Change can happen so quickly. Just a few days ago, we had snow and sleet⎼ in May! Spring flowers were covered by snow, broken by sleet, and blossoms were blown from the branches of cherry trees. Yet right now, it’s sunny and warm. All the snow is just a memory.
And even though it took a few months, it feels like it was just a few days before the pandemic changed everything. It is a storm that rages through our lives, but instead of ending in a day or two it continues on. And it is two storm fronts combined, COVID-19 ⎼ the fear of illness as well as the news of infections, deaths, jobs lost, schools closed⎼ as well as the DT administration and all the ills it brings us each day. But both of these, too, will end.
As a teenager, I remember many of us thinking being at school was preparing for life, not living it. We wanted “real life” to begin. Well, if real life hadn’t already begun for us, it is here now. This is it. Whatever we learned or studied, we have to use it now to help ourselves and others through this crisis.
Meditation or mindfulness has become the core structure of my day, along with greeting my wife and cats. I am so grateful to my teachers for showing me these practices. Each morning, I stretch, exercise, and meditate. When either fear or worry show up, I know I can let it go, or at least diminish it. Best of all, meditation provides a means to get quiet inside and study whatever occurs, so whatever occurs can teach me how to perceive with less projection or distortion, think more clearly, and grow stronger.
Due to the pandemic. I can’t go to the gym, so I’ve brought my workout home. I work out here more than ever, take more walks, do more breathing exercises and martial arts training. And it’s not just more, it’s better. I have no other place to be, so I am here more thoroughly.
Writing stories, personal or persuasive essays or blogs, has been another way to learn about myself and feel more positive emotionally. It requires a combination of creativity, critical thinking, mystery-solving, and meditation. My first drafts are often journal entries or responses to an article or poem I read, a news program or podcast I listened to. I record an insight or something that intrigued me. Or I just write what I see around me or feel. And then I follow it up, do research, dive into the puzzle of my mind and write a full draft. And then take a breath. Sleep on it. Let it sit and percolate in my body and dreams.
This is one way writing is like meditation. We can listen for the subtle movements or the quiet words that slip by in the back of our mind and write them down. When we edit, we can feel the tension in our body that signals that something is off ⎼or that if we changed this or explored that we’d find a hidden door into a new room. We resist easy or habitual answers. The result is new voices speak, old memories made new and new connections realized. We uncover a depth in ourselves we had forgotten about or never knew existed.
Michelangelo supposedly said that every block of stone has a statue inside it, and the task of the sculptor is to discover it. Or the task of the writer working with an idea or emotion. Maybe that’s also true with facing this crisis today. Maybe it’s true with facing any moment.
The negativity bias says we give bad news more power than good. It can keep us perpetually on the lookout for threats and thus make the fear, worry, and not-knowing about the future, that so many of us share today, even worse, more opaque, more like a block of stone. But there are currents, lines in that stone, if we can only see them. If we can see the lines as something to study, and the stone as something we have the power to shape, maybe we can find ways to bring comfort to ourselves and those we love. We can turn our concerns into new and compassionate ways to act and speak out.
When at home with our families and tensions are mounting, we can allow ourselves to notice the thoughts and sensations of fear and stress. If we notice them as they are just beginning to change into reactive anger or depression, we have more power to let go of them. We can remember what’s most important and relate with more kindness to those at home with us, or those we wish were home with us.
Sometimes, we need to turn off bad news or forget what frightens us. But to not think about something takes energy. If someone says “don’t think of an elephant” we think of an elephant. Instead of focusing on not-thinking of something that weakens or upsets us, and thus preserving its power, we can observe ourselves closely to determine what strengthens and affirms us.
For many of us, the pace of our lives has (except when we hear the news) slowed down. But not our inner world. It twists and turns and moves so quickly. And that is understandable. But if we can slow that down, pause when we feel ourselves getting riled, look around and actually see what we’re looking at, we can better see what strengthens and affirms us. We can see what’s true in our own eyes so we can see it more clearly in those of another. Even with a mask on, we can see the lines of tension, the love, the feelings in the faces of those around us. This is what mindfulness and our artistic sense can give us. It gives us the compassion and insight to collectively sculpt a way out of this crisis and into a better world.
*Practice mindfulness: study the mind to determine what opens it and makes it stronger.
*When we feel fear or anger overwhelming us, or we feel powerless ⎼ or we feel our viewpoint is the only truth and everyone else’s is idiotic ⎼ we can stop, close our eyes, take 3 calming breaths, and reconsider. Or we can look into the eyes of another person and feel this other life, this other world of feeling, resides there.
*When we create, we have power. We can turn within, feel, listen to our inner music, and dance, write, sing the felt sensations of our body or the deepest truth of our lives.