COVID-19

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:

COVID life and eccentricity

I said to a friend the other day, I have nothing to say about COVID life. I have nothing to contribute. I really can’t figure out what to write on my blog. Garbage in. Garbage out. There is nothing of any interest coming in, not really, so what can you expect me to write about here?

I live alone. I see my coworkers on a Zoom call precisely one day a week. Sometimes I see my bubble buddy for a meal out. I talk on the phone. My stuffed animal, Rory the lion, brings me joy. My walks bring me contentment and relief. Reading brings me escape. Occasionally my friend from Mayne Island comes to town. This is not the lifestyle of the rich, famous, or come to think of it, even the living by pre-COVID standards.

Well, maybe I need more culture, I thought. So last night I tuned into Eventbrite on a Zoom call to hear Lisa See, a writer, and the author of my very favourite book of 2020 which was The Island of Sea Women. She was being presented by the Los Angeles Times Book Club. It’s free. Do it here. Good conversation in. That’s what I’m really craving. In person. She was coming to us from her home in California and she was as interesting as I expected her to be. Even more interesting.

Then today I wondered, What would David Sedaris say? And I’d really like to know because I had a ticket to his show here in Victoria which was scheduled for May 16, 2020 at the Royal Theatre. The ticket is still on my fridge. It’s like the kind of artefact you might find after the armageddon when the Martians arrive and every single thing is frozen in time but there are no people. The dishes aren’t done. The calendar on the wall is on the month when it all stopped. The bed isn’t made. It’s a Twilight Zone rerun. It’s creepy. 2021 is the new 2020 as they say.

The other night, I flicked across a show on Netflix with Martin Scorsese interviewing Fran Lebowitz. I actually only checked it out because I thought it was referring to that famous photographer, Annie Leibovitz. I didn’t care about Fran Lebowitz, but then I couldn’t stop watching her because it blows me away that some people, because of their fame, are allowed to just do monologues to Martin Scorsese. That’s my new definition of success. I loved how Scorsese was just this giggling, guffawing sidekick to her nonstop opinions. Where else could a woman over 50 be on a Netflix series just to spout opinions?

May 2020 is a lifetime ago in COVID time. Have you noticed there is such a thing as COVID time?  Some days it’s like somebody put on the cartoon speed-up-time roadrunner clock. And other days it’s as if you’ve fallen into the Groundhog Day of your existence. You walk into another room, forgetting why you went in there and when you come out four hours have passed.

I feel like instead of becoming more comfortable as time passes, I am becoming more paranoid, more anxiety ridden. There’s more at stake. I haven’t got COVID in 10 months and I’M NOT GETTING IT NOW! Get away from me. Maybe it’s the tone of the government press conferences foreshadowing even tighter restrictions due to THE VARIANTS. Good name for a band by the way. Maybe that’s what has set me off.

The other day, I was walking down the sidewalk and I could hear footsteps getting closer and closer behind me. Now, in the little village where I live, the city stole a strip of the road and made it into a larger sidewalk-like area because the sidewalks are so narrow that two people can’t pass.

I was getting really uptight about this person getting closer and closer to me, behind me, and the only way I could have avoided them not overtaking me was to jump onto the road, to start running, or to stop. I chose to stop. Then I turned around and said, “Have you heard of the 6.5 feet thing?” holding up my hands like I was lying about the size of the fish I’d just caught.  That’s how articulate I am when I’m pissed off. And I proceeded to say, pointing to the large area of road beside the sidewalk. “There’s this thing they created. You could go around me,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, as her dog came up to lick my pantleg, “I didn’t know I was that close.”

I didn’t say a thing. I just turned in my annoyance and kept on walking. Point made. Period. You are dead to me, lady.

Be kind. Be Calm. Be Safe.  These are the words of Dr. Henry, our public health officer celebrity. They rang across my atrophying pre-frontal cortex. But afterwards when I relayed this incident to a friend, I became fixated on the fact that I’d actually said 6.5 feet. I mean, really? Not 6.4 feet? Not 6 feet? Six. Point. Five. Feet. EXACTLY! Two metres to be exact. As if I carry around a tape measure in my brain because that’s how exacting I am as an individual (not!).  I find that hysterical now. NICE! I can only imagine her relaying that story to her husband when she got home, completely indignant.

And don’t even get me started on her dog. Of course, it was on one of those retractable leashes. Is it even possible to be considered human now without owning a dog? Isn’t it enough to have brought children into the world? Now every human can only be verified as human if they also have a dog apparently.

There. There you go. Now you know why I have not written anything since I posted about the book, The Plague. We are all the plague now, Baby.

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.

Crisis and opportunity

photo by gayle mavor

Liminal space. A latin word for threshold. In between, on the precipice of something new and yet unknown.

It was a lovely conversation between the CBC broadcaster Shelagh Rogers, (also the Chancellor of the University of Victoria), and the poet Lorna Crozier that led my attention to focus on this word and that’s how writing begins.

Something that resonates, grabbing hold, pushing me to open my laptop, turn it on and feel the necessity of putting words together, getting something down.

A sentence captured. A scene. An emotion. The way the light hits a pair of old curtains at a certain time of day and shadows the folds of the fabric. A memory jarred. About how so much of life, including life itself, is a liminal space, a time of waiting or being in an emotional state in between another emotional state that was less or more, or just different than the one we’re currently in.

