COVID-19 & supporting your community

photo by gayle

If your employment isn’t impacted at this point and you’re feeling really grateful for that or you’re just fine when it comes to money, (How do I know you?), there are so many places you could support during this difficult time.

I’m worried about all the artists and musicians and writers who are barely making it as it is.

I’m worried about all the places I like to frequent here in Victoria because without them the city would be so much less, and there are so many restaurants and arts organizations that will really suffer given that the economy here is so focused on tourism.  

Either order take-out or pick-up from them (doing your own risk assessment on that) or donate to them. 

Places like Intrepid Theatre and The Belfry and the independent bookstores and the hole in the wall restaurants and the Victoria Symphony, Pacific Opera and Dance Victoria and Il Sauvage Brewing, Nourish and Hermanns because of the musicians who rely on that venue to make some money, and to do what they love.  Here’s a blog post by Frankies in Vancouver about supporting the musicians who normally work at the club.

And then there are all the market vendors on Salt Spring who depend on the next 7 months of the year to make a living. Some are set up for online purchasing but many of the smaller ones are not.

I’m worried about the vulnerable people I see on the street every day and know that donating to places like Mustard Seed and Our Place and Women in Need Thrift Store and Megaphone Magazine vendors  or Union Gospel Mission, the YWCA, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre or Atira Society, The Bloom Group or Covenant House for Youth or Victoria Women’s Transition House or Youth Empowerment Society can make a difference.

Think about where you live and your favourite places or social service and arts organizations and donate if you’re able to.

Don’t forget that you can write donations off your taxes (for next year). Find out more from TurboTax if you’re Canadian: https://turbotax.intuit.ca/tips/tax-benefits-of-charitable-donations-5414

Here are some places that are either delivering or doing take-out in Victoria, B.C., although I’m sure there are many more since this list was created: https://www.victoriabuzz.com/2020/03/these-greater-victoria-businesses-are-offering-special-services-in-light-of-covid-19/

Obviously you are only one person with limited resources, (and those have taken a big hit recently) but you are better off than someone else. That’s indisputable.

Just figure out which group in your community you would feel good about donating your limited resources to and Just Do It! Today. By the end of this week. No procrastinating.

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.

COVID-19, the almighty revealer

The corona virus has reminded us that the most highly educated and the least are of equal value in their service on the front lines.

The artificial socioeconomic value system that ties human worth to occupation is once again revealed as the arbitrary paradigm that it is.

In this time of crisis, and needing all hands on deck, the people whose socioeconomic status is at the bottom–the retail clerks, the janitors and cleaners and private home care providers or nursing home staff, child care providers and delivery/truck drivers are every bit as critical as the PhD medical staff, the online technology software wizards, the virologists and pharmacists and medical researchers.

Regardless of how undervalued the lowest paid people may feel on a typical day, they are now the canaries in the coal mines and the heroes on the front lines. They’re providing services that are every bit as important as the doctors and nurses responding to the deadly puzzle unfolding before their eyes.

These contributions have been revealed to be of equal value in our reliance on them but the difference is, those on the lowest end aren’t being protected in the same way. Many aren’t wearing gloves. They can’t back away when they’re ringing through groceries. They’re depending on you to do that, to keep them as safe as you can by not being there at all, or by following the rules of distance,  6 feet or 2 meters, and staying home if you’re feeling any of the symptoms at all. And self-isolating if you’ve returned from a trip, meaning, going right home, not to any grocery store where you’ll be in contact with others, then staying at home (14 days) until you know you are not ill.

Parents are on the front lines in a whole other way. Their roles are now magnified. They are having to offer the comfort, provide the distractions, set the example, waylay fears and anxiety, cook and be especially fastidious around the house in cleaning and making sure everyone in their family, from children to octogenarians, understands and keeps themselves and others safe by following the advice of the public health officers.

It’s a challenging time for social butterflies. They’re already losing their minds or they haven’t even taken the advice to heart, still going about their lives as if nothing is all that different.  

