondual buddy Greg Conderacci for your key insights and word-choices and fellowship. To Evelyn, Laurie, and Schlese for your extended commitment to showing up for one another to help me explore the territories of identity. To Lisa S for your questions and engagement with the ego-states that led me to new insights. To Simona Aronow for inspiring me to bring movement and the spirit of dance into this work.