Today’s blog is about Having Fun! & Letting Go of Stress. If Life/Survival is a game, let’s play it well!
Who isn’t freaked out by this virus?
-At best it strikes me as an episode from the Twilight Zone.
-On a bad day I worry we’re in a prequel to the Hunger Games.
In the Pandemic Kitchen I want shift our focus from the stressful emotions associated with this virus – Anger, Fear, Grief - and see if we can’t help ourselves become more resilient by feeling these emotions and then letting them go so we can access Joy that we always carry somewhere in our hearts.
So how can we avoid feeling freaked out? The news is broadcasting apocalypse 24/7. They’re telling us if the virus doesn’t kill us, the economic depression will. Most of us have either been sick, or had a loved one get sick. Some of us know of a loved one who has passed from the virus – or maybe a heart attack or some other illness.
I want to insert a spiritual perspective here. A heart attack is way more than death-dealing damage to the cardiac muscle and flow – although it is that as well. On the spiritual level – a heart attack is a broken heart. Every indigenous healing tradition I know of – agrees on this. In the absence of beta blockers and life support equipment, they treated the symptoms of cardiac disease by treating the emotions at the center of the problem – or those that led up to the emotion manifesting itself in body tissues.
Let me ask another question, a spiritual one. Who wished for this pandemic? Not the virus or the sickness or the deaths, but the chance to:
-take a few days off work;
-find the time to do some projects around the home;
-play board games with loved ones;
-cook and eat meals with loved ones, near and far?
Are there any environmentalists, like me, who prayed for a way to stop the economy long enough for us to figure out how to create and sustain the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible?
“Be careful what you wish for…” is what I’d call a “natural law”. That means that every healing tradition I’ve studied expresses the importance of directing our emotional energy mindfully.
Our ability to survive illness, one caused by a virus in this case, depends on two factors our exposure to the virus and our resilience, physically, mentally, and spiritually to survive that exposure.
Low tech, ancient healing traditions all worked on a spiritual level, through conscious, mindfully directed emotions. They used story and ritual to focus on healing. Most of us do not have the high tech tools of modern hospitals in our homes. We have soap and water in an abundance that was woefully inadequate in 1918, and all but missing during the Middle Ages.
In this information rich age which has allowed an amazing cross-pollination between healing traditions we have access to ancient mindfulness and energy medicine practices that focus on building resilience, and science that focuses more often on exposure. We need both.
Most indigenous healing systems I have studied, use some form of a compass, an “honest-to-god”/ north, south, east, west compass to organize their cultural wisdom about healing. They relied on understanding the properties and actions of energetic network that aligned with the natural elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Some also included a center point, and these practices understood five elements. The elements, the colors that represent them and their magnetic location may vary from one culture to another.
Several cultures left a written record of their elemental theories and practices. They passed down intuitive understanding and practical experience which developed and changed over several thousands of years. Records of the Mayan system in South and Central America, and the Egyptian system in Africa were damaged and fragmented by European conquerors, and robbers of both mercantile and academic persuasions. Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, the healing system of India, survived the last two or three thousand years, through continual use. The compass I use in my practice follows TCM. I use it because it works. I use it because I find it surprisingly accurate for identifying which emotions affect our health and boost our resilience.
All healing traditions pass information orally from experienced practitioners to one or more young people they mentor. Much ancient “natural wisdom” has been lost, but a surprising amount of has survived. Enough so we can see some parallels, both among these systems, and our modern “scientific” understanding of these elements. My book on Sustainable Health was based on 40 years of experience as an occupational therapist working with children and adults with a wide range of psychiatric and medical diagnoses ranging from autism to strokes with bi-polar and schitzophrenia thrown in for extra spice! When I encountered indigenous healing rituals I recognized that these holistic systems make so much more sense than the linear systems of modern medicine I learned in college and used in the schools, hospitals, and nursing homes where I worked.
The media has focused almost exclusively on exposure. How can we avoid or destroy viruses we can’t even see? If this is a war, we’re facing an invisible and powerful enemy and we must depend on a leader to save us. We don’t have enough supplies to do this and people are dying. No wonder we’re anxious and fearful. And Freaking OUT!!!!!
We’re gloving up, and wearing masks, and washing our hands, and keeping 6 feet apart. That’s all we can do on the exposure side and it’s good stuff.
I’ve worked with kids my whole career and I’m here to tell you if someone sneezes or coughs in your face from 3 feet or a meter away, you WILL CATCH WHATEVER THEY HAVE GOT. I’ve run that experiment more times than I care to mention. Masks - cloth, paper, bandanas, or scarves – will give you a chance to back away and get a new barrier. They will give you a fighting chance against the virus-bearing droplets in the air you can’t even see.
Hospital workers, retail workers, and anyone else around lots of different people need protection from us far more than we need protection from them. Most of us will do fine with home-made, washable and reusable cloth masks. In fact, a study done in 1975 showed several layers of cloth worked better than the paper masks of that time. Here’s the most comfortable mask I’ve worn and you can make it from a t-shirt. No sewing required!
Washing our hands is also very useful, and protective as long as we moisturize and don’t let our protective skin dry out, especially to the point of cracking - when skin loses its protective ability all together. Gloves can protect us, but not necessarily the people around us. I shudder to think of the landfills full of gloves & masks. Prior to AIDS, a blood borne viral pandemic from the 1980’s, that’s still very much with us today, most health care workers, except for those who worked in surgery, rarely wore gloves, and relied on thorough handwashing.