Someone pointed out that sometimes people respond to anxiety that way. They pretend everything is the same, denial their modus operandi.  They fail to understand or take to heart that their actions can no longer be dictated by preference or whim when those actions may cause someone else to lose their life because of how well or how poorly they changed their behaviour.

That’s the difference in mortality numbers between Taiwan who did everything right (100 deaths) and what’s happened in China, Italy and what’s to come around the world when seemingly draconian protective measures happen too late.

Sometimes I feel like the people who have had little hardship in their lives, emotional or otherwise, are just not very equipped to have the resilience required when things change for the worse on a dime like this.

They are so used to getting what they want, everything at their beck and call, that it’s hard for them to imagine they have to do something different when that something isn’t their choice.

And the most dangerous, the conspiracy theorists, are in heaven and in hell, so status quo for them, I guess.

The human body and its frailty holds the power.

Accept everything you must do to keep yourself and other’s healthy.  Accept everything. Accept what you can not change.

Flattening the curve means fewer people get sick quickly and all at once and that alone can save lives.

I’m not saying instant adaptation is easy or nice, but it’s not that hard either. Not really. Not in comparison to the worst case scenario you or someone who matters to you might find themselves in.

This video from an artist named Matteo Marchesi speaking near Lombardy, Italy, is compelling.

His father is an intensive care doctor. https://vimeo.com/398651424

Learn more about what’s happening in B.C. via the B.C. Government’s Covid-19 updates: www.gov.bc.ca

 

 

 

Amusing yourself during a pandemic

The thing about being an introvert and being told to hunker down is that it’s almost like being told, “Hey, just be yourself.” Finally! You mean I can just stay home and binge read, watch TV, clean my apartment, go for a walk in the park, go down to the beach, drink some wine, make some soup and chili and I don’t have to feel guilty about not doing SOMETHING Instagram worthy?

It would seem the most important thing to control during this pandemic, as is true every single day, is our own thoughts.

A friend told me that she heard this cool thing. The word Pandemic can be broken down with the middle syllable “dem” — which originates from Greek and means “people” — and when you take out the people or “dem” in Pandemic whaddya got? Panic! Pan-DEM-ic! Very clever! And accurate.

Here’s a few suggested diversions to lower the panic, you dems you!

  • In B.C., keep up to date on what’s happening in your community by listening to Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, on the local news as they report out daily, often at 3:00 p.m. or on the Government of BC Facebook page.
  • Then again, be aware of how much time you’re spending getting freaked out by broadcast and social media.
  • Watch the emotional eating and ramp up the self-care. If you’re scarfing down cupcakes and other crap like I was on Friday night like you’re the winner of a zombie apocalypse emotional eating contest,  you might decide that now is a good time to focus on extreme self-care.
  • Forget the toilet paper, buy some greens and avocados and get your guerrilla Dr. Gundry warfare on.  Take your Vitamin C and organic spirulina.
  • Get outside and enjoy the fresh air.  Look at the flowers, take photographs which requires your mind to focus on the present and on only what’s in front of you.
  • Don’t go to a big box store or stand in a long line-up for food surrounded by all those people who have not kept their panic at bay.
  • Try to practice the 2 metre rule of distancing yourself from people – that’s 6 feet.
  • If you’re feeling super anxious, start doing boxed breathing. 
  • If you’ve meditated in the past but stopped, this seems like a good time to breathe in, breathe out, stay focused on your breath.
  • Read a book – Check in on some Canadian authors at Canada Reads.
  • Make some soup from scratch and freeze it.
  • Write in a journal knowing you’re documenting an historic event in human history.
  • Seems like a good time to get back to the practice of the gratitude journal or just take time each evening to think of three things you’re grateful for – apparently just the process of seeking out those three things is good for your brain and can help you focus on your “wealth.”
  • Think about what arts organizations really need your support through this and purchase a ticket or give a donation.
  • Listen to public radio – CBC, NPR in the States.
  • Take an afternoon nap if you can, alone, or even better, with company.
  • Watch a movie, preferably a comedy, not Contagion.
  • Listen to some great jazz or blues or whatever you like best, maybe one of those “poor me” country tunes.
  • Find some podcasts that you’d like to start following.
  • Do your taxes (Yuk for sure, but it is that time of year).
  • Clean your house in a way you never get around to.
  • Do that chore at home you’ve been putting off for months.
  • Kondo your closet.
  • Play a board game or throw a baseball back and forth in a nearby park with your kids or your dog.
  • Call your friends or family who live elsewhere using whatever technology you can.
  • Make a Femo monster of the virus and smash it afterwards. Okay. A little weird, but could be fun. And the video is hilarious (to me)!
  • Yesterday, I was speaking over video chat with my 96 year old friend who I now feel, because of her vulnerability to the virus,  I shouldn’t go visit. While we haven’t quite perfected our use of the technology, we’ll get there. And as she so succinctly said, “What am I supposed to do, dig a hole, take some food and jump in?” The answer? “No. Don’t do that! Not yet, anyway. You’ve excelled at aging. Hang in there!”
  • Research where you want to go when we get past this, even if it takes months.
  • Mostly, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, follow the recommendations and for now, remind yourself that in this moment you are safe. Focus on how well you are right in this moment and focus on the facts, not forecasting the worst.  And carry on.

