You, like me, may be feeling overloaded by news of COVID-19.
People are stocking up on hand sanitizers, (Hopefully not like the bloke in Tennessee who bought 17.700 bottles thinking to price gouge.) If you need any, why not make your own? It’s just as good. (Recipe here.)
But as we heed the warnings and care for our physical health, what are we doing for our souls? How about creating some heart sanitizers?
We need something that can cut through panic, speculation, and the grinding numbness that comes with endless news of the pandemic.
You can make your own recipe. I’m keeping mine simple: one part laughter. one part tears. and a heavy dose of nature. Optional adds: gratitude, giving, music, tracking on good news, and lots of love.
Laughter cleanses. And you don’t need a reason to laugh, as the folks who do Laughter Yoga love to demonstrate.
Here’s one you have to see…this baby could be a laughter yoga coach by age two. I dare you not to laugh.
You’d think it would be easy to cry with all the ways the world is hurting, but I carry a lot of pain that’s been hard to let go.
Tears can help, especially the kind that roll freely and flush out your system. Think of them like Windex for the soul that can wash doubt away and help you see more clearly. In just minutes they can wash off grime left from stored up anger, sadness, and dullness.
Don’t worry, even if you’re really sad, tears won’t last forever. After a good cry, I almost always feel more peaceful. I finally watched A Star is Born with Lady Gaga and cried, of course, at the end. I can’t tell you what will work for you–one’s taste in crying is very personal. But if tears come, stay with them. One. Moment. Longer. Your body will thank you.
This beautiful song “Broken Angels” from the band Over the Rhine, brought me to tears when I first heard it this week. Even without tears, I find it calming and beautiful.
I want to take a break from heartache Drive away from all the tears I’ve cried I’m a wasteland down inside In the crawlspace under heaven In the landscape of a wounded heart I don’t know where to start... (From Broken Angels by Over the Rhine)
What music brings you to more peace?
A Dose of Nature
Fortunately being in nature isn’t off the list of activities we can enjoy, even with a friend, if we keep our distance. It’s my go-to these days.
In the face of everything that is uncertain, nature heals, reminding us that we don’t have to be in control (which we aren’t now) to delight in life. I recover part of myself when I sink my hands deep into soil, walk over fallen logs, fill my lungs with the smell of wet cedar loam. I listen to birds I can’t identify singing their chant of “We will go on.” I plant peas.
Nature lives in the city, as in the country. It lives in a window box. It sprouts through a crack in the sidewalk and lives in an avocado sprouting on a sunlit kitchen table.
Of course, there’s so much else that could be added to our heart cleanser: practicing gratitude, reaching out to others, giving, music, tracking on good news in the face of the crisis.
You can potentize this recipe by sitting in silence, calming yourself, and sending your care into the world.
People are deluging the Internet with suggestions for weathering the storm, offering their poems, music, and videos of people, around the world, singing from their balconies.
It’s all good. We’re trying. We offer what we can. We’re in this together.
Just remember, in the face of all that is unknown, take good care of that heart of yours.
This post is not another list of precautions about the coronavirus. You doubtless have them already.
I won’t deny the enormous cost of the outbreak, including the tragedy of lives lost, businesses grounded, families disrupted, events canceled, teaching curtailed, and more. The list of consequences, known and not yet anticipated, will keep growing. The scale is boggling.
But when we extend our sight beyond the catastrophe, the virus may have something to teach us.
Sadly, in the intervening years, nationalism, war, closed borders, walls, and the rejection of refugees has tarnished this global perspective. (Add to that the taking apart of the mission of the EPA.)
Now we have a second chance. A coronavirus, COVID-19, is reminding us that we are together on one planet.
COVID-19 has spread across the globe, scoffing at national boundaries, distinctions between rich and poor, and ethnic divides. Scientists collaborate across borders, as we turn to science and medicine for real facts.
That’s not all bad.
However, fear strikes fast
Panic travels faster than COVID-19.
I’m not above it. I have a husband in the prime risk category: older with heart and lung problems. On top of that, he had a heart procedure last week and visited his doctor in a hospital where twelve victims of COVID-19 recently died. So when he called me in the middle of the night, three days after his surgery, panicked, and sounding ghastly, I listened. Unfortunately, I was 90 miles and two ferries away from home at a writing retreat. In a shaky, slightly delirious voice, he told me that he had a fever and couldn’t stop shaking. He felt weak, dizzy, and needed to vomit.
