My Coronavirus survival kit
Posted by Simon Parke, 23 March 2020, 9.43am
I write about living these times.
We are all experiencing crisis in different ways. Last week, I watched my livelihood, patiently built, disappear in three days. You will have your own story and it may be much worse.
So I write this morning not to try and make sense of it, or to announce that it will pass - though it will.
Rather, I write presently, to help myself live the life before me. And the life before me, as I look around and listen, is uncertainty, sadness and terror.
So here are some of the things that feel helpful for me; but don’t worry if they are not helpful for you. Simply pass them by.
1) Slow mind.
This is a time for slow mind, seeking less stimulation, not more. Fast minds are anxious, slow minds are calm. We do not need to see the news more than once a day; like much of social media, it makes us anxious without reward. And Whatsapp groups set up to support us can do the exact opposite, as people share their fears, judgements and negative tales. What is gained? Negativity, whether through the news or social media, weakens us, unpicking the threads of our spirit. Slow mind sits above deep breathing and is not anxious. The anxiety monkey has no scaffolding to swing on. But you may need to relinquish some distracting habits to get there, and you could start now. Take some deep breaths… count them, perhaps ten? And return there when possible in the day. A few deep breaths takes us into our body and slows the anxious and catastrophising mind.
2) Behold rather than judge.
If we listen to the news, we will all be judging others right now - ‘the latest selfish idiot’ and all that. Social media creaks with ‘shaming’ stories: ‘I cannot believe they did that!’ It’s a sign of our difficult times. Fear and jeopardy bring out the judgement in us; we reach for the moral high ground to make ourselves feel better. But we don’t have to live there; we don’t have to make judgements our home. So note when the critic arises inside you… and then let the judgement go. It really isn’t your friend. The moral high ground is a wasteland place to live; it makes us stupid, makes liars of us and takes us away from our truest selves.
3) Parent yourself
These are dismantling times, throwing up fears inside us we never knew were there. And all the while, we may be putting on a brave face for others, pretending everything’s all right. So you will need to parent yourself and your feelings with kindness and without judgement. No thought or feeling is stupid or a crime; rather, each one needs to be heard and held without judgement. And so the question ‘How am I feeling?’ is allowed. It doesn’t matter if there is someone worse off than you; that really isn’t the point. If you can’t look after yourself, you won’t be fit to look after anyone else. So we will need to self-parent. And yes, in the end, I am not my thoughts and I am not my feelings…but the healthy among us listen as they pass through – and sometimes they pass through noisily, overturning the furniture.
And that’s OK.
(Rumi’s poem The Guest House is very good here. You’ll find it online.)
4) This is not about me.
It is about me, obviously: as I write, my livelihood has disappeared, I am denied things I want and love. But it is not only about me, others are living it too; and sometimes in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, much more challenging than mine. Perhaps I can light a candle every day for everyone, for we are in this together. Or replenish my local foodbank, which is struggling. As we physically distance ourselves, I’ve found more people saying ‘hello’ as they pass. Separation can bring us together. Have we perhaps remembered, in John Donne’s words, that
‘No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.’
5) Stay close to fresh air and growth.
Whatever lockdown ultimately means, open windows whenever possible, get out in the air when possible, look on things that grow – whether in pots, by the road, in the garden. Stay close to nature’s resilient energy. It’s good to be part of another story and there’s another story going on at the moment. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, wonderful; but you don’t need one. I lived in London for thirty years and knew every plant that grew through every crack in the wall. I loved their many-coloured stories of resilience and beauty.
Tap into your own body energy as well as nature’s. Skip in the front room; walk; run; press-ups, sit-ups: stretch, yoga… whatever you do, whatever is allowed. Do what’s possible for you…but do it, for the good of your heart and the good of your soul. When you are in your body, you leave behind the mad catastrophising in your head. Gymnastic champion Max Whitlock is making the best of a bad job, using his sofa at home as a pummel horse. It isn’t for everyone perhaps; and not something I’m doing myself.(!) But do get into your body…you’re not anxious there.
Don’t give up on gratitude – gratitude for things that are good, beautiful, timely, tasty, kind, wonderful, healing or funny. Gratitude brings us into the present where all is well. Our monkey-mind can take us all over the place; and most of the places make us anxious or depressed. But gratitude returns us to the present, the only place that truly exists. It re-sets us, in a way; gives us a clean slate from which to live. Perhaps this is why Meister Eckhart, a writer in the 14th century, said that ‘Thank you’ is the only prayer necessary.
8) Respond rather than react.
All sorts of stuff is being thrown at us these days. Negative stories, traumatic stories invade our space, pushing at the panic in us. But you don’t have to react. We don’t live best from panic. So why not pause before speaking, judging and doing. Reach down for the light and the hope inside you; and speak, live and act from there. You don’t need to have an opinion; you don’t have to react automatically. If there’s no hope and no light in you to find, sit quietly until it arrives…or go for a walk. You may find the answer in the sky; or in the dandelion. But look always to respond rather than react.You will make the world a kinder place.
9) Look for new possibilities
Many of our plans are in tatters – weddings, holidays, building work, operations, house move etc. It’s terrible…the shock is considerable. Yet life goes on, somehow. So we make a virtue of necessity and seek new possibilities in our situation. Perhaps we can do things we’re not normally able to do; feel our way into new shapes of being and activity. Some one said to me last week, ‘I’ve always wanted more time with my family - though perhaps I didn’t imagine it quite like this! But after my initial terror, I think I’m actually beginning to enjoy it.’ Is there anything possible for you now, which wasn’t possible before? Any step to be taken in these new circumstances which will serve you well, long after this is all over?
P.S. Board games can be good for family morale but for the sake of relationships, avoid ‘Monopoly’ – it will never end well. Unlike these difficult times…