health

Insight meditation returns at the right time

As I write this, as when I practice Insight meditation, I can hear the birdsong and the gulls and the crows arguing through their caws in the tall fir tree in the park nearby that I watch dance when it’s windy.

Often throughout the last six months there have been eruptions of anger, especially from one man, living in a tent in the park below and over from my balcony high above.  I hear him and sometimes I see him, the testosterone and anger sparking off him. Usually, he’s ranting at a woman who maybe lives in the tent with him.  Sometimes he is going head-to-head with another camper, like two rams on a mountainside locking horns.

I can’t see clearly through the trees but I can hear him, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon. I have empathy. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to live in a tent. At the same time, I’m amazed anyone can get that rage filled and I always wonder what precipitates it. Luckily this park has bathroom facilities.

Feeling work stress in the past month or more, and recognizing the symptoms of that, I decided to start meditating again. It was actually the urging of my friend Colleen who has become immersed in a Sufi meditation practice led by a sheikh in Toronto.

When she reminded me, I’d forgotten that I’d taken an insight meditation course and then belonged to a group that met for a few months afterwards. So much has consumed our minds in the past year that I was surprised such a thing had fallen so far down to the bottom of my conscious memory.

I have been now doing meditation since April 3. I am a super early riser, much to my chagrin at times, and so doing meditation in the morning is a natural fit. I used to balk at getting out of bed only to sit down and close my eyes again. I didn’t understand that meditation is about being present, not absent, so it is not at all like sleep in any way and for consistency, mornings are a perfect time for me.

I get up. I have a glass of water. I light my jasmine incense as a ritual to announce, now we will meditate, and I wrap my shawl that I love, bought in Chiapas Mexico in 1997, around me, and I sit down and begin.

Sometimes lately, as a way to be sure it’s not too difficult to become immersed, I listen to guided meditations by this woman, Tara Brach or sometimes the well-known Jack Kornfield of Spirit Rock and it’s a luxurious way to begin the day.

I incorporate the cacophony of bird sound that begins at that time and I always, as required, go back to my breath. The coolness of where the air enters and leaves at the tip of my nostril is the focal point for me.

During this time, this seemingly never-ending time of unrest and apprehension and uncertainty and fear of the present, but more fear of the future, I think it is important to have some form of calming ritual, that we carve out for ourselves, whatever that may be.

Part of Tara Brach’s meditations ask participants to ask themselves, What brings me here? I like to add, What does my heart need? How do I want to change to be ready for the future I want for myself?

Just putting that question out into the universe is enough. You don’t want to get caught in the stress of answering it in the moment. Just let it be there.

Usually, I choose to end my meditation intentionally with the words, “Anything is possible.”

If anyone reading this has begun their own self care routine, let us know what that looks like.

Share if you want to.

Here are a few other links from my past blog posts related to self care:

Qi-Gong: Awakening the Tiger: http://gaylemavor.com/2020/01/

Daydreaming the past: http://gaylemavor.com/2020/04/daydreaming-the-past-in-april-2020/

Reintroducing yourself to yourself once a week: http://gaylemavor.com/2019/02/re-introducing-yourself-to-yourself-once-a-week/

Shawl from Chiapas, Mexico, that I use to wrap around me during Insight meditation practice.

Surrendering to COVID uncertainty

Surrender: to give oneself up, as into the power of another; submit or yield.

Remember when you were a child you might have thought along the lines of, When I get to be [insert age older than current age]. Then when you got a bit older, thinking of post high school, you might have told yourself, When I graduate. When I get married. When I have kids. When I get a house. When I get divorced. When I get a new job. When I retire. Or insert whatever it was you desired.

Life as bullet train. Destination? Death! And yet, people rarely say, “When I’m dead.”

But that is essentially what all the forward thinking, the wishing, the being in our minds into the future, not right now, is what we’re saying.

The ultimate surrender is surrendering while we’re still alive. Living as if in a dream-like state but fully aware.

When people have anxiety attacks, they are guided to get into the now. Return to all the senses. What are you hearing? Can you smell anything? Focus on an object. What can you focus on to take your mind off the thought causing the anxiety right this minute?

