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  • teresamckee

We're Not Alone

Actually, before we get started, let’s take a moment to send our deep gratitude to all of the essential workers whose courage and dedication are allowing the rest of us to live, stay well or heal. And let’s send healing and compassionate thoughts to all of those suffering from this virus or who have lost loved ones. Numbers are pretty useless right now, since they change continuously, but we know there are lots of people who have experienced real tragedies now and our hearts go out to you.

For the rest of us, it’s not the virus that’s causing most of our suffering. This is indeed a nasty, terrible virus. But unless you’ve contracted it, it’s human beings causing the most suffering right now – not the virus.

Here in L.A., like most of the world, we’ve lost a lot of freedom. We can’t hang out with family and friends. We’ve been forced home from work. We can’t enjoy the multitude of entertainment options most of us have taken for granted for a long time. It’s inconvenient, yes. And it’s disturbing for sure. City streets are largely empty and it’s unsettling to live with uncertainty every day. But these inconveniences are what will save many, many lives and they’re temporary.

That would certainly be enough for most of us to deal with. But human behavior is causing additional suffering that simply isn’t necessary. We’ve lost the ability to walk on the beach or on a hiking trail, for example, not because of the virus, but because people are ignoring the physical distancing rules. All across the country, cities, counties and states are having to further restrict movement because people can’t seem to follow a very simple rule of staying 6 feet apart. Panic shopping is not only causing store shelves to be empty, but causing prices to skyrocket. The emptier the stores and the higher the prices, the more individuals and families are going to suffer. That’s not the virus – that’s us creating this mayhem.

We’re going to talk a lot about words today. Let’s start with the difference between stupid and ignorant. Stupid is defined as having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense. Ignorant means lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about a particular thing. I personally use the definition as “ignoring” the facts. Ignorance is a form of mindlessness.

Because I’m starting to struggle with non-judgment when it comes to seeing people crowded together despite public health mandates instructing us not to do so, I’m going to consider those folks ignorant, not stupid. This is certainly mindless behavior, but it’s behavior that can be instantly changed. They are clearly unaware that what they’re doing is not only dangerous for themselves, but dangerous for every other person they come in contact with once they’re done socializing. All of this can be over much more quickly and many lives can be saved if we simply stay home and physically distance ourselves from others when we have to go out.

If these people don’t take the time to inform themselves of the consequences, we may end up not being able to go outside at all. That’s bound to be the next restriction (or, with everything changing daily, may have already happened by the time you hear this in some places in the United States). While that may sound like an inconsequential thing in light of what’s happening, it’s really not. Spending weeks on end home bound is going to start taking a toll on our mental health, and being able to go outside makes a tremendous difference in our emotional well-being. We are also going to be in desperate need of exercise for our physical health and walking is such an effective form of exercise, it would be a shame to lose that ability, too. So please, follow the physical distancing mandates. Don’t be mindless.

We’ve covered the importance of paying attention to our mindset before, but I think it’s imperative now that we really take a look at this in light of our circumstances. Mindfulness of course includes accepting what is. What is, right now, is something that most people are strongly resisting. Resisting anything simply creates more anxiety and distress. So let’s try instead to shift our mindsets from resisting to accepting.

Words matter. Words have energy and they influence our thoughts. Our thoughts in turn create our feelings. Our thoughts and feelings create our state of being or mindset. So words matter. Let’s start right now paying attention to our words.

Let’s not declare this as a war on a virus. It seems that every time we do this, the outcome is not so great. The war on drugs, the war on cancer, the war on obesity, the war on poverty, the war, the war, the war… We give power to the very thing we’re trying to negate by blowing it up into a war.

We don’t have to fight a virus. We have to stop the spread. And we can do that quite simply by giving the scientists, doctors and public health officials time to create a vaccine or for our own bodies to create antibodies. We need to flatten the curve so that we don’t overload our health care systems. What is the big, complicated, impossible task we’re supposed to do to accomplish this feat? It’s so simple it sounds almost ridiculous. Physical distancing! Just stay away from other people for a while. Oh, and wash our hands. It’s not exactly rocket science.

Notice I say physical distancing, not social distancing. That’s another important word we can change that will better support our emotional and mental well-being. And it’s clearer for those mindless folks who still aren’t quite getting the point. We need to stay socially connected and we need to stay physically distanced. We have all of the technology imaginable to do that.

Let’s consider the words we use to describe our current condition. Quarantine is to impose isolation on a person. Seclusion is the state of being private and away from other people. I think I prefer the energy around seclusion better. Isolation is to be or remain alone or apart from others. Retreat is a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax. I definitely like retreat better.

