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A Pandemic Debrief – 6 Questions to Ask Yourself

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“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

It’s June 2021. We are (we think and hope) slowly climbing out of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is still raging in many countries. We are (we think and hope) getting a handle on it as more of the population is vaccinated. We are (we think and hope) wiser and more resilient than before.

It seems to me a good time for a pandemic debrief. An opportunity to check in with ourselves and see how we fared throughout this. The debrief is a technique used by corporations following big projects, and by disaster response teams after responding to an event. It’s an effective way to acknowledge what went right and what could have gone better.

If you’re the slightest bit introspective, you’ve probably already been doing this regarding the pandemic. You’ve been looking at what went right and wrong in your own life. So, let’s dive in, asking ourselves six important debrief questions. It might be helpful to write out the answers; one day it will be interesting to look back at what you wrote!

1. What happened? Well, we know the answer to this. The Covid-19 virus was loosed upon the earth. But think back to how you reacted as the news was trickling in about this virus. I remember hearing about it and thinking “It’ll be like Ebola; they’ll get it under control. We’ll be fine.”

We were not fine. So many lives were lost. So many people who survived will have long lasting health issues. So many businesses closed, some forever. Thousands out of work. People at food banks who’d never gone before. Vulnerable people in lock-down. Profound grief.We were stopped in our tracks.

2. What went well during the event? It’s hard to ask these questions without thinking of the steps our government took or did not take (wherever you live), but let’s try to focus on the personal. What went well for you during the event? Did you use the lock-down time to better yourself with meditation and exercise and strengthening familial relationships? (You can slap me here, that’s fine.) Perhaps what went well was that you survived. You didn’t get sick. Or you got sick, but recovered. You protected your loved ones. You finally got to know your neighbor. Maybe your priorities shifted. ALL ANSWERS ARE FINE. Identify what went well for YOU.

3. What challenges arose? These answers will probably come easier. Perhaps it was monetary, perhaps you were out of work, or working less. Maybe you were challenged with working from home, or not being able to leave home in the early months of the pandemic. Things we had taken for granted, like picking up a few things at the market, suddenly became a challenge equal in our mind to crossing a mine field. We all developed pandemic anxiety.

Add to that, the social justice issues that arose as we grappled with the murder of George Floyd and so many other African-Americans. Then the misguided attacks on Asian-Americans as angry people looked for someone to blame for the loss of life and livelihood. Then, in America, a divisive election season left us unsure about the future of our democracy. Just when we thought we couldn’t take any more, in the midst of the holiday surge, January 6 happened and we once again watched the news in horror.

As the pandemic dragged on, and as we kept having surges, we had to find new sources of resilience inside ourselves. We exhausted ourselves and maybe comforted ourselves in unhealthy ways. (I don’t think it was just me.)

4. What can we learn from this?  What have you learned so far about yourself, and maybe about others in your life? How did you deal with lock-down? How did you react to mask mandates and vaccine opportunities? What is your pandemic lifestyle? Self-improvement and productivity, or sloth-like behavior and apathy? Did you go out of your way to help others? Did you need help but had a hard time asking for it? Did you discover that exercise was fundamental to your mental health or did you avoid it like, well, the plague? Was your faith challenged or strengthened? Personally, I could embody all of these dichotomies in a single afternoon! It is interesting, isn’t it, to examine who we became in the midst of an interminable disaster?

5. What would we do differently next time? No one likes this question, but the science points to there being many next times in the years to come. As climate change effects more species and strange viruses that would have stayed in the jungles get released, scientists say we will face more pandemics. We have no control over what the powers that be will do differently next time. But we do have control over ourselves. The one thing we can universally do is be healthier. A population of overweight, unhealthy people, is just a sponge for coronaviruses. The healthier we are, the more resistant we are to start with. But personally, what would you do differently next time? Move in with family to ride it out? Move away from family to ride it out? Be more cautious or less cautious? There are no wrong answers here, only applying what you’ve learned about yourself.