I have lived my life as if everything is a liminal space and to my detriment, I think. I have rarely felt permanence, not since I’ve been my own person with what little control we have over our own lives.  

I think about what it must feel like to be in a relationship that we know is permanent, someone there, for better and worse, such a strong love that we know the other is it to us as we are to them.

Life gets easier when someone is in our corner and we know they are at home waiting. And what must it be like for those who thought they had that permanence, and it gets taken through the death of their person, through betrayal, through the loss of feelings, especially unanticipated, that force us to consider what next? The fear rising because we know a liminal space and messiness awaits if we make a choice we never imagined we’d have to make.

I have always been drawn more to the liminal spaces than to permanence all the while recognizing the illusion of permanence. Permanence, in the past, has felt like the jailor. Liminal is just over there, the greener grass, the other side of an escape that must be made.

And in this time of staying close to home, the anticipation of the threshold of new scenery, new faces, new ideas has been challenged. And that unsettles me. The summer, usually a time of anticipation, is filling me, no matter how much I don’t want such a feeling to rise, with dread.

There will be no festivals. No Moss street Paint In. No Powell Street Festival. No Harmony Arts Festival. There will be no plans of big escapes on an airplane to exciting foreign locales, landscapes of new beauty  and new chance encounters with strangers I’d have never met otherwise.

In a way it’s a return to a childhood in a working class family where the neighborhood was all there was. The park. The close by. The down the street and around the corner. The next door neighbours. The best friend. The family contained. The scenes played out at a dinner table. Every newly introduced guest was a curiosity then.  That’s what my childhood felt like.

There was, at times, hopelessness as well, a hopelessness that came from that small seemingly endless world of permanence. And in that realization, perhaps those past feelings of hopelessness that are attached to my childhood permanence hold the key to the appeal in the liminal for me.

How will I fill this summer? How will I rethink staying put? Every day and year more precious the older we get, not wanting anything to take any of our precious moments and dictate that, for a time, especially a time that we can’t predict, things will have to be less. And the even greater fear that less will be the new norm. Recognizing how less can be good — for other species, for ecology — and yet not wanting to accept less as an imposed way of being in daily human existence.

I’m left with the question of how to make this summer meaningful as this pandemic stretches on. What will I find and choose to look forward to? How will I figure out the best way to rethink the here and now in a way that works for me?

I have not been sick. Friends have not been sick.  I still have a pay cheque being deposited into my bank account. The impact on time and space are the least of the impacts for us lucky ones right now, and yet still challenging.

I guess I will really have to explore inside to redefine Liminal as possibility, to redefine how to create a pandemic summer of staying close to home that doesn’t depress the hell out of me.

I guess the challenge is to perceive of this upcoming summer as that Chinese symbol, the one with the double meaning – crisis and opportunity.

***

This idea for this post came from a conversation between Shelgah Rogers and Lorna Crozier in a new show called Good Company. 

 

Pondering the individuality of isolation

 I’ve been thinking a lot about how this experiment of physical distancing and how having to stay home as much as possible is such a personal experience depending on your personal circumstance.

I can’t keep thinking about the huge discrepancies that exist which is always true in life. But this crisis seems to be exacerbating that and that, perhaps more than anything, makes me feel a lot of sorrow.

No two people’s experience of it are alike… 

If you live alone. If you have a family. If you have a partner and no children. If you have school age children at home while you’re trying to work. If you still have a job or you’ve been layed off. If you were unemployed before this even happened.  If you have teenagers or young adults stuck in the house (or refusing to stay home enough).  If you live with an autistic child who no longer has the supports they need. If you were already struggling with depression. If you have a parent living with dementia and is in a care home and depending on the quality of that home, that alone would be so stress inducing. If you’re worried about your parents in another country.

Where you live in the world. If you’re an American versus Canadian or a Kiwi. 

If your husband or wife or loved one works on the front lines of health care. If you’re homeless. If you’re living in a new city where you don’t know many people. If you’re younger or older. If you’re an elder who can’t use technology versus an elder who can. If you feel loved. If you don’t.

If you have access to technology. If you were planning your wedding right in the middle of this. If you were waiting for elective surgery and are living with pain. If you’re a new immigrant or a refugee. If you’re living with a serious addiction. If you were deliriously happy before this. If you were or are in love.

If you have a faith. If you don’t. If you meditate. If you’ve been through enough hardship that you’ve had to develop inner resources to cope that now seem pretty valuable. If you’re a conspiracy theorist, an optimist, or an all-or-nothing type. If you’re a single mom. An introvert or an extrovert. If you’re living in a relationship that was emotionally or physically abusive before this even began. If you’re pregnant and expecting your first baby. If you’re a dreamer. An artist. A writer. A thinker. A runner. If you’re living with a disability.

The list goes on and on, and now for Canadians,  a senseless, inexplicable horrific act of violence layered on top.

Tonight for the first time I’ve felt a little down and a lot grouchy. So it’s a good thing I live alone. I can be however I need to be, acknowledge the feelings and it really won’t impact anybody but me.

Then a cousin in Toronto sent me a Youtube link to a beautiful choir from Saskatchewan called the Greystone Singers who you should definitely Google.  I listened to them and it made me feel a little better.  And then I found the Camden choir and it made me feel even better. It’s hopeful. If you can’t be anything else, be hopeful.

Who knew there were so many choirs in the world? And who knew you could see them singing together but apart but still so joyous and emotional just as they are in person.

https://youtu.be/2xWUL4N26vM

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.