Use “I am” statements. I am writing this blog post now. I am eating now. I am at work now.  I am doing the dishes now. Then give in to that moment completely. Savour the food. Look at the dishes, examine their form. Look at that tree, the bark, the leaves, the branches, the colour, texture, the moss up its trunk. It’s a really difficult challenge.

If we are wise, this is the kind of surrender that COVID has forced upon us. The acceptance of what is, no matter how much we might wish for a different reality. No matter how much we yearn for the imagined future.

I recall being in a meditation class about 4 years ago and someone said, Every time I try to meditate my neighbour turns on their stereo too loudly, drops something, bangs on something, and I begin to focus on the sounds and I become really agitated.

The teacher said, “Incorporate the sound. Find a way to incorporate the sounds into your meditation. To acknowledge them and fold them in.”

That was a revelation to me. I had never considered folding in the problem as the solution.

Acceptance is the fastest way to move through something.

There has never been a better time to go all Eckhart Tolle.

It has now been a year, March 27, 2020, since COVID arrived. I thought I’d share a few posts, I wrote at the beginning:

The Plague, Albert Camus, 1947

…Thus the first thing that the plague brought to our fellow citizens was exile…Yes, that hollow that we carried constantly inside us, that precise emotion, that unreasonable desire to go backwards or, on the contrary, to speed up the march of time, those burning arrows of memory – all this really did amount to a feeling of exile. If sometimes we gave in to our imaginations and indulged in waiting for the ring of the homecoming bell or a familiar step on the stair, if at such moments we allowed ourselves to forget that the trains were at a standstill and if we then made sure to stay indoors at the time when, in normal circumstances, a traveller returning by the evening express might reach our neighborhood, these games, of course, could not go on for long. Then we knew that our separation was going to last, and that we ought to try to come to terms with time. In short, from then on, we accepted our status as prisoners; we were reduced to our past alone and even if a few people were tempted to live in the future, they quickly gave it up, as far as possible, suffering the wounds that the imagination eventually inflicts on those who trust in it.

Corona virus and the myth of “normal”

I call this accidental pocket IPhone photo: Whirlwind. I thought it fit

I was listening to CBC Radio as I do most weekends and a retired minister from somewhere in Ontario was asked this question: “If you were still preaching, what do you think your message to your parishioners might be this Easter Weekend in the context of this novel Corona virus crisis?”

His response was very short because of time constraints but he suggested that if we learn anything, it should be that the “new normal” that keeps getting referenced is a misnomer.

He pointed out that for most of the people in the world, there is no “normal.” Normal is that mythical reality that a very small percentage of the world population gets to live because of their education and their economic wealth.

Nobody in their right mind would want to go back to the “normal” that existed immediately before this crisis because that normal isn’t something any of us should be aspiring to return to. It isn’t sustainable.

 That normal is all about the one percent.

That normal is about how as humans we are encroaching upon other species to a degree that is forever changing the world’s biodiversity to the detriment of our health; a point this novel Corona virus hasn’t got through pointing out, in an almost retaliatory way.

Normal is being okay with the inequities that exist in society with the impoverished, as always, bearing the most direct and painful impacts on their lives. They live in crisis every day.

Normal is all those problems we have shamefully incorporated into our daily life – passing street people with toques on the ground for spare change – with no collective will to change that.

Any new normal might be all the things we knew were problems but have never acted upon.

Things like providing appropriate levels of resources including services for prevention, intervention and adequate treatment for mental illness.

Things like providing decent social housing so instead of being okay with people begging for money, in every city in the world, recognizing that every person deserves the dignity of having a roof over their head at the end of the day.

Seeing the compassion and wisdom, and even financial savings to society, in providing a guaranteed universal income.

Taking one’s personal moral opinion out of how we treat drug addiction and accepting that it is, first and foremost, a health/mental health issue and then providing the resources to treat it as such.

Switching to prevention as the main medical model, not treating illness that has taken decades to develop because of lifestyle choices, including my own.

Rethinking how we change social isolation, not just in the elderly but in young adults, in seniors and in middle-aged and older men. Especially since so many of us live alone now.