6. What now? This question is where I’m at these days. What now? What am I comfortable with moving forward? I’m vaccinated, but do I want to hug everyone I know who’s vaccinated? (Not everyone, no.) Do I want to go to an indoor event? (Depends.) Do I want to get on an airplane? (I don’t quite yet.) It’s important to decide what your comfort level is and stick to it. I met up with some friends recently who were all vaccinated and one woman simply said, “I’m not hugging yet.” And it was totally cool. It’s incredibly important right now to respect where others are on their scale of comfort! None of us have been through this before, so we really need to take it easy on each other. What we’re comfortable with now may change, but it may be a while.We’re all in a little different place on the journey.

So here we are, battered and bruised, exhausted but hopeful. Take a little time to pause and reflect on where you’ve been, how you handled it, and what you want for the future before you rush back onto the hamster wheel! Let’s breathe into the next chapter, taking baby steps, and armed with self-knowledge!

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.” ~ Anne Lamott

Pandemic Progress – Healing the Collective Wound

“Healing is not an overnight process; it is a daily cleansing of pain, it is a daily healing of your life.” ~ Leon Brown

I used to bide my time in quarantine wondering what life would be like when the pandemic was over. And though it’s not over, and in many regions, it is far from over, here in the United States there are glimmers of us coming out the other side. But what are we evolving into? It is becoming increasingly clear that we are not and will not ever go back to life as we knew it. Not completely.

As much as I like to imagine us all tiptoeing out of hiding like the Munchkins, with Glenda singing “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” followed by a happy chorus of “Ding Dong the pandemic is dead!” I know it’s going to be a lot messier and slower than that.

We have all been through a collective trauma, and trauma requires healing. Not healing on the back burner, but daily, active healing on the front burner. And it will not happen overnight. In her book, “The New Normal,” (highly recommend!) Dr. Jennifer Ashton compares the pandemic to an asteroid hitting Earth. That’s a good analogy. It’s a global catastrophe. It happened. It changed everything. And recovery from the fear, the monumental grief, and the loss of trust in the stability of life is something we will be healing from for a very long time.

Remember? Remember how we were just going along, living our lives, and then we heard rumors about a virus. “Oh, that’s happened before. They’ll get a handle on it, they always do.” And then, boom! Everything is closed. You must stay home. Wear a mask. Wear gloves. Wipe everything down. Wait, people are dying? How many? Oh my God. Oh my God.

And then the months of waiting, and surges, and horrific strains on our medical professionals, and farmworkers, and grocery store employees. Unbelievable images on the news, funerals on zoom if at all, loved ones sick and dying – alone.

And now here we are looking ahead to literally taking some deep breaths without masks. Getting vaccinated – moving forward. But where is forward? Where will these changes take us? Who will we be on the other side? Figuring out where we will end up depends on the care we take as we emerge.

“I think it’s important to realize that you can miss something, but not want it back.” ~ Paulo Coelho

Healing from the pandemic will be like healing any trauma. It will not be linear. It will be circular, up and down, two steps forward, three steps back. Slowly, slowly, trusting the world again. In our favor is the fact that we have survived thus far. We bring all that we have learned from the pandemic with us. We bring the gratitude, the healthier prioritizing, the appreciation of leisure and nature, the perfect simplicity of connecting with a friend, perhaps the self-knowledge we have gained.

As we move forward, we probably feel we can’t trust the future, but we know we can trust our own resilience. Look at what we have been through! Don’t underestimate it. Day to day it can feel sort of okay, but take a moment to really look at where we’ve been, what has been lost, and what has changed. Our resilience is stronger than ever. Our ability, individually and as a society, to adapt and change has never been challenged so tangibly in our lifetime. We have risen to the call. We have helped neighbors, worked food banks, stayed connected, grieved with each other, and cried and held each other up. We have prayed like never before.