We all experience aloneness differently. Some prefer to be alone while others experience extreme discomfort being by themselves. It’s important to note that there can be very serious health effects from isolation and loneliness. Some studies suggest that the impact of isolation and loneliness on health and mortality are of the same order of magnitude as such risk factors as high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking. We can also feel lonely even when surrounded by people, so more people in the home doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not at risk for feeling lonely. Research shows that the determining factor for loneliness seems to be the quality of our social relationships, not the quantity. Whether you live alone or not, as we practice physical distancing, it’s vital that we stay connected with those people with whom we have high quality relationships. Studies also indicate that mindfulness and meditation actually reduce loneliness, so whether you’re by yourself or with a full household, there’s never been a better time to learn and follow these practices.

If you begin to feel lonely or sad, reach out to someone you know. Play upbeat music. Go outside. Do any form of physical activity that you’re able to do comfortably. Keep curtains or blinds open during the day to allow sunshine in. If skies are grey, turn on more interior lights than normal to brighten up your space. Remind yourself that these feelings will pass. Write that down and tape it to a wall if you need to, but remember that it’s true.

If you feel depressed, again reach out to someone you know and if you can’t reach someone, call one of the hotlines available 24 hours a day. If you have family, neighbors or friends that you suspect might be lonely, reach out to them. We not only have video chats and phones, but we can still speak to people in person as long as we’re at least six feet apart. I saw in New York that people in apartment buildings are pulling a chair to their front doors each evening and chatting with neighbors from their doorways. In my neighborhood, they’ve started a walking happy hour each evening. Some people walk, again at least six feet apart, while others have beverages on the front porch. This allows everyone to see their neighbors and say hello without risking anyone’s health.

Take pre-emptive steps to avoid feeling sad or lonely. Start a daily meditation practice now, even if only for a few minutes a day. There are many guided meditations available online, as well as apps for your phone like Headspace, Calm or Insight Timer. There is an hourly international group meditation called Meditate Together. You can connect with people all over the world for a half hour every day through Zoom. Then there’s podcasts, of course.

We’ve been added to Apple Podcasts’ collection called “Covid 19 Essential Listening,” and I’m sure other great options available all in that one list. And we recently shared Kind World, to hear about the good things happening in life, or Staying in with Emily and Kumail, two experts in successfully dealing with isolation. There are over a million podcasts available, so there’s bound to be something that resonates for you out there.

Finally, start shifting your mindset now in order to find more enjoyment during this stay-at-home period.

Just a few weeks ago, amidst the frantic hustle and bustle of daily life, the idea of a secluded retreat would probably have seemed quite appealing, but absolutely impossible for most. There’s just always too much to do! But now? Is that true? Many of us are still very busy working, whether at home or at our work sites. And of course, there’s no retreat in sight for all of the essential service workers who are sacrificing so much on our behalf. But for the majority of us, we’re sitting at home with nothing to do, other than to perhaps complain about what we can’t do.

Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said regarding his horrific experiences during the holocaust:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

If he could change his mindset in a concentration camp to respond to outer circumstances in a way that allowed him to not only survive, but to eventually thrive, can’t we learn from that and look at our current circumstances from a different perspective?

Instead of seeing this as a completely negative event, try considering it a staycation. I understand no one chose to be on staycation right now, but doesn’t that feel better than a quarantine? We’re home. Some of us are with family members that we rarely get to spend time with in our regular schedules. Some of us are home alone, with no pressure, deadlines or responsibilities. Many of us are working from home, which once you get the hang of it means you’re getting your work done in record time. How are you filling the rest of your day?

Look around your environment. What can you do to make your home or workspace feel more like a retreat? Do you have house plants or perhaps plants on a porch or patio that you could relocate to the space you’re spending the most time in? How about music? Carribean, French, Polynesian, Italian? Aromatherapy is an excellent addition to your new retreat space. If you don’t have a diffuser and oil, how about a candle?

Instead of focusing on restrictions and isolation, consider feeling luxuriously secluded and spending time in retreat from the chaos of our previously frantic daily lives. Perhaps we needed the reset button to be hit. We have an opportunity to consider how we were living our lives pre-pandemic and to envision how we want our lives to look post-pandemic.

We can greatly alleviate our own suffering, as well as others’, by simply changing our behaviors and mindset. Take a breath. Think about the greater good, and not just immediate discomforts. We are not alone, but all sharing the same experience. We can take mindful actions to support our own well-being and our communities at large. Be well, be kind, and be mindful.

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