Coming to terms with ethical questions about the value of any life – at one month or 100 years.

Understanding that thinking small, thinking only about yourself and your family’s well being is now a threat to humanity.

Internalizing once and for all that climate change is still the greatest threat, much more so than this virus.

I was listening to another interview where an evolutionary biologist from UBC, Sally Otto, PhD, was speaking about how humans have brought more destruction on the biodiversity of the planet than any other species. Of course, we’ve head that before. She says we’ve become  particularly good at destroying those species which could be considered “the specialists” and contributed to the greatest biodiversity in the first place.

While she says, she doesn’t have a lot of hope because of our impact on the natural world, she does have hope because of the way scientists around the world are working together with collective knowledge leading to better and quicker solutions. We see that as work on a vaccine and general research about the virus proceeds at unheard of before speed, because of global collaboration.

My friend Gwen pointed me towards this interview with Malcolm Gladwell. In this interview on the Munk Debates, Gladwell spoke to the issues I summarized above using a soccer team as the example.

A soccer team is only as strong as its weakest link. If you were going to improve the team, focusing on that weakest link and making it stronger would be the quickest way to make the entire team stronger. Our unsolved social problems are the weakest link in humanity.

I’m making mental notes of things I need to change in my own life when this is over. I expect many of you are doing the same thing.

The novel Corona virus is shining its wily contagious ways on the old normal and all its problems like never before.

We are now at a crossroads that will shape the evolutionary biology of human beings just as we continue to deliver the death blow to so many others species.

Breathing your way through anxiety

I’ve been noticing a few posts on social media about how some of us who have experienced anxiety and depression throughout our lives are feeling a little better than we expected to feel during this pandemic.

And let me be clear: I’m not holding this up as something to aspire to. If you’re finding yourself to be a total wreck, trying to get out of bed, trying to find the motivation to do anything, acknowledge how you are feeling. Acknowledging feelings helps you let them go. Denying them keeps them stuck in your body. Then accept it.

If you or someone you know has spent most of their lives in the “fight or flight” response and suddenly now, you are surrounded by others who are feeling like you’ve felt for good chunks of your life, to lesser or greater degrees, feeling relatively well right now in the middle of this pandemic becomes a little easier to understand.

If in childhood you were in a family situation that put you in the middle of crisis intermittently for whatever reason. Maybe you lived with an abusive or a very moody and unpredictable parent. Maybe one of your parents was living with a mental illness, officially diagnosed or not. Maybe one or both of your parents was addicted to alcohol or other substances. Maybe you experienced difficult things that left your physiology and mental health impacted. 

Those things might range from sexual abuse to witnessing another member of your family being abused to any experience that really emotionally affected you negatively and changed you in some ways from that point on. The list is endless. That’s trauma! All of those negative and unhealthy experiences will impact everyone very differently but with some predictable commonalities.

For those of us who can relate, living with uncertainty and being prepared and being on guard or being hypervigilant is just a lifelong way of being. It’s not healthy. It’s hard on the heart and the kidneys. And sometimes in times of extreme stress, it can make you seem less intelligent than you are.

That’s especially true if you begin to disassociate where you lose your train of thought. You might just freeze. Your vision fogs. Everyone around you suddenly feels like they are there but not there, mere human outlines drenched in a soft hazy wash.

If that’s been your experience, then a pandemic is just falling into line with the uncertainty you’ve lived with your entire life in in one way or another.

You hear people focusing on the uncertainty right now, wrestling with that when it seems like just accepting what’s happening could be a more helpful response.

I’m not saying I haven’t been anxious lately. I’m feeling anxious writing this now that I’m paying attention to my body. But I’ve been aware of trying to recognize that. STOP and be aware of it. STOP and sit down. Stop and BREATHE. STOP and go out for a walk.

Because let’s get real, if you aren’t even a little bit anxious in the middle of a pandemic then honestly you need to check in with yourself and get real.

Anxiety isn’t the issue. It’s what you do with that anxiety that can make a difference in how you function.

If you’ve haven’t done any meditation or investigated other modalities of healing then the exercises in this video might seem weird to you. Having experienced just a taste of somatic movement earlier this year in a class offered by a yoga practitioner from Mayne Island, I’d recommend just watching this and trying it.  