We have also learned who and what we can trust in outside of ourselves, and this alone could be vastly different than before the pandemic. These are not light lessons. These are life lessons, deep and long-lasting, and we couldn’t have come to them any other way.

We have truly formed new neural pathways in our brains by surviving this era. Pathways that help us heal trauma, that help us tolerate change and adapt to it, and that will help us achieve our new normal.

“All of Western medicine is built on getting rid of pain, which is not the same as healing. Healing is actually the capacity to hold pain.” ~ Gabor Matè

The healing will be slow. It will take time to learn to trust being with others again. We will definitely tiptoe into this world, not like Munchkins, but like the wounded beings we are, cautious but oh, so hopeful! Although we won’t return to exactly the way things were before, we have the opportunity to build back differently, perhaps more carefully and more thoughtfully than ever before. I’m not ready to hold hands for this, but I will walk beside you.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

5/14/21

Staying Grounded on Shifting Sands

Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

“There are times we have to step into the darkness in faith, confident that God will place solid ground beneath our feet once we do.” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Here we are, having survived 2020 (some of us), feeling like we can no longer trust the very ground beneath our feet. We have been faced with a collective trauma, this pandemic, like a low-grade fever we carry around, trying to still do our work and show up for our families and ourselves. But some days we don’t succeed. Some days the shifting sands threaten to swallow us up and we cannot find solid ground.

I’ve thought about this so much lately as friends and family (and I) have navigated so much loss – some large, some small, over the past year. I’m sure most of us feel we have been challenged this year in ways we never thought we’d face in our lifetime. Sara Bareilles put out a song last year called “Orpheus” that seemed to be prescient to this year. Here are some of the lyrics:

“You miss the world
The one you knew
The one where everything made sense
Because you didn’t know the truth
That’s how it works
Till the bottom drops out
And you learn
We’re all just hunters seeking solid ground”

That last line got me. Yes, that’s exactly what we are – hunters seeking solid ground. Solid ground is what we rely on, what we depend on to let us know we are supported and will be okay. How is your ground feeling today?

In yoga and meditation, grounding is an essential part of the practice. Really planting your feet or body firmly on the ground supports us in our practice and transfers into our daily life. One yoga teacher I had called on us to “wick up” energy and support from the earth, like the wick in an oil lamp. Pull the energy up and into ourselves. It’s a beautiful image and a reminder that so much is available to us in terms of support, from above and below.

“To ground is to pour your energies back into the earth and feel the warm calm of nature entering your body in exchange.” – Clint Ober

Practice in grounding really serves us when the ground is ripped out from under our feet by life events. When the sands around us are shifting, being able to return to a place within of steadfastness and trust, we can begin to catch our balance, plant ourselves more firmly and face what is in front of us. No one does this perfectly, few of us remember to ground first, then deal. And that is all okay. Sometimes the grounding after a crisis is equally important, for healing and recovery.

The song “Orpheus” mentions the ground again in a later verse; “If the bottom drops out I hope my love was someone else’s solid ground.” This is also a tremendous thought because yes, hopefully, we have people in our lives whose love is our solid ground. We don’t always have to find it ourselves, and we are often “someone else’s solid ground.” In recent years, and especially this year, I have often been solid ground to others, and I’ve come to know its gifts and its troubles.

My first instinct is always to “be there” for someone I care about who is hurting. Of course, it’s what caring adults do for each other. There is no better feeling than truly being present and holding space for a dear loved one or friend. Even when it’s hard, you know it’s part of the richness that is this life. So, you show up and you care and you pray and you support.

But, when your first instinct is to “be there” for someone, you can often give too much of yourself away. The last time I listened to this song, I realized (again!) it isn’t always appropriate to be solid ground for someone else, or for too many people at one time. We can easily spread ourselves too thin and not show up for people with our whole being.  The age-old adage that you really do have to take of yourself first, before you can truly take care of others, is an important truth. But this year, we are in crisis, and we forget, and that’s okay. We move forward, simply practicing self-care as often as we can, and with a pure and tender love for ourselves.

