As someone who's in the habit of being in warrior mode when the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan, this pandemic has been one of the hardest lessons for me in retreating. Typically I keep my weapons at the ready to fend off the dragons while I make my way through the unknown wood. You know, every day stresses that can make our lives a living hell. When I'm in this mode I usually slow down only when my body gets sick. Then I'm all, "Oh ya, I forgot about that balance thing." Well, right now more than ever I realize how much I need that "balance thing." Not as a nice-to-have, but as a way not to lose my mind. To stay grounded and centered for myself and for those I love. Truth is we often don't know that we're stressed, sad, anxious, in crisis mode, until we're forced to slow down. I suffer from anxiety, and at the start of the pandemic, I experienced waves of anxiety when I realized that I had no control over what was happening. Yet through daily meditations, walks, dancing, writing out my fears, and connecting to those I love, I managed to get through it. Although like physical exercise, it's a daily practice of grounding and trying to be present. The anxiousness never really goes away completely, but at least these tools help me to weather the changes. Over the past several weeks I've finally given myself permission to slow down, to not know the answers, and above all to play. It seems almost criminal that something that's killing so many people and causing havoc to our social and economic systems is also forcing us to reevaluate or evaluate our lives. Yet perhaps right now more than ever Life is asking us to listen. What happens when we listen to Life? When we stop for a few minutes and drink in the magnificence of our being and the world around us. When we slow down and sense that we're much greater than the I that we've attributed to ourselves. That the identity or identities we carry around and greet the world with, isn't the whole truth about who we are. Of course, I'm assuming that those who are reading this aren't fleeing a dangerous situation, aren't trying to figure out how to pay for groceries or keep a roof over their heads. Though I shouldn't assume that any of us is safe, really. Yet even those living on the street may be asking some of these questions. Although perhaps only after receiving housing in a local motel (with government aid) and a shower from a community church. I say this because I've spoken to people who are homeless or nearly homeless and their levels of soul-searching are very real once their basic needs are met for the moment. In fact, as Gabor Mate, addiction expert, has said, those who are drug-addicted on the streets often have no pretense. They've lost everything and so getting real is something they do daily. For many of us, however (myself included), it's easy to avoid the realness. We often don't know that we're stressed, sad, in crisis mode, until we're forced to slow down. I suffer from anxiety, yet not as much as some other people I know. At the start of the pandemic, I experienced waves of anxiety when I realized that I had no control over what was happening. Yet through my daily meditations, through writing out my fears, and connecting to those I love, I managed to get through it. Like physical exercise, it's a daily practice of grounding and trying to be present, though for me that anxiousness never really goes away completely. Yet under all my fear and the worry of what will happen is something deeper that is a knowing that everything will be O.K. It makes me think of the Ojibwe quote, Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind carries me across the sky. There are forces directing us that we don't realize or acknowledge much of the time. Even if you don't believe in a higher power or in some divine order, there are many good things directing all of our lives that we may not always see or admit to. Now, almost two months in, I can say that I'm seeing all the ways that a great wind carries me across the sky, and every day I'm grateful for being held in this way. "The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance," British writer and speaker Alan Watts says. I like the image of joining the dance because it reminds me that I'm not separate from life but am part of it. Part of the wind, the rain, and the tumult that stirs around me. I don't need to try to fix it or to make it go away; all I need to do is join in. Live life as if it really mattered. –Jon Kabat-Zinn One way to experience what you're feeling in the moment is to write it down as a kind of meditation. What is writing meditation you may ask? Writing meditation connects the practice of writing to the practice of meditation. It helps to unite our egoic "doing" selves with our conscious "being" selves. Writing meditation draws on mindfulness and being present, uniting that with writing down thoughts, creativity, and witnessing what arises. We stay in our heads when we write and work from the part of us that is wholly intellectual, examining and judging each thought and idea that arises. This cuts us off from our body and our senses, leaving us adrift in our thoughts. Writing meditation can bring us back to living and experiencing ourselves as part of the world. Sitting for a long time and trying to quiet the mind can sometimes produce anxiety if we're not used to it. So while writing engages the mind, meditation keeps us grounded. When we write freely, our anxious, judging selves may show up in our writing. Seeing these thoughts written down can help us release old patterns and beliefs and allow us to feel more energized. Also, holding a pen rather than writing on a computer can make us calmer, tap into our creativity, and unite the right and left sides of the brain. When we write by hand, writing can take the form of meditation; we feel our hand holding the pen, notice the paper's softness as we write. Both writing and meditation nurture each other and allow us to let go of past stories as we strengthen ourselves, our awareness, and our writing. You might find it hard to believe that simply putting pen to paper to write could give you peace of mind, groundedness, and increased vitality. Through clinical research, James Pennebaker, author of Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, discovered that writing makes people happier, healthier and less anxious. Combining writing and meditation can help people with anxious thoughts or 'monkey mind' to see these thoughts for what they are – just thoughts – once they get them out of their heads and onto paper. Truth is most of us go around with myriad notions running rampant in our heads. Rarely do we take the time to explore how these thoughts influence our mental health and general well-being.
Writing Meditation 1. Pick a time every day to write freely for up to 20 minutes. You can begin with 10 minutes for a week or so, then add on the minutes until you're more comfortable sitting for longer. It's widely known that daily meditation helps people recognize destructive thought patterns. While this is a writing exercise, you'll be approaching it as a meditation. Some studies on daily meditation even show a reduction in areas of the brain related to anxiety and stress. 2. Carve out a quiet area of your living space just for you. Add items, such as candles, pleasing photos of nature, flowers, and soft furnishings that help you feel relaxed and safe. 3. Open your notebook and begin to write down how you're feeling at that moment, or what you're experiencing (i.e., through your senses) as you take in your surroundings. 4. Don't judge what comes up for you, just record it and notice when it passes. 5. Acknowledge the negative self-talk inside your head. The act of writing it down will gradually help you take away its power. Try it for one week just 10-15 minutes a day and see how you do! And as you go, acknowledge that a great wind carries... [you] across the sky! photo credit: Shashank Sahay