I’m shopping at Woolworths.
It’s Lockdown… -16 hours.
The store is packed and everyone is keeping a watchful, weary distance.
As I’m hunting down the food I want, this strange vulnerability begins to infiltrate my body.
I want to cry.
There’s a sense of foreboding in the air. Impending doom envelopes me.
I want to run, to hide from the apocalypse to come.
My first instinct is to block the fear, the vulnerability, but years of working with my pain and the pain of others, drops me back into my body and I allow myself to feel it.
I leave Woolworths, get into my car and continue to feel these painful feelings. They dissipate without me having to make them go away.
This is the best way I know to deal with fear and pain and uncertainty.
To embrace it so that it can release itself. The body can do this without your help.
Life is a double-sided affair. Nothing can exist, in form, without two sides.
The concept of up, only exists because of its opposite, down.
Hot lives beside cold.
Cruel lives with kind.
In control…lives with out of control.
You will never, ever, ever be totally in control in your life. It is impossible.
Covid-19 is a global expression of this truth.
We have no control over the fact that the virus is here and it is making people sick and killing some of them.
We have no control over the fact that we are locked down or whether the lockdown will continue for more than three weeks.
So, as I’ve said and repeating for emphasis, what is the key to this dilemma of being in and out of control?
First…embrace the reality. Embrace the fact that you have no control over many aspects of this virus and activate control over that which you can.
Regarding reality, I want to share Adyashanti’s take on it.
We all resist reality…it wins…but only every time
Second…the less you bring your anxiety to the ways in which you take control the more powerful this taking control will be and the more relaxed you will be about it.
Most of us live to varying degrees in a freeze state. Lost for words, feeling nothing, empty, depressed, disconnected from our bodies and from other people and the world, essentially our emotional world is blocked.
We live in this way because as children we were put down, criticized, battered and abused and we couldn’t fight or flee.
This freeze response is blocked fight-flight energy locked into the body-mind and it wants to be released. The more energy locked down in this way, the more hyper aroused your nervous system will be and the more difficult it will be to implement any strategy I, or anyone else, might recommend.
This is why positive thinking, mostly doesn’t work and it is a major reason why, what I am going to recommend you do, may not work.
If you can’t implement any of the strategies it probably means that your nervous system is overwhelmed and you are going to need some neural psychotherapy to calm it down.
Trying to tell an overwhelmed nervous system to relax, is about as easy as trying to get a TV picture on a portable radio.
Strategies to help you to take control
Don’t think that you need to implement all of these strategies.
Work first on the ones that intuitively appeal to you.
- Take care of your immune system, which means:
- Reduce your stress, because your immune system will be significantly impaired when you are stressed. The more highly functioning your immune system, the less the virus is likely to impact you.
- Keep exercising or start exercising. Brain function and mood can be significantly improved through exercise.
- Cut out carbs, sugars, alcohol and cigarettes. I know how difficult this is to do. There is research that shows that when we are stressed we crave carbs and sugars so forgive yourself if you can’t do it, try reducing… Dopamine and Serotonin are neurotransmitters that make us happier. 50% of the former and 90% of the latter are produced in your gut. Carbs and sugars kill your happiness – although they make you feel better – short term, long term they are pro-depressants!!! So is alcohol. You feel better for a few hours and then its central nervous system depressant action kicks in. A hangover is a euphemism for “The alcohol depressed me!”
- Improve your heart rate variability (HrV) – which is the gap between the heart rate speeding up when we breath in and slowing down, when we breath out. This is one of the most powerful techniques for reducing stress. Breathe diaphragmatically, 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. (This 5 in – 5 out is very NB, that’s what improves the HrV. If you have a chest strap heart rate monitor you can use it to measure HrV in conjunction with the HrV app – it’s free – and measure yourself daily. The most user friendly option is the Elite HrV Corsense ‘finger sensor’. It costs about R2,500 shipped to SA.) I use it every day. It is an extraordinary measure of your stress performance over time.
- Do the breathing for 10 minutes three times a day…or more. If you get sick do it more often. Research shows that improved heart rate variability reduces inflammation and the virus is inflammatory.