When you need to ground, sit firmly on the ground, or in a chair with your feet firmly planted and your spine straight. Feel the support of the earth, how solid it is, how many eons it has been here, and will be here. Tune in to the energy it offers you, the strength it shares with you, the unchanging support it affords you. Say to yourself:

I am grounded.

My spirit is part of the earth and my roots are deep.

The earth supports me.

The earth centers me.

The earth provides for me.

I am safe.

I am held.

I trust the earth to remain steadfast.

I trust God to show me the way.

May we all find solid ground in the coming year, may we be that solid ground for each other, and may we take good care of ourselves so we can show up when we need to as whole, centered, grounded people.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

12/28/20

Pandemic Coping – Find the Slipstream

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

“…If you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself.” ~ Dalai Lama

As we head into the eighth month of a worldwide pandemic, I’m hearing more and more about “pandemic fatigue.” We are tired of masking, tired of not hugging, tired of not gathering, not going to movies, or theatre, or concerts. We are tired of our television and our phones. We are just plain tired.

Coupled with this feeling are news bytes telling us it will be a long time before we have a vaccine or before we can let our guard (or our masks) down. Dire reports put us fighting this into the end of 2021 if not longer. A vaccine seems our only hope, but of course we need it to be safe, which takes time. So here we are.

When I focus on the statistics, I feel overwhelmed and hopeless. So, I turn to nature, which has survived and evolved and continues to inspire in spite of our human faults and assaults.

Having recently rediscovered camping (the safest way to travel these days), I became enthralled one day watching migrating birds, mostly geese.

I knew geese flew in a “V” formation, and that there is an aerodynamic reason for this, but watching them trade off positions is a brilliant example of teamwork and care of the flock as a whole. This creation of an energy slipstream, a place which doesn’t require as much energy as the lead spot, is also called drafting, and is a factor in bicycle and auto racing.

The birds flying behind the lead bird get a lift force from the lead bird, so they don’t have to work so hard to achieve lift. And when the lead bird is weary, it drops back and another bird, having rested, takes its place. Recent research shows the birds in the slipstream even have a lower heart rate than the lead bird.

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.” ~ Maya Angelou

The longer the pandemic drags on, as I see it, the more we must become like the flock of geese. We have to recognize those times we cannot be the strong bird in front because we are drained, if not physically, then mentally or emotionally. We have to know when it’s time to drop back and not work so hard to achieve lift, but leave that to others.

We don’t know how long the pandemic will be here, but we know by now that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. We must pace ourselves if we are to live through this in a way that is remotely sane and healthy. We have to learn to rest and accept help. It is critical to our humanness, and crucial to our humanity.

“But then it occurred to him that any progress he had made on his quest so far he had made by accepting the help that had been offered to him.” ~ Neil Gaiman

Accepting help is not easy for most of us. Asking for help is the hardest, it’s easier if it’s offered. But even then we’re quick to say “Oh no, I’m fine. We’re hanging in there!” Often, we don’t even know what we need, or we feel selfish in the asking. Some of us need a window of time in which no one needs anything from us. Some of us need to feel needed and purposeful. Most of us probably vacillate between the two!

The pandemic has brought me many lessons, among them learning to accept my limitations. It turns out I’m not superwoman, and even though I practice mindfulness meditation, yoga, walking, prayer, and countless other methods of self-care and support, these are trying times, and sometimes it won’t be enough. It’s okay to nap, to sleep more, to check out, to run away, to ask for help – it’s okay to not be the lead bird.

As we move forward, pacing ourselves in our “V” formation, let us recognize and honor all the positions in the flock. Let us recognize when others need to drop back, when they need to catch their breath and rest. Offer help to them, show up and be there mindfully. But if you can’t, that’s okay. There are many birds in the flock – so take your rest, fall back into the slipstream and rest in this flow of life – we work, we rest; we help, we accept help; we lead, we allow. Ultimately, we fly – together.