Mainstream approaches to exposure depend on defense from and annihilation of an enemy. We’re using a war metaphor. As Lorraine Schnieder’s iconic anti-war graphic from 1967 states, “War is not healthy for children or other living things.” Biologists may debate whether or not a virus is a living thing or not, certainly we are living things and annihilation carries some serious side effects. It turns out that most of the microscopic entities that make up our micro-biome, actually work to protect and even nourish us. They make up part of our resilience – our ability to survive and even thrive in our encounters with other living beings.
On the medical side of resilience we have the vague promises of a vaccine – maybe in a year, maybe sooner. A FREAKING YEAR!!! No wonder we’re anxious and fearful.
We have a whole BOATLOAD of things we can do on the resilience side that no one has even mentioned. How about:
-Reducing our stress levels by reducing those emotions that trigger (warlike) fight or flight responses to anger, fear, grief, and anxiety?
-Physically supporting our immune system with what we eat?
-Spiritually boosting our immune system by recognizing that this is a transformative moment and we need to pay attention – EVERYONE IN THE WORLD NEEDS TO PAY ATTENTION!
Another “natural law” or teaching one finds in spiritually based healing traditions from around the world…
There are no accidents.
Everything happens for a reason.
The reason is always good.
Find the good.
Finding the good may seem too big a stretch for us right now. So, let’s focus on reducing our stress. Meditation works. It allows us to recognize, experience, and release thoughts and feelings as soon as they come up. It takes practice.
PLAY, releases stress, and it’s much easier than a more formal meditation practice. Here’s the habit I recommend. It comes from Sustainable Health, and goes like this.
1.Imagine that we live in a conscious universe where everything is alive (has spirit and soul) and we are never, ever, alone.
2.Go outside, or to a window where you can see a tree, or bush, or weed. If you can’t go outside, sit next to a houseplant or a flower, or find some pictures of plants.
3.Recognize the plants as friends, fellow travelers, or even allies if you continue to cling to a war metaphor.
4.Listen to the plants. What interests them? Wind & weather? Birds and squirrels? They talk to each other through the wind and through their roots. What do you hear them saying? Can you see the wind move through them carrying information? You must sit very still and keep watching and listening to your imagination, your intuition.
I can hear so many more bird songs over the past few weeks. The air is cleaner. I appreciate all these things. I imagine the plants and birds do, too. Plants clean our air and oxygenate it. Even houseplants. If you can go outside, or open a window, or sit next to a living plant, the air will boost your immune system, with increased oxygen and pheromones that stimulate our Natural Killer cells.
Plants do not fear anything – not hurricanes, saws, or diseases. They face life with joy and hope. They love the weather changes and life itself. They can teach us a lot. Spring is the season of plants – they burst forth from seeds, a package of DNA surrounded by a protective protein shield – much like a virus. They burst out of concrete in riotous colors – laughing and singing. Look at this pear tree in my backyard. For the past few years the pear trees all get a leaf blight that fills the leaves with black spots as the summer progresses. Yet, here is a pear tree, putting out beautiful green, tender leaves, vulnerable and unafraid.
Plants have great wisdom. Listen to them and feel your stress drop away.
Plants can teach us to forgive and let go.
There are no accidents. Covid 19 came to us in Spring. For many of us this week, the worst we have seen so far in the US, is a very special spiritual week.
Many of us celebrate Passover and the 10 plagues sent to punish (or wake up) the Egyptians who kept people as slaves. Egypt was the last standing superpower of the Bronze Age when this story was first written down. A sobering thought for this year’s seder dinners. What do we need to let go? How has experiencing this plague changed our perspective on life and living?
Many of us celebrate Easter, a story that has at its heart uses Jesus’ famous, last words, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Who, besides ourselves, do we need to forgive? Who needs to forgive us? What emotions do we need to let go?
Listen to the plants. Let them teach us to be a better friend to ourselves, our loved ones, and the world full of conscious beings. Let them teach us to let go of stress, Anger, Fear, and Grief. Let them teach us how to find balance in our lives. Let them teach us what is most important about living in this place and time.
PLAY, releases stress, and it’s a great way to take the pressure out of living in close quarters with others. Play games with those who share your space, and those you love in far-away places – or even a few blocks away.
Are tensions running high at your place? Here’s a great way to let them go.
1.Scream into a pillow. So as not to disturb the neighbors.
2.Get into a “playful discussion” by using a “talking stick”. Talking sticks ritualize discussion by encouraging us to listen until the other party is finished talking and hands us the stick and gives us a turn to express ourselves.
My recommendation – instead of getting some fancy ritual stick, get something silly, like a rubber duck, or a something that makes you smile just to look at it. That way we don’t have to take ourselves or whatever trivial thing (next to disease & death) has set us off, so seriously.
Let’s start working on the resilience side of getting back into balance, of looking Covid 19 in the eye and laughing. Here’s some habits to practice for the coming week.
1.Start or end your work day by grabbing a beverage (coffee, tea, or whatever you like) and drink it while you watch the wind blow and listen to the plants. Connect to that Fearless Spring Energy. Practice letting go of stress, anger, fear & grief for the time it takes to finish your drink. Don’t stress about doing it. Have fun!
Here’s a recipe for a Ginger-Mint Tea that will boost our resilience – Grate some fresh ginger (or use ginger powder, ginger tea bags, or even crystalized ginger. Add some fresh or dried peppermint, and a teaspoon or two of brown sugar to a cup. Pour over hot water. If it makes you sweat, it’s helping you boost your immune system by letting go of toxins.
2.Play some games with others. If you get into a tiff – take out the “talking stick”, “rubber chicken”, or a squeaky dog toy. Take turns listening when you’re not holding the “stick”.
3.Focus on washing your hands as soon as you get into the house from being outside. That’s when I forget the most often. Do it before unpacking the groceries, or going to the bathroom, or using your phone. Handwashing really does work.
Remember to moisturize! And Playfully, love yourself!