- There are a lot of amazing jokes around the coronavirus. Laughter is the most beautiful medicine. When we laugh we forget ourselves. When we are anxious all we do is think about ourselves. But beware of using positivity and laughter to bypass – repress your anxiety and vulnerability. Men are very good at this.
- Switch off the news when it goes beyond simply staying informed.
- Learn to meditate. Here is a link to a video I made a while back of a meditation technique created by Adyashanti. This technique is different from most other techniques because you can do it while at your PC, watching TV, in conversation with others, in other words while living your life normally.
When you meditate, you want to do it to centre yourself, not necessarily to get rid of anxiety, because anxiety will come and go, you might have noticed that. So to allow it to come and go loosens its hold over you.
- Use the stress around you as a trigger to deepen your relaxation response as opposed to the fight–flight response. So when your friends, associates or partner are ‘flipping out’ about the virus and their finances, find a place in your body where you can relax and let go and soften as best you can. Meditation will help you to do this. This is much better than doing what most of us do, which is becoming a victim to the stressors around us. Every stressful event is thus a motivator to deepen your relaxation response. I want to add that this does take a lot of work.
- When you get anxious or panicky, look around you…look again…notice that right here, right now, there is you and the room you are in, or look out of the window…wherever you are…and notice what is peaceful or calm, right here right now…feel that which is Still…let it resonate in your body and Soul.
Then just move back and forth between the anxiety and the Stillness…the anxiety should soften. There are a number of reasons why this works but just one of them is that when we are stressed we develop what’s called tunnel vision and we focus on the pain or the issue creating the anxiety and that ‘focusing’ increases the anxiety. But anxiety isn’t everything that is happening at any one point in time and so noticing where there is peace or Stillness enables the expansion of our vision, the deepening of peace and the dissolution of the anxiety.
- If you like singing then do it and sing loudly. It activates the Vagus nerve.
The Vagus nerve runs from the base of the brain to all of the major organs in the body. When activated it relaxes these organs, the most significant being the gut, where so much of our stress resides. Half an hour of this will do wonders for your stress and immune system. Here is a link around other activities that will help you to activate the Vagus nerve. (One of my clients – a superb poker player – calls it the Las Vegas Nerve!)
- The lockdown is providing you with lots of space. If you are working from home use the space to slow down, to calm down, to connect more with others, with relaxing activities, as opposed to being locked into the driven and desperate first world disease of driving success and money. If your nervous system is very aroused the space might make you more anxious. That is another sign that you need to do some neural therapy.
It’s really quite amusing to notice how we live in resistance to being locked down yet we are locked into driven and desperately busy lives. Let me quote Jeff Brown:
The glorification of busy will destroy us. Without the space for healing, without time for reflection, without an opportunity to surrender, we risk a complete disconnect from the authentic self. We burn out on the fuels of wilfulness and eventually cannot find our way back to the center
This is a spectacular diagnostic description of the alienation and depression that is rampant in the first world. This crisis is an opportunity to re-connect with ourselves and others.
I have heard so many parents say how this virus has created opportunities for more connected family time and less of the running around to sports and extra lessons and music and art…all wonderful things but oh so desperately busy.
What you can do here is instead of being a victim of the space that has opened up in your life, develop more mindfulness around all of the activities you engage in and open up to and into the space of doing things in the now, rather than being so desperately locked into the next thing that has to be done.
- Get as much sleep as you can. Eating, exercising and sleep are the foundations of health.
- Minimize your risk of getting the virus, don’t shake hands, do social distancing, wash your hands often, sanitize. You are not going to be able to stop touching your face, for long. It starts in utero. It’s an instinctive self-calming mechanism. So, focus on not touching your face when you’re in a high risk area and wash your hands immediately on leaving.
- Get creative about your life, find different ways to make money and save. Action helps unbelievably when we are stressed. It gets us out of emotional ‘freeze’ mode. I know so many people who are really looking at their lives and how their businesses operate and cutting out areas of waste and cost. Trimming things down and making themselves more efficient; focussing on the right things! Do things that inspire you. I wrote a song about this virus – well, I wrote the words to an Al Jarreu tune, which was immensely rewarding.