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” ~ Jack Kornfield

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

11/8/2020

Four Choices We Have Right Now

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“Happiness lies not in finding what is missing, but in finding what is present.” ~ Tara Brach

As we all deal with a global pandemic in our own individual ways, one fundamental seems to bother us the most — a loss of freedom. We are constricted in our work, our play, even within our families and friends there is restriction. Compounding feeling restricted and tight and broken and crazy we are told to wear masks if we have to go out. The masks are also restricting and sometimes tight and add to the claustrophobia burgeoning in our minds. But we wear them – because not wearing them is irresponsible to humanity on a profound level.

So, hopefully, we choose to wear masks. We choose to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We choose to recognize the tireless work being done by our essential workers and we don’t want this virus to make their lives more difficult, take the lives of those we love, or linger one second longer than it has to.

However, behind this feeling of loss of freedom, the human spirit amazes me in its resilience. Many people are responding to being bound by finding new ways to express, to work, to play, to go beyond, reaching out to help others, even as we feel our hands are tied!

Why do we do this? What causes us to rise? I believe it’s similar to the law of “survival of the fittest,” but in this case, it’s the human spirit that evolves and adapts to crises. The human spirit that sees the chaos we are living in and instead of giving up, rolling into a ball and having a pity party says, how can I help my neighbor? We are inspired by those who have overcome trials before us, and we are inspired by those we see around us choosing to live and be present and helpful to others.

Behind the mask of loss of freedom, we are realizing the choices we DO have.

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” – Carl Jung

Yes, we do have choices within the midst of this pandemic. These are individual, intrinsic choices and are not buffered by outside circumstances. Each morning, as we face another day of sheltering in place, let’s try to realize the choices we do have.

We can choose to be in the present moment. This is a perfect opportunity to learn and practice mindfulness. Yes, we have a lot of time on our hands to dwell on the past, but we know that never makes us feel better. And for maybe the first time in our lives, we are unable to make plans or see too far into the future. So let each day be enough. Let each moment be enough.

“Mindfulness is a pause — the space between stimulus and response: that is where choice lies.” – Tara Brach

As Tara Brach says in this quote, that is where choice lies. Will we react, or will we take the pause, fully realizing what we can and cannot control, and then responding with better awareness? Choosing the present moment relieves the stress of asking questions for which we currently have no answers. Be present with yourself. Be present with someone you care about. Be present with your work. Breathe space into your day.

We can choose self-compassion. We may be feeling less productive right now, overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated, angry and hopeless. This is all completely valid and, I dare say, normal under these unique circumstances. We must realize that we are living through unprecedented times in terms of the pandemic, the #blacklivesmatter movement, and the political landscape. The psychic toll on our spiritual, physical, emotional and mental well-being cannot be overstated. People are fighting for their lives, fighting for their livelihoods, and we are all frightened. The universal energy of that is felt on some level by us all.

“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life,” ~ Christopher K. Germer

We must learn to practice self-compassion. Give yourself a break. If you spend a day in bed, so be it. Giving yourself breathers is not only good for your mental health, it is a necessary part of surviving this time. Let go of judgment. Let go of your inner critic. Tune in every day to your body and mind and ask it, “What do you need from me today? How can we best serve each other?” Listen and honor what comes up. Choose to nurture yourself.

We can choose to rise. Choosing to rise sounds difficult, and it can be. However, if you’ve ever overcome trauma in your life, you have already done this. You’ve taken the trauma and decided that it will not define you and it will not hold you down. You rose above the grief, the loss, the PTSD, the abuse, the despair, to become better and stronger. Or perhaps you are on that path now and even though it feels daunting, something keeps pulling you up that mountain.