I knew what we both feared: Was this the dread coronavirus?
I called 911, and three emergency medical technicians (EMTs) sped to the house, wearing masks, visors, and comforting smiles. These men, not at all upset at being called out after midnight, began taking his vitals while asking a battery of questions. Within ten minutes, they had their verdict: he did NOT have COVID-19—most likely food poisoning. A good vomit later and he started to come back to life.
I realized how easy it is to panic.
When we panic, we see the worst and ignore other ways to look at the disease. We follow immediate precautions but fail to think about building the longer-term wellness of our communities.
As the virus runs its course, and we may be required to stay away from work, schools, or gatherings, why not consider what else there is to do?
What we can do
Connect with community. We’re in this together, globally, as well as locally. A safety net of community surrounded my husband when the EMTs raced to his side. Let’s build more durable safety nets for each other. Maybe we can check on a friend who can’t go out or notice who on the block might need extra help. We can lend support to the people, organizations, and businesses that are seeing their incomes evaporate. For example, our local movie theater, which offers great entertainment and events to our community, operates on a shoestring budget. We’ll need to make sure it survives.
Pay attention to the soil. Masks and hand sanitizers may help in the fight against the disease, but longer-term, our healthy habits, attitudes, and choices are what will sustain us. As a gardener, I’m not above reacting hysterically when an onslaught of pests or disease invades my garden. Before the buggers kill my kale, I want to DO something, hopefully organic, to fix the problem. But most of the time, the best defense I can offer the garden is to nourish the health of the soil. The planet needs such nourishment as well.
Respect science. People sometimes treat science the way a teenager treats her parents, disrespecting and doubting them at times, but running home for help in a crisis. Let’s give science a boost and refortify the decimated budget for the Center for Disease Control.
Understand that we’ll always live with uncertainty. It may be a bummer, but we can’t control the world. I don’t like hearing surprises such as a friend’s cancer diagnosis, but they come with being human. Just because we can be technologically fancy doesn’t protect us from the volatility, unpredictability, and uncontrollability that’s part of life.
Last weekend, I read “Wash Your Hands” a poem by Dori Midnight, who has pulled beauty out of the viral chaos. It’s worth reading the entire brilliant piece.
“…Wash your hands
like you are washing the only teacup left that your great grandmother carried across the ocean, like you are washing the hair of a beloved who is dying, like you are washing the feet of Grace Lee Boggs, Beyonce, Jesus, your auntie, Audre Lorde, Mary Oliver- you get the picture.
Like this water is poured from a jug your best friend just carried for three miles from the spring they had to climb a mountain to reach.
Like water is a precious resource
made from time and miracle…”
She inspired me to think about how I could use my moments of handwashing.
The gift of twenty seconds
Taking twenty seconds to wash one’s hands can seem like a long time, yet it’s just enough time to:
Take two deep and renewing breaths.
Enjoy the running of water and the sloshing of hands.
Admire the buds on the Japanese maple outside the window.
Send a blessing to first responders, doctors, and everyone working to address the crisis.
Say a prayer for those harmed by the disease.
Offer gratitude for something taken for granted, like clean water.
Appreciate how the planet is interconnected.
Handwashing can be transformed into a moment of mindfulness.
In twenty seconds of washing, let’s start clearing away global toxicities like greed and separation, and rinse away the fear this virus is causing.
Then, let’s prepare to hold hands again, spanning across the globe.
It’s not the easiest quality for me to find in these dystopian-feeling days.
So I turned to a fourteenth-century mystic who somehow managed to find hers in the darkest of times.
Julian of Norwich, an anonymous anchoress (recluse) lived during a time in which a third of the population died from the bubonic plague. Julian may have lost her own children. The world reeked of poverty, pestilence, and war. Then, on the brink or her own death, Julian received visions that stayed with her for the rest of her life. She proclaimed:
“All shall be well again.”
Julian spent the remainder of her life living in a cell built into the walls of the Norwich church, with only a window from which to view the world. Not a lifestyle that would appeal to me, but a good way to spend one’s life in prayer and conversation with God.
In researching her famous quote, I learned two things about Julian.
She didn’t invent the words “All shall be well,” but attributed them directly to God. (I use the word God because that’s the word Julian used, adapt to your preferences.)
