“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”~ Pema Chödrön
The weather today in Ketchum reflected my mood. Up and down. It snowed and was sunny, and then dark again, snowed, and ended beautifully sunny.
I awoke very early this morning, about five hours after I had fallen asleep, to tightness in my chest. I started to breathe a little heavier. Then I noticed I was beginning to sweat. But unlike the few nights when I sweated with a fever, I realized it was just my hands and feet that were sweating. And that my heart was picking up steam a bit. Ugh. I realized, I was panicking.
Just as I got that under control I heard a slight wheezing barky cough. Not sure if it was coming through the floor from my son’s room or the wall from my daughter’s room. (Both have developing coughs.) Our dog was laying next to me in what I call his butterflied chicken pose, which is his worry free sleep position of choice. He was wheezing quite a bit so I put my hand on his chest, pretending to do the Reiki hands on energy work which I’ve had a little training in. (“Pretending,” optimal word.) He quieted. About five minutes later I gave him a little rub which rolled him on his back; one leg went up in a rigor mortis type position. Panic #3 – he looked dead. I paused for a minute and thought, come on this is not happening, and instinctively started to shake him. No, just back to sleep, which he related with a growl. That was the first start to the day. Thankfully I fell back to sleep until about 11 a.m. and awoke to a sunnier outlook; good news from my friend in the hospital and other kind friends offering grocery pick ups for us.
We appear to be mending from whatever it is we have, said with gratitude and caution. Not sure we will ever get our tests confirmed at this rate–the contents of my nose are somewhere between Utah and California with no promise of being read any time soon.
What I am hyper-aware of today is the fear in all this. You couldn’t make up a more anxiety producing illness.
From the transmission, to the lack of testing, to the innocuous symptoms that emulate and produce anxiety; the range of outcomes from sniffles to suffocation, makes it easy to let your imagination run away from you. Then the profiling that goes on; judging one another for being too conservative or cavalier, the questions and the scrutiny, of ourselves and one another. None of this is healthy. It’s a good time to practice self awareness.
A benefit of meditation and reflection is that in doing so you become familiar with your tendencies. You do this through observation, achieved while sitting and enduring a wide range of emotions and thoughts. During a quiet period, of even just 10 minutes, all kinds of things come up and you just let them be. (Warning: This can be uncomfortable!) Eventually develop an ability to breathe through these experiences, and witness them, rather than giving in to the desire to squelch, avoid, or replace them. In doing this, you develop not only a tolerance for them, but also what is called an “observer’s mind.”
And with that comes the realization that if I am observing these thoughts, then I am not my thoughts.
Be the Observer of Your Mind~ Eckhart Tolle
In that moment that you are looking back at yourself going, oh geez, here she goes, or here comes a doozy of a storm cloud, you are not only aware of your separateness from these passing emotions, but also that they will pass through.
My meditation teacher talks about that moment of recognition as being little bit of space between stimulus and response. In the heat of the moment, having this awareness enables self control and non reactivity. That is a powerful thing.
I think that’s what happened to me this morning in that nano second when I realized my shortness of breath was setting off a nervous system response. It ended as quickly as it started. Phew. Typhoon averted.
This ability to invoke panic seems to me to be where the most widespread damage from Corona could be.
It reminds me of talking with a friend asking advice after her child was diagnosed with a nut allergy (something we have in our family. ) “Half our job is to keep them safe, and the other is to keep them from living in fear.” I once read an article by a chef with severe food allergies. He was so terrorized from the experience of anaphylaxis that he would have anxiety attacks whenever he went out to eat. The breathlessness, and panic he felt mirrored anaphylaxis, and his anxiety became a vicious cycle.
Covid-19 has the potential to create pandemonium that far exceeds the reaches of the pandemic. Our challenge is to keep our own panic in check. Not easy with our overactive nervous systems at the ready to help us survive.
So what’s the picture above? Practicing forced calm. I followed my friend Matt’s lead and taped my mouth shut to practice breathing only through my nose for 45 minutes today. Thought it sounded weird, but then there was tape in the drawer, and he’s a pretty cool dude with a strong practice and a doctorate in this stuff, so I tried it on.
- It’s one of the more effective calming breath disciplines I’ve done.
- You can’t help but give a tight lipped smirk when each member of your family walks into the living room at some point and says “what the hell are you doing?” or hollers, “Mom’s gone crazy!”
- You can’t actually laugh but it’s good because the smiling vibration stay inside you. You get to keep it to yourself.
- You also get to be an observer of random things. Like when I put the tape on to spell hi I did it with my phone camera. But then when I took the picture, the letters were flipped. I had to just sit with this, and other questions.
- You do a mini fast. But it also keeps you from coughing which you kinda wanna do with that persistent dry agitation in your throat when you have a flu.
- I am a bit short of breath, so when I got up to put another log on the fire I got a bit winded, but was unable to over respond to that because my mouth was taped shut. I live to tell.
- In all, I enjoyed 45 minutes of very relaxed breathing without having to answer to anybody.
I suggest trying the “tape trick.” Just don’t use Martha Stewart “glass patterning tape unless you want to rip the chap off your lips.
Today, and every day, we need to practice good humor, and to feed our peace of mind. Breathwork, meditation, exercise, regular honest self-check ins, and laughter need to outweigh the amount of “bad news” we are taking in. Are you going to feed your panic today, or your peace of mind ? You choose.
(You can read more Corona emails for the next two minutes, or watch this! )