“With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.” ~ Wayne Dyer

Each day, let us have the courage to choose to rise. We have the ability within us to rise above our outer circumstances, to find the coping mechanisms we need to get through this, and we have the resilience to not only get through this, but grow through this. Believe in your ability to rise. Look to the people throughout history who have done so, and join that choir. Rise. Rise above.

“Just like moons and like suns with the certainty of tides, just like hopes springing high, still I’ll rise.” ~ Maya Angelou

We can choose to be of service. Nothing will get you out of your own head bust you out of self-pity like helping others. You don’t have to risk getting sick by leaving your house; reach out to people you know. Drop a card, give a phone call, or a text or email. Check-in with people, especially those who are alone. Sew masks if you can, deliver a meal to some essential workers, get groceries for your neighbor. There is something we all can do, and it beautifully adds to the energy of community and lessens the energy of divisiveness.

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” ~ Howard Zinn

We know we are living through a time of profound change on the planet because we are living through a collective trauma. Nothing brings about radical change like trauma. No country or people have been untouched by this pandemic. It is causing trauma on a personal, societal, and global level. But have hope. Look at your own life. Didn’t trauma bring about the highest understandings and the deepest shifts? But not without choice. Not without choosing to take the trauma and transmute it into something useful, something better.

We are all alchemists right now. Let’s see what we can do, what choices we can make, to help humanity rise and survive.

“We are whole: our deepest happiness is intrinsic to the nature of our minds, and it is not damaged through uncertainty and change.” ~ Sharon Salzberg

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

July 6, 2020

Breath is Everything, Everything is Breath

planet-4872299_1920“The fact is, that we are being breathed.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

The breath.

It is our first act outside the womb, and our final act as well. With our first breath, our life begins and our bodies miraculously continue to perform this function automatically, without much thought from us, for the rest of our life. And anything that does not require much thought, is prime for being taken for granted.

 As 2020 has unfolded, the central theme I keep coming back to is breath. There are many issues in the world, but issues of the breath have moved to the forefront. I see it in climate change, Covid-19, and fallen brother George Floyd. It’s all about breathing, and not being able to breathe.

 Throughout history, mystics and sacred teachings refer to the soul as breath, often using these terms interchangeably. In some languages, they are the same word – prana, spiritus, ruach, hu. Breathing connects us to ourselves, our soul, and those around us.

“One conscious breath in and out is a meditation.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

Recent research has taught us the Earth itself has “lungs.” Millions of lung-like structures on leaves allow plants to take in carbon dioxide and return to us life-saving oxygen. But we’re currently pouring more CO2 into the sky than the plants can keep up with. Humans have put the earth in a choke-hold, and the planet cannot breathe.  

The deforestation of the Earth, which has caused a great reduction in the planet’s breathing function, has a direct correlation to Covid-19. A study by Stanford shows us that as humans continue to wreak havoc on natural habitats to turn them into agricultural land, we will continue to see an increase in animal to human viruses. Usually, these lands are deforested to either grow food for livestock or to raise livestock for human consumption.

We are choking the Earth for hamburgers.

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” ~ Gary Snyder

Which brings me to Covid-19. In our lifetime, we have not seen such a virus that attacks the body so relentlessly and so horrifically. A shortage of ventilators early on told us this is a virus that threatens our very breath, our prana, our spiritus. Those deeply and personally affected by it speak of having no breath. Their breathing becomes anything but automatic, requiring complete attention and effort, and it’s still not enough. I can’t imagine a more frightening feeling. Those not personally affected are told to stay home for their own safety and the safety of others. And do what? For many of us, it became a reminder to slow down and breathe.  

In public, we wear masks. Our breath, though precious, is suspect. I could have the virus, you could have the virus, the cashier could have the virus. We’re grateful to be out, but sometimes it’s hard to breathe behind the mask. (Tell that to doctors and nurses in full PPE.) 

Like a meditation, we were comfortable with that for a short time, but then we got restless. We upped our heart rate, shortened our breaths, and got eager to return to “normal” life. But at our core, we know, don’t we? We know we can’t go back.  