If you insist, here’s a few links to be over-informed by:

BC Centre for Disease Control:
http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19

Definitions:
https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/coronavirus-resource-center#Terms

Infection Prevention and Control – Canada
https://ipac-canada.org/coronavirus-resources.php

How it spreads: (If you have high anxiety, don’t read this link).
https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/

Hedgehog therapy

In a world currently plagued by COVID-19, falling stock markets, the condo insurance crisis in B.C., protests and rampages and climate destruction and possibly the end of life on earth as we know it, today I would like to talk to you about hedgehogs.

Up until this past Christmas, I never gave hedgehogs any thought. I might have seen them in a children’s book when I was a child, but other than the boxes of chocolate hedgehogs that Purdy’s Chocolates sells, I never think of hedgehogs. Do you?

Oh, on second thought, I’ve already lied to you. I guess there was that one day last fall when I wondered whether I might consider getting a hedgehog as a pet since I can’t have a real pet, a cat or a dog, in my apartment which I consider to be a human rights slight. 

Then I found out that hedgehogs are nocturnal and I am an early-to-bed, early-to-rise creature and I didn’t want the spiky little thing running over me or manically racing for the edge of an imaginary cliff on its hedgehog wheel at 4 a.m. during a strenuous workout right smack dab in the middle of my preferred hours of shuteye.

At Christmas, I thought I would give a few neighbours on my floor in my apartment building Christmas cards. Rummaging  through my Christmas box, I came across some cute cards from years gone by. There was a quaintly illustrated picture of a stylized hedgehog on these cards. I don’t actually recall what the hedgehog was doing or what the card said or what hedgehogs have to do with Christmas at all, but it was a Christmas card so I wrote something in each of them and slipped them under the doors of a few neighbours.

The next time I ran into one of my neighbours, she thanked me for the card. She proceeded to tell me how she thought it was very strange that I should give her a card with a hedgehog on it since she’d just returned from France, she may have said Normandy, and every night, through the mist in the backyard, they made a ritual of watching for the hedgehogs. The spunky, spiky little ones would never disappoint. In turn, I found her story a little odd since in my research on whether to get a pet hedgehog or Erinaceinae, I thought it said that you weren’t likely to spot a hedgehog during the winter months because a little like bears, they hibernate, albeit less intensely.

When she told me her story, I had to remind myself that hedgehogs were actually real. They weren’t just cartoon characters or stuffed animals or chocolates in triangular boxes waiting to be devoured. I smiled inside with  contentment learning that somehow my choice in card had been so innocently spot on.

Before Valentine’s Day, in my local Pharmasave, there were a bunch of hand drawn cards and it said on the back that the artist was a mere 13 years old and a James Bay resident. These cards were wonderful and the first one I spotted was of two hedgehogs, one giving the other a single rose, the rose in the shape of a heart. It was so damn cute. What is it with hedgehogs lately, I thought to myself as I bought the card. That was hedgehog coincidence numero trois!