I trust the experience of this individual and that’s good enough for me.

 

 

Check your attitude during COVID-19

The best thing you can do for your mental health right now, if you haven’t already, is to snooze or get rid of every single person on your social media feeds who thinks this is the time to debate what’s going on because they don’t “trust” the government or they’re trying to prove some sort of point.

Get rid of anyone off your feeds who purposely makes others feel bad or in general is argumentative and negative.

My life is already and intentionally filled with people, the ones I am closest to, who are focused on being positive, helpful, optimistic (way more optimistic than I usually am), future thinking and expecting the best. There’s no room for conspiracy theorists in my own little delusional universe and that’s the way I like it.

I work for the B.C. Government and I can assure you there isn’t a single person in any ministry who isn’t doing what they can to make things easier within the realm of what’s possible for citizens in B.C. They are doing the best they can under these very difficult circumstances that are requiring immediate response and instant decisions, in an institution that isn’t used to making change on a dime.

There is that old saying when it comes to keeping the peace in relationships: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Well, now that question has changed slightly. Do you want to be right or do you want to be sick or in the worst case scenario, dead?

Focus on beauty and positivity. Join an online meditation group or whatever kind of group turns your crank. Listen to symphonies performing concerts online. Watch comedies on TV. Once you figure out Zoom or messenger, have a chat with those people who aren’t going to ramp up your anxiety, but in direct contrast, recognize that now is the time to soothe it.

This is not the time to prove that you’re an intellectual, wiser, more enlightened or more incisive than others. This is the time to be the kindest, most compassionate person you are capable of being. Be a good listener. Be open. Watch how you’re impacting others. Your community needs you to do the very best you can do.

This is also not the time to be a rugged individualist, stubborn insistence that you’ll be absolutely fine on your own. You’re missing the point. If someone reaches out to you and you don’t even respond to them, you’re not getting what’s going on and how you could use this as a time to rethink the story you’ve been telling yourself about who you are your entire life.

If you’re like a lot of people, you have probably never been so connected to family and friends online on a daily basis – checking in, keeping spirits up, having a laugh, commiserating. Doing what humans have been doing for centuries – around the piazza, around the water cooler, at the watering hole, over the fence and now, from your own living room – apart but together. Same same but different.

Shut the Front Door to stay sane during COVID Crisis

Monks on the street in Phnom Penh.

For the first week, I couldn’t put down my cell phones.

I couldn’t stop watching the news.

I was watching the daily updates from Dr. Bonny Henry and Adrian Dix, B.C.’s Minister of Health, which I feel obligated to do as a government employee, and because I love watching how Dr. Bonnie Henry relays the information.

But then, come today, I felt like enough already! I know everything I need to do at this point. Wash my hands. Distance myself 6 feet when outside or around anyone. Stay home as much as possible. Get outside in the fresh air, maintaining the recommended distance.

I got out for a walk the past two days and it was so wonderful to feel the fresh air and to see spring beginning to bud all around.

But it’s when when I’m in my own space that I need to control myself in terms of watching media of any kind.

I’ve been on Zoom. I’ve been on messenger chat. I’ve been checking in and staying connected to others that way. It’s good. It’s almost a novelty at this point.

Deepak Chopra announced today that he is removing himself from all social media and is going into a room in his house to meditate and find and cultivate inner stillness for an entire week beginning today.

I’m not going to do that. I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to, which I don’t. I do however feel the need to get some quiet from the noise and to think about some of the things I’ve learned from the stress reduction courses I’ve been taking since January and focus on extreme self care.

It’s time to put the old practice to the practice!

By the way, Deepak Chopra will be hosting a worldwide meditation next Sunday, March 28. Check out his Instagram page.

I want to share with you this fantastic chanting of Tibetan monks that I love. So sit yourself down, plug in, take a few deep breaths in and out, close your eyes and just listen to shared humanity focused on a single intention: https://youtu.be/0D4V5awe-PA

And afterwards, if you haven’t already, you could download Calm and Headspace

One day at a time peeps. Just one day at a time.