She didn’t use them lightly. Apparently she first had to duke it out with God. “Dude, can’t you see that’s there’s suffering, pain, and evil everywhere? The world is NOT OK and not likely to be getting better soon. How can you possibly say ‘All shall be well?’ “(My paraphrase.)
God was not forthcoming with an answer.
What Julian received instead was a deep sensing, a trust she didn’t have to understand, that the future would bring wellness.
It fueled the remainder of her life.
“All shall be well” might sound like an invitation for passivity, but for Julian, it was an invitation to work. She spent her days writing reflections and helping the locals who came to her cell window for support, consolation or advice.
Is our ship going down?
Many of us today feel the ticking clock of climate change and the imperative to do something before our environmental ship goes under. We watch our core values being mocked, see greed in action, and observe the stalemate of our political systems. After decades of environmental near-complacency, we risk unprecedented disaster.
How can we believe in the wellness of the future and still act?
We have to trust and feel urgency. When we work out of a negative view of the future, we sprinkle gloom into what we do.
Granted, there’s a lot of data that could justify apocalyptic conclusions.
Trust invites us to dig deeper.
It’s not a matter of making a list of the good and the terrible about our prospects and then adding up the results.
Trust invites us to go within ourselves to discover an inner equanimity that doesn’t preclude sorrow or even rage.
Trust is a stand we take, not a conclusion we draw.
Trusting creates an energetic container in which to work with goodwill and hope, collaborate, and look for solutions.
Working hard, with hope
Just today, I read about two positive hope-worthy initiatives (among the thousands out there).
My friend Rondi Lightmark founded the Whole Vashon Project, to give her community a way to “stand up to climate change with creativity and hope,” and showcase the positive work being done. Thus far, over a hundred of local businesses have made green pledges as part of the initiative
76-year-old author, and theologian Matthew Fox teamed up with two activists half his age to create an intergenerational, inclusive community called the Order of the Sacred Earth, inviting people to deepen their commitment to the earth with the vow:
“I promise to be the best lover and defender of the Earth that I can be.” (I signed on.)
Initiatives are everywhere. (What’s inspiring you?)
It’s time to trust and garner hope, without denying our grief.
I still plant oak trees. I wouldn’t do that if I thought the world was like the Titanic.
Staying positive doesn’t require knowing HOW the world will evolve. Julian didn’t.
I can offer no PROOF that “All shall be well.”Julian couldn’t.
I wish I could save the world through my scientific knowledge, medical training or political acumen, but, like Julian, I have none of these.
What I can do is strive for a sense of equanimity and then do what I’m called to do.
Today, I sing in the spirit of Julian’s vision. Here are her words set to music by the late English poet and songster, Sydney Carter, and sung in one of my favorite old recordings by Anna Mayo Muir, Ed Trickett and Gordon Bok,
Join me. It couldn’t be easier to sing.
Loud are the bells of Norwich and the people come and go. Here by the tower of Julian, I tell them what I know.
Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go All shall be well again, I know.
Love, like the yellow daffodil, is coming through the snow. Love, like the yellow daffodil, is Lord of all I know.
Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go All shall be well again, I know.
Ring for the yellow daffodil, the flower in the snow. Ring for the yellow daffodil, and tell them what I know.
Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go All shall be well again, I know.
When I was traveling in France after my mother’s death, I sought out the prayer candles stored in the shadowy corners of village churches. Even though I’m not Catholic, I’d light a candle for Mom, letting it glow in the dark as I thought about her.
After listening to it multiple times, in both the Mike Scott solo and Waterboys version, I’d call it my best-song-for-these-times that calls out the brotherly, universal kind of love we are starved for today. Maybe if I didn’t feel starved for reminders of the higher side of who we can be, I wouldn’t be so teary-eyed.
It’s a chant, a mantra, it gets under your skin.
A sample of the lyrics:
Bring ’em all in, bring ’em all in, bring ’em all in
Bring ’em all in, bring ’em all into my heart……
…Bring the little fishes
Bring the sharks
Bring ’em from the brightness
Bring ’em from the dark…
…Bring ’em out of purdah
Bring ’em out of store
Bring ’em out of hiding
Lay them at my door…
…Bring the unforgiven
Bring the unredeemed
Bring the lost, the nameless
Let ’em all be seen
Bring ’em out of exile
Bring ’em out of sleep
Bring ’em to the portal
Lay them at my feet
Bring ’em all in, bring ’em all in…
Have a listen:
As the chant of the chorus continued, I remembered how subversive songs can be.