“The link between you and God is through the breath of life,” ~ Yogi Bhajan 

Which brings us to the heartbreak of George Floyd, robbed of his breath by hatred and a long-broken system. His death, his cry for breath, was too much for a world already gasping for air. We can’t go back. We won’t go back. We must breathe into the change that is coming. We must breathe life into the protests. We cannot take breathing for granted any longer. We must breathe for the planet, for those on ventilators, and for George and the long-overdue systemic change that is happening. 

“We have to learn to live our life as a human being deeply. We need to learn to live each breath deeply, so that we have peace, joy and freedom as we breathe.” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn

The ultimate truth and realization we must come to is that we are all one organism. If one cannot breathe, the whole will suffer, the whole will eventually be gasping for air. We cannot shortchange the Earth its pulmonary function and expect to not be affected. We cannot ignore this virus, but must learn how to live for a time with it, caring enough for our fellow humans to wear masks and socially distance for as long as it takes. And we cannot turn our backs on an entire race that has cried out for the freedom to breathe, to be equal, to be shown respect, demanding change so that one day those freedoms will be taken for granted, like breathing.  

So breathe, if you can. Breathe with purpose, breathe with compassion, and breathe for those who cannot.  

But remember to put on your own oxygen mask first.

 

You are Still Beloved.

 

Victoria McGee

 

6/10/20

Holding Our Collective Breath

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“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.” ~ Anonymous

I woke up very early the other day, too early for the time I’d gone to bed. As I tried to get myself back to sleep for a bit, I took a very, very deep inhale of breath. It shocked me how good (and foreign) it felt. I realized that in this era of global pandemic, I’ve basically been holding my breath. Many of us have.

But wait, I’ve been meditating, praying, doing some yoga, practicing good breathing. And I realized that’s the only time I’ve actually been breathing. The rest of the time, I’m in a state of fight or flight shallow breathing, which eventually feels almost like holding your breath. The chest grows tight, constricted, and the lungs just barely keep us going.

It’s understandable. We are all in a strange state. We are in limbo, yet hyper-vigilant at the same time. We don’t know how this will play out, we have little control, and we can’t plan for the future. We are in separate lifeboats just trying to figure out each day.

Our breath, thankfully, is part of the autonomic nervous system, bodily functions that happen without us thinking about it. However, our breath and heart rate reflect our state of mind, our emotions, and our fears. When we are scared, our heart rate quickens, and our breath becomes faster and more shallow. We are ready to run.

Only here, in our various states of quarantine, there’s nowhere to go.

Ironically, as we face this catastrophic Covid-19, as so many people are struggling to breathe and survive, it’s increasingly important to add a breathing practice to our daily routine. Here we are, in unprecedented times, wearing face masks when we do venture out, often feeling literally afraid to breathe! But breath is life, and it’s never been more important to breathe more deeply, to relax our nervous systems, and to live in the moment.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Of all our autonomic nervous system functions, the breath is the one we have the most conscious control over. It has a direct influence on the vagus nerve, a nerve that runs throughout the autonomic system. Slow exhalations cause this nerve to relax and bring us closer to a feeling of well-being.

Besides relaxation, the benefits of deep breathing include boosting the immune system, lowering heart rate and blood pressure, reduced depression, improvement in  diabetes, and the management of chronic pain. For me, it also provides a sense of control. I may not be able to control the outward situation, but I can control my response to it. With regular breath practice, I control the effect of the pandemic on my nervous system. I control how much fear I’m willing to experience. Deep breathing in conjunction with meditation or prayer is extremely healing and centering. Even just stopping for a moment, taking a deep breath, filling the lungs, and allowing a long, slow exhale, can re-center us quickly.

“One conscious breath in and out is a meditation.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

When fear and anxiety arise, I use this simple technique to help me stay in the moment.

Breathing in think, “In this moment I have ___________. (water, sun, music, air, etc.)

