I don’t feel fear. Am I stupid? Crazy? In my 20s? (I don’t think so. Sometimes. Um, no.)
This is a time that is difficult in different ways for people. Some may have a job, food or money but be stressed by fear and suffering from negativity and arguments within their families. While others may be more worried about feeding their kids after losing their jobs, than avoiding the corona virus.
My heart goes out to everyone in any situation that threatens to rob them of the joy of life.
What do we have in common? There is a thief among us. The thief is fear.
What can be done about it?
Fear needs to feed on something to stay alive in our minds. When people are cooped up indoors for long periods of time, not only can they get on each other’s nerves, but also, watching news and social media sites can feed fear through misinformation, exaggeration, and pushing people’s emotional buttons.
Fear or worry in and of itself isn’t going to benefit us in any way. In fact it can make a bad situation worse by making us sick before the virus comes anywhere near us. How? In psychology it’s termed psychosomatic illness. It’s when stress and your emotional imbalance for extended periods causes changes in your physiology that results in a physical illness. In other words : your mind makes your body sick
The antidote to fear is positive action. Do, think (this is an action), be – in a way that isn’t fearful. What we focus on, we experience. The more we focus on particular thing, the more we increase it’s effect on our mind and emotions. When our focus isn’t on fear, we aren’t experiencing fear.
So focus on looking for joy, seek out what or whoever makes you laugh (call them!), exercise, meditate or listen to uplifting music. There is so much in life that is beautiful and joyful if only we look for it.
I know that it’s hard to be joyful when you’re looking for enough food to eat. I’ve been there. But because I was in a situation I had no control over (as a child you are totally dependent), I came to accept that the hunger wasn’t going to go away (anytime soon), and so I turned to nature and my imagination to feed my soul. I was living in the outback, which might look desolate to the casual observer, but to me, it was alive with all kinds of creatures and interesting, twisted, leafless trees.
Our response to our conditions can not only save us, but also, uplift us.
Now, instead of going into details of all of the hardships I suffered, I just want to draw attention to the fact that, if you let it, the human spirit can not only be resilient, but on a deep level, it can be awakened to an unconditional appreciation and love of life. This appreciation and love can be found at anytime and in any situation because it is within us.
I’m feeling joyful and peaceful. It’s as if the outside world has again forced me to go inside, not only physically, but spiritually too. The current situation can be seen as a wonderful opportunity to refocus and refresh the soul. We can’t control outside forces such as viruses or what other people do, but we can control what we think and feel.
Right now, you are alive. I am alive. And I choose not to allow this virus (or fear of it) take away the life that I have at this moment. It is precious, and not to be wasted. I choose not to be scared, worried and miserable in this moment. I could be, but then it would have won, whether I’m sick or not.
We’re All Big Kids
Something struck me as I watched my toddlers at a gym class they attended (before I took them out of it for safety): the “Independent Play Time” could be an analogy for life. Large buckets of toys were brought out for about 3 minutes (I timed it), and they were supposed to play with them (while parents/guardians watched from the sidelines). When the time was up and the buckets were taken away, the toddlers variously cried, got angry, ran after the buckets or refused to give up any toys they were holding.
Like life, we get to play with things until the time is up. We all react differently when we realize the end has come (talk to nurses in a hospice), and there can be great stress. Although we actually face the possibility of death every day, we probably don’t think about this when we get in our cars. Now, with the possibility of death from a virus, many people are very fearful.
Perhaps what we should be more fearful of is not living each day of our lives fully.
If we saw life as “Independent Play Time” and told ourselves each day that we know we have this day to play our hearts out, would this change the quality of our lives? Oh, yes. Absolutely.
Living fully, joyfully, and gratefully in this moment that I’m alive is the best thing I can do for myself and my family.
So what does it mean to live fully? Being conscious of the incredible beauty of life all around, the kindness of friends and neighbors, the laughter of my toddlers, and the warmth of my husband’s hugs. Drinking in those moments and allowing them to sink into my bones brings me joy. I go for a walk and see a flower that is so vivid in hue, exquisite in design, and with a most gorgeous scent, it brings a tear to my eye. I smell the less-polluted air and see families exercising together.