Once they get into our ears and hearts, they can’t be stopped.
Scott wrote the song in 1995. While I doubt he’d called it a protest song, it’s embrace of humanity makes it stand out today like a candle in a dark culture of exclusion, walls, and hard-heartedness.
Music is subversive because like a (hopefully good) virus, it’s hard to stop.
You can’t ban it, executive order it away, or send your pollywogs into the judicial system to disappear it. We may not (yet) be able to stop “the Muslim ban,” but goddammit we can sing about the beauty of refugees, immigrants, trans folks, the poor, the rich, the mentally impaired, and all those who are part of our big messy world.
Bring ’em all in, bring ’em all in, bring ’em all in.
That’s all for today. Light a candle, Bless the world and all its peoples. And have a listen. (The version with the band and a great fiddler is below.)
How might your life be different if, every day, you tracked on delight?
I stole this idea from a poet.
One of my reading finds at the end of the year was The Book of Delights by poet Ross Gay. Gay challenged himself to identify and write about a delight each day for a year. Admittedly, he missed a few days. (Delight never needs to be pushed!)
Reading his short daily essays is like soaking in poetry wrapped in prose.
His brief essays include scenes of his noticings, musings, and reflections on events that have delighted him (criteria open-ended). His thoughts include riffs on beauty as well as racism, taken from his life as an Indiana-based, mixed-race professor. He shares some of the secret code of brotherhood that allows a black man to tap the arm of a black stranger or be lovingly addressed by a stewardess as “baby.” Both delight him.
My commitment to delight
As a result of reading Gay, I’ve decided to:
notice more and start tracking on delight.
scribble a few occasional notes.
I’m taking his idea, without committing to the high bar of his prose. Already, delight-keeping has made my daily trip to muck the paddock more interesting!
Keeping a diary of delights sounds like the oft-recommended gratitude journal, in which you record one or more things for which you are grateful every day. Both practices tune your mind towards appreciation.
Gratitude and delight are cousins, sharing many of the same traits with a few differences.
Although we sometimes say, “I’m just feeling grateful,” out of a feeling of plenitude, gratitude usually implies a context, even if not stated. I may delight in a baby’s smile, but, if I’m grateful for a baby’s smile, it implies a background, perhaps a reason, e.g., not enough smiles in my life recently, the baby wasn’t able to smile for a while, I know what it means for the parents, it lights me up, etc.
I am grateful for something. I’m delighted in something. The baby’s smile delights. Period.
I can delight in things I may not be grateful for and I can be grateful even if I haven’t found delight.
When I search for delight, I use a micro-lens searching for the small, common, unnoticed parts of my life.
For example, I delight in the daddy longlegs hovering precariously above my bathtub, risking his life should he tumble into the hot water below. Am I grateful for turning my bathtub into a floating graveyard for insect carcasses? Not really. Is his dance intriguing and delightful? Totally.
I took the above photo of dried cow dung while walking through a sun-soaked meadow. I delighted in the beauty of the brown sculpted spirals. Am I grateful for the dung? Hmmm. I’m grateful for the photo and the experience.
A fly in my bedroom can be delightfully acrobatic as it careens at high speeds, landing, pausing, launching again, keeping its tiny motor of sound going whenever in flight. As choreography, it’s amazingly delightful. But I wasn’t exactly keen on lying awake in bed waiting for my aerial star to close down flight school for the day.
Tracking on delight opens my eyes. How many of us loved the poet, Mary Oliver, because she could go out into her backyard or the woods behind her house and see a poem others might have missed?
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.
From the poem “Wild Geese”
Can I find delight in everything?
Nope. At least not yet. I find no delight in catastrophic fires in Australia, threats of war, or most politics in D.C.
Still, the old barbed-wire slung across a New York City bridge looks whimsically architectural.
The shot-weed that will threaten my garden in a few months is quite beautiful today.
The chic style of a friend’s “chemo cap” is gorgeous (delight), even though it hides a sadly bald head.
Three tips for discovering more delight
Pay attention to what surprises, startles, or strikes you as unusual.
Let go of your judgments of good/bad or ideas of what something is supposed to be or do.
Squint/change your perspective; view the world like a newcomer.
Delight lives everywhere, expanding as you acknowledge it.
(Unlike the shotweed, this is a good thing.)
Thank you Ross Gay. While I’ll never compete with your prose, you opened a door for me to see the world, one small delight at a time.