Breathing out think, “In this moment I need nothing.”

Repeat until you feel calmer. Regulating our breath helps us focus on the present moment, and focusing on the present moment keeps our minds from spiraling into worse-case scenarios.

Dr. Andrew Weil recommends deep breathing as part of any wellness program. Here is a link to three of his favorite exercises. https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/stress-anxiety/breathing-three-exercises/

The world is, indeed, holding its collective breath. Let us take some collective deep breaths, calming the vagus nerve of the planet. Breathe deeply, fill your lungs, hold for a moment, then exhale slowly, blowing out audibly your fear and anxiety. Take some calming breaths for those who cannot – those who we hold in deep compassion; those working on the front lines of this pandemic, those who are fighting for their lives, those who are suddenly unemployed, and those who have been thrown into unforeseen grief.

I pray that one day, we will all breathe easy again. In the meantime, breathe deeply.

“Every breath we draw is a gift of God’s love: every moment of existence is a grace.”

~ Thomas Merton

You Are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

4/7/20

Covid-19 and Collective Trauma

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The paradox of trauma is that it has both the power to destroy and the power to transform and resurrect.” – Peter A. Levine

Lately, I’ve been conscious of trauma as it applies to society. Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, the world is currently in a state of collective trauma. Collective trauma refers to the psychological reactions to a traumatic event that can affect an entire society. For most of us, our daily way of life has drastically changed in the last few weeks. Freedoms and income have been reduced, and we are in a constant low-grade state of fear.

When a society experiences a collective trauma, such as 9/11, mass shootings, natural disasters, etc., our routines and relationships, those things that anchor us to our society are disrupted in such a way that it can leave us struggling to reclaim the purpose of our lives. In some ways, this can lead to a positive re-prioritizing of what is truly important. In other ways, it can leave us grasping for meaning and feeling hopeless.

For those of us already dealing with PTSD, this collective trauma can trigger other traumas to rise to the surface. We may find we are having trouble sleeping, nightmares, generalized anxiety, or hyper-vigilance may be rearing their heads again. Others may find they are having a surprisingly calm reaction to all this, as being in a trauma state is not strange to us, and we feel able to function in this state better than others.

Traumatic events can trigger past traumas, and who among us has not experienced some level of trauma? So we as a society have this huge collective trauma and our own historical traumas slamming us all at once. It’s a lot to deal with and process! And we’re confined either with partners, family, friends, or alone. Being alone can be most challenging as there is no distraction from your own thoughts.

If you’ve been feeling some of this, the dis-ease that has been engendered by this disease, there are practices you can undertake to ease the trauma response. We must regularly engage in self-care, find comfort in spiritual practice, stay connected to our tribe, and begin to reframe our relationship to historical trauma.

“Radical self-care is what we’ve been longing for, desperate for, our entire lives – friendship with our own hearts.” ~ Anne Lamott

Self-care is the best thing you can do for yourself right now. Stay centered and grounded as much as you can in whatever way works for you. Exercise, yoga, meditation, bubble baths, reading, and creative expression will connect you to your center. We cannot face this event coming from a place of scattered emotions and thoughts. Limit your news to a single check-in every day to keep from going down the black hole of information saturation. Go outside and find a place to connect to nature. None of these things cost money and can help you find some balance amidst the chaos.

If you have a spiritual practice, there is no better time to enhance and build upon it. Read, study, pray, and fill your soul with comfort, fill your mind with faith. Read the inspired words of those who have overcome darkness. Viktor Frankl, Elie Wiesel, and Mother Teresa, for example, are inspiring in their ability to hold onto faith in the midst of great suffering. Turn to your spiritual practice at this time to help you hold onto your faith, and to get a glimpse of the big picture. The world has survived many traumas and will survive this one as well.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Viktor E. Frankl

In these times, we must find a way to stay connected to our tribe. Facetime, Zoom, Marco Polo, social media and good old fashioned phone calls are our life-