You may think, “Ok, that’s nice but these times are stressful and I argue with my family, so where’s the joy in that?”
Well, why argue? Why get angry? Choose another option. It’s always possible.
We are often reactive and behave in a knee-jerk, automatic way. There are probably some go-to comments or facial expressions that you have a habit of giving to certain behaviors or remarks from people. Anything coming to mind? Wink. We can consciously choose to start retraining ourselves and the way we respond. Habits take time to change – but we now have the time!
If we take a second and choose to respond thoughtfully (rather than just reacting), we can prevent or change a negative situation. Before reacting to something, think “How can I deal with this in a positive way?” “Does winning the argument or point, really help me win?” (What will I win?) And with children: “Would it be so terrible if they ate one more cookie, or had cereal one night for dinner?” Or something like that.
Please don’t get me wrong, I think that rules and structure are important and necessary, but a little flexibility when something isn’t crucial can actually give everyone a happy break, and even bring out some memorable, fun moments that mean so much.
If you find yourself in the kind of crazy, tense, and argument-filled atmosphere (reminiscent of those annual family holidays), you might like to try taking an emotional step back for a minute and change course and try to discern the real root of your feelings and motivation for your comments or actions.
I like to think of tracing back impulses and emotional reactions as being like “pulling the string” on a sweater – you keep going until you unravel the sweater to its first stitch. Like a decorative knitted sweater, our mind is complicated, but if we go backwards stitch by stitch we can see how we got to the strong feelings we’re having.
It’s useful to do this because your “mind sweater” can be different from mine (even if we’re using the same wool and the first stitch was the same). We could both be angry, but we got there a different way. Or, you could be angry because your mind created a very complex sweater and you surprised the hell out of the other person!
Have you ever heard someone’s reasoning for feeling a certain way and wondered “Wow! What made them go there?” or “How on Earth did they draw that conclusion?” Well, some person, somewhere, has probably wondered the same about you, too!
On the surface, our reason may seem completely unreasonable to someone else. That’s why we can unravel, to understand.
Here’s an example:
I got angry at my husband for not doing the dishes. He then got angry at me for “demanding” that he do the dishes.
Let’s pull my “string” using “Why” questions to help: I was angry and yelled at my husband. Why? I’m thinking that he’s selfish and doesn’t care about me. Why do I think that? Because he didn’t do the dishes and ignored me. Why does that make me unhappy? He doesn’t want to help me. Why? Maybe he doesn’t care about me enough.”
Here we get to the emotional root which is often a need for love, respect or feeling valued.
Is it true that my husband doesn’t care about me? No. There are many more likely reasons for his non-compliance: he’s tired too; you sounded too demanding (people like to protect their sense of autonomy); he was watching a great movie and couldn’t drag himself away, and so on.
It’s always good to consider the other person’s perspective and interests when we ask them for things.
Now, what if an argument has begun and you need to de-escalate it (put the brakes on it)?
Simple but Powerful Ideas:
- Say something kind (The shock of hearing that in a tense moment may be enough to derail the anger train)
- Ask yourself “What would Jesus do?” (This may sound funny, but can work wonders as your focus turns inwards and draws upon the wisdom of your “higher self”)
- Change the topic to something really interesting to the other person (it works with toddlers and with big people)
- Focus on what you love about him/her and communicate with that in mind (when your intentions come from love, the other person will respond better)
- Let it slide if it’s not really important (Don’t sweat the small things)
- Say something humorous (laughter frees us from tension)
A Time For Love
What if we started looking at this time as a perfect opportunity to give more love and understanding to those around us. What if we made a conscious decision to embody those characteristics we admire in our heroes? We could find joy in bringing our best selves to the occasion.
Being loving begets love. Giving joy and kindness to others, sees it reciprocated. These things are needed now, more than anything else.
This situation of people temporarily stopping work and being at home with family is in some ways like being home for the holidays. Intense! But rather than fighting each other, we may feel closer when we acknowledge that we’re fighting a common enemy. “In this together “ are seen on signs around Honolulu. Indeed we are.
Is there anything positive that you’ve noticed around you or experienced in your life during these tense times? I would love to hear about it!
Take care, and big virtual hugs.
P.S. As ever, please feel free to comment or send me a private message through the Contact link.