- It is really important to note that there are two ways in which you can engage in this minimization of risk, either from the state of panic, anxiety or hysteria or from a pragmatic and calm sense that reflects your ability to take control of that which you can and let go of that which you can’t. You are not trying to be invincible and in fact, I do not recommend that you try to be invincible…because you will fail.
- Positive thinking has its place, mostly as regards achieving some specific practical goal in sport or in business but the downside is that it can repress our vulnerability. Here is a brilliant extract from a piece by David Whyte the poet, it is the most often cited piece of writing that I share with my clients.
Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state.
Here is the full quote
When you’ve done all of the above…find the blessings, the creation
in the destruction. It’s there…if you look carefully enough.
I just received a great blog about finding the blessings, from Dr Bruce Hoffman, an ex-South African practicing in Calgary. I visited him 7 years ago for help with my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
What you can’t control
- If your business is shutting down and you don’t know how you can feed your family, outside of finding other ways to make money – which few people can do – this is absolutely frightening and it may be beyond your control.
- You can’t control the fact that the virus is here and you can’t control the fact that you don’t know where it’s going to go nor what impact it is going to have in the long-term on you and your family and on society and on the world.
- You can’t control what your government or municipality or your neighbours are doing about the virus – unless of course you become an activist in this regard, which of course might be a wonderful thing to do. (Creative action prevents the fight-flight response from becoming frozen in the body and immobilizing us.)
- This crisis is terrifying and exciting. Both aspects wake us up out of our frozen pain, locked into our bodies. Notice the excitement. There are positive and negative elements to it. The former is this ‘waking up’ and the bonding and connecting to other people that it catalyzes and the shared humour. The negative is that it will keep you awake at night watching terrifying news and spending too much time on social media, hyping up your fight-flight response.
What to do about the things you can’t control.
- Feel the anxiety, the helplessness, the uncertainty and doubt. Feel it and share your vulnerability with those close to you. What most of us do is freeze the fear and the pain and the anxiety and then lash out at those close to us and it damages our relationships.
- Feel it in your body as best you can and then allow it to release on its own or release it consciously as best you can, let it go. I work with many different ways of releasing and if you haven’t done this kind of work what you can simply do is notice the tension and then find a place in your body where there is no tension and move back and forth between the two.
- Release your resistance to: the chaos, the panic inside and outside of you.
It isn’t money that makes the world go around, it’s resistance
- In essence the issue isn’t that you get anxious – I still get anxious, at times strongly, at times mildly and intermittently – the issue is how quickly and effectively you can process it and let it go. Human beings are supposed to get stressed, it’s natural. I love the book Why Zebras don’t get ulcers. They don’t get ulcers because they run away from the leopard, which discharges the flight response – or they get eaten and die.
- As I’ve mentioned, I’m not in favour of the positive thinking approach which suggests you ignore vulnerability, repress it or shut it down and block it. This is likely to create a frozen and immobilized or irritated and angry result which is not good for your immune system or your relationships.
You might want to see if you can take all of the learnings and resilience that you gain out of this crisis and to take them forward into your life after the virus… What I call AV. So we have BV – Before Virus and AV – After Virus.
I’ve seen a lot of people engage in New Age thinking which suggests that this virus is going to transform the world. Visions of dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice are truly amazing but the likelihood is that we will go back, in large part, to our desperate and oh so busy lives and forget the learnings. When this is all over remind yourself of what you learned and what you have forgotten to keep implementing.
There is no question in my mind that the most difficult thing in life is having a successful intimate relationship. Only 4% of them are nourishing, because they are so difficult.
I define an intimate relationship as
The opportunity to be 3 years old again, so that one can have another 3 year old to fight with!
In other words, intimacy triggers all of our deepest wounds, fears, longings and unmet needs…so we go to war with our partners.
The fear and uncertainty created by Covid, triggers these wounds more deeply and being stuck in lockdown with your partner and kids is going to make it worse.
What happens with many couples is that the attempt to win the war fails and then both parties freeze internally and then freeze each other out and begin to live disconnected, parallel lives. This is very easy to do in lockdown, because there is nowhere to escape to.
There is no quick answer to this except to say, do your best to be kind to each other and do your best to heal the wounds created by your arguments as quickly as possible.
Covid may destroy your relationship and it also, with much work, might take it to a new level.
In Love and Power,