Yesterday in my Saturday wanderings, I was at Munro’s, a local iconic bookstore adjoining Murchies, a local iconic tea shop. I was doing what you do there: scanning and browsing and considering, and I came across a package of things called “Book Buddies.” And to think I’ve always considered the book all the “buddy” anyone would ever need. I didn’t know what these “Book Buddies” were so I had to read the package. I thought they were bookmarks. But as I took a closer look, I realized they were perfectly useless post-it notes for your book in case you had an epiphany during your reading.

This particular package of “Book Buddies” when I looked even more closely, contained paper hedgehogs. What is going on here? There they were again. Three hedgehogs of varying shades. “Helpful Hedgehogs” the marketing said. And they even had plucky names: Henry. Stucky. And Frenchie.  How could I not be charmed?

Sometimes, it’s these inane moments that bring such joy in their innocence and the uselessness of something like a Hedgehog post-it note for your book, with only enough space to write a single word, that can make an ordinary day almost sublime.

How would I use these? What one special, cryptic word would I write to myself that could be so significant and necessary? Someone had killed a tree for this? Would “Kaboom” suffice on page 35? How about “Wow” for page 42? Page 240: “Kowabunga?” Page 350: “Hegderama?” You see? Useless! Utterly useless.

But having said that, can I just say, I’ve come to understand how lowering one’s expectations is a highly under-rated exercise, and one that I partake in almost every single day.

Maybe we should all learn to be happy with the small coincidences and the weirdness of that unspoken but well known life law. You know the one. The one whereby as soon as something–a name, a word, a car– enters your awareness, especially when you’ve never previously given it two thoughts or even knew of its existence, it will pop up everywhere. Like a hello from a long lost friend, you will feel like everything you need is suddenly in that moment. For a few seconds you will be very happy and for a change that will be enough.

Family: Then and now

Where I have worked for the past two and a half years is all about families. Especially the ones that aren’t working very well. Love cracked open, disappointment spilling out. Yet even as my fingers type that sentence, I realize, no, that isn’t quite right.  The part that isn’t working in these families is just one part of their complicated stories.

On the flip side of the brokenness are individuals who are absolutely driven to create a family, so much so, they’re willing to go through more than anyone who conceived kids the old fashioned way probably ever would.

After I listen to the people I sometimes get to talk with, their stories linger for a long time. I think about them because the stereotypes I hold become really clear whenever I talk to someone who has chosen to create or grow their family through adoption.  

And there are so many versions of families these days. I wish there was a less loaded term, something other than the word “family” to describe the multitude of scenarios that bring people together into co-habiting units.

Compared to years past, adoption seems now to be a whole other dimension of relationships and hearing firsthand about that shift is what I most like about the conversations I have with adoptive and foster parents.  

Almost all of their stories are about connection and re-connection across multiple families, of light finding its way through the cracks, just like Leonard Cohen said it would.  Foster families might still be in touch after adoptions or even provide respite to the new adoptive parents. Extended families are caring for relatives’ kids. Same sex families are adopting kids who identify as trans. Indigenous families are taking on guardianship. There is no such thing as a “typical” family.

Yes, we hear horrible stories in the news about some foster parents. But we rarely hear about the life changing being there for kids like they have never known that I know happens as well.

Whenever I speak with foster or adoptive families, I’m reminded that, “We all need backup. We’re not islands unto ourselves.”

I often wonder about all those faces I conjure up in my mind –  children and teens –  in foster care and wonder how broken their hearts might be, and all the complexity of the scenes that unfolded to land them there.

Excruciating decisions and no decision-making at all. Neglect, addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, the fallout from poverty. The death of parents or any combination of the above. And then miraculous resilience in those same little ones, like paper whites inching their way back up in spring. Overcoming all odds.

And so many kids so eager, in spite of everything they’ve already been through, to find that elusive loving relationship. The one that’s going to work, that they can count on. A place to call home that they feel good about calling home.  A mom and a dad, or a dad and a dad, or a mom and a mom, or just a mom, just a dad, grandmas and Nana and Oma, aunties and uncles. Sometimes just a family friend who has stepped in, lives overlapping, coming together in the best case scenarios to put the kids first.