I hope I’m not too late. I wanted to catch you before you make any…resolutions.
Tonight, before the clock strikes twelve, whether you’re in New York, India, or our soggy Northwest, you may be tempted, as you stand before a slightly soused group of friends, to declare your intentions for the year.
Take care! Resolutions can be tricky.
(Happy New Year, by the way.)
Like a vampire, (I saw the play “Dracula” this fall) resolutions appear so seductive and appealing. But one blood-sucking bite can turn you into a powerless blob–or worse.
You start the year oh-so-hopeful. Then, your resolutions slowly transmute into yet another reason to beat yourself up for falling short of your goals.
Wanting to stay the course, you add a whopping dose of willpower, which keeps you going for another week or month. Until your body, which has taken the brunt of your folly, cries,“stop,” proving once again that it’s the keeper of good sense in the household.
Regretfully, you add another scratch mark to the scorecard of life, confirming that you can’t… (you fill in.) The vampire’s won.
There are much gentler ways to step into the new year.
If you want an “-ution,” try absolutions
Absolutions are a formal way to let go of guilt or obligation. That might sound pompous but most of us require some heavy-duty permission before we can purge the toxic-waste dump we carry of regrets, disappointments, and self-judgments. Think of absolutions as a form of old-fashion psychic slate-cleaning.
By the time you’ve reached my age, or whatever age you are, you’ve probably made a ton of goals that you haven’t met, resolutions that you couldn’t keep, and good intentions that sounded so right before abruptly going flippity-flop.
Time to absolve! Find some inner freshness. Learning from your disappointments is good. Dragging them around like Linus’ thoroughly sucked and soggy blanket is not.
Without all that junk you’ve been carrying, you’ll feel lighter. Guaranteed.
My New Year’s gift: a blessing from the universe
I know it’s a bit inflated to speak for the universe and offer you a blessing, but someone had to do it. The world situation calls for more human beings who dare to move with joy into what they’re called to do next.
So here it goes:
I, on behalf of the universe, hereby ABSOLVE you, of all shame, guilt, self-blame and excessive self-judgment, constriction, and sense of defeat caused by what you failed to do, or who you failed to be.
I give you the RIGHT to make mistakes, make goals and not reach them, fail to keep an intention or resolution, fall flat on your face and feel momentarily terrible–all in service to you being you and continually learning.
I INVITE you to joyfully take the next step in service to what calls you throughout the next year.
For the greater good of all. Amen.
Let enthusiasm fuel us
What helps me more than resolution is enthusiasm. A sense of grounded excitement about the future. A hint of meaningfulness. A sprinkle of joy. A belief that whatever is calling me is what I need to be doing. Even if it’s not fun. (I don’t pretend that all of life can be a ten on the fun-ometer)
Delight. Energy. Uplift. These give my dreams fuel.
If I were an intention, I’d be much more attracted to someone who was joyous about it, than someone who was moping around in a state of wish-and-hope.
None of the great things in life (e.g. my husband, horse, friends, dogs, dark chocolate or the program I created…) came out of a sense of willpower, desperation, or resolving.
I have friends who have given up intentions altogether. They’ve learned to float down the great river of life–which is probably a very good thing if you can pull it off.
Me, I need a life raft to go with the flow.
Which is why you’ll still find me setting a few intentions, goals, and visions for the future. But not out of a sense of duty.
Add more delight to your dreams
Maybe this week, I’ll head to my cabin, pull out a large sheet of sketch paper and a set of pens, and mind-map (or doodle) ideas that appeal to me. The plan: dream, then draw. Delight, then do.
Henriette Klauser wrote a book called Write it Down, Make it Happen. I’m not keen on the word “make,” but I enjoy her writing, even if she forgot to talk about absolutions.
Why do any of this if you can’t celebrate what you can do and forgive what you can’t?
Adding “should” to a batch of intentions is like adding a rotten apple to a bag of clean ones and waiting for what happens. (I harvest lots of apples and can assure you it’s not pretty.)
I had an opportunity to visit Santa this December when he was at the LeMay Car Museum. He asked me what I wanted, and I said, “world peace and a sustainable environment.” He said he’d work on it, but I didn’t leave convinced.
With big aspirations like world peace, and, in my case, finishing a draft of my book, I’ll need plenty of spark.
So as you think about your new year, please chart on more fun and delight. The world needs your lighter heart, skipping down the path towards much-needed change.