What is it that sets the best parents – biological, foster or adoptive – apart? I wonder about that but it always returns to the simplest of answers: unconditional acceptance and love.

Your children can only be their own person. They won’t grow up to be who you wish they could be or who you wish you’d been. Stop trying to make them someone else. You will lose that battle eventually or ultimately you will lose them. As Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself…” I’ve always believed that. It’s as if we were were all formed in spirit before we were even born.

When I cast my mind back on myself as a toddler,  I see myself with dolls. I’d carry them around. I’d sit across a small wooden child-size table and have invisible tea with them. I really liked to put different dresses on them.  I don’t think I ever consciously thought about whether I’d have my own kids while I was doing it.

In my thirties, I didn’t experience any ticking of the proverbial biological clock. Maybe that was because my own life was so often in emotional chaos that having a baby was just relegated to some reality that had nothing to do with me. Depression played a significant role in that detour, among many other things, usually related to men, that with the benefit of hindsight I see much more clearly now.

And while it’s true, I have some regret about not having created my own little family, if I’m being honest, those regrets are actually relatively minor because I stopped romanticizing the reality of family a long time ago.

For as long as I can recall, I wasn’t interested in creating a group of people who would feel like a burden, because that’s how I viewed family. My entire focus had been on being free of constrictive responsibilities and, my God, I have succeeded beyond all expectations in that regard.

I guess the lack of a strong meaningful emotional connection that both my parents seemed capable of creating with their children was a major contributor to my family-as-burden archetype. But an even bigger factor was probably just observing my mother and how much work she did every single day to raise five kids, seemingly single-handedly. No thanks! I know my parents did the best they could based on their own upbringings and they worked so hard, maybe too hard. And I’m pretty sure, if they’d had more choice, they would have made different choices.

Now, when I see/hear good parents in action, just listening to how they speak with their children can melt my heart (because it’s so caring) and break my heart (because it reminds me of the type of loving softness and comfort that my parents weren’t able to give to us), not that they didn’t give in other ways.

I guess that’s why it’s a bit of a surprise to me now to recognize how I have come to understand, albeit a little late, how much family matters.

They push our buttons to an extreme. We might be estranged. We might fantasize about how things could have been so much better if only we weren’t related to THEM! Or they can be our best friends. They are that cast of wacky characters in our own weird little “All in the Family” mini series. They are the ones who are there when family members get sick. If we’re lucky, they are the ones most likely to be there at the end.

The older I get, I have come to understand that there are few things more comforting than a feeling of belonging, and nothing generates the feeling of belonging the way a family can, especially  through the sharing of happy moments.

That’s why I hope you do something this Family Day weekend that brings enjoyment to your kid(s) and shows them that you still actually know how to have fun. Be unpredictable! It doesn’t have to cost a lot.

Be who THEY need YOU to be.

Microcosmic Orbit intercepts my own orbit

I absolutely love it when I’m introduced to something that I’ve never heard of before. In my guided meditation class the other night, we were introduced to the Microcosmic Orbit.

This is from Traditional Chinese Medicine and refers to the meridians in the body in which qi or life energy flows throughout the body.

Apparently there are 12 standard meridians in the body. The fire channel, or sea of the yang meridian, is up the back of the spine also called the Governor, running from the  perineum to the top of the head, over the head and connecting with the water channel, the conception, sea of yin meridian, that circles back down to the perineum.

Starting at the belly, imagine molten lava boiling in your belly as you breathe deeply in and out of the belly.

The tongue is held against the top of the roof of your mouth, as far back in the mouth as comfortable, and when the yang energy arrives just above the upper lip and the circle becomes complete, the tongue seals the meeting of the two. At least I think that’s what’s going on.

Imagine a pearl of energy circling the body in this way with your mind focused on the energy of the pearl as it makes the microcosmic orbit or small heavenly wheel around the body joining the yin energy with the yang.

Based on what I’ve learned so far in my qi gong  and meditation classes, I thought this video did a really good job of describing how to do it and what’s happening in the body. Of course, it could take quite some time to get good at it to reap the rewards and probably another lifetime to get my big old belly to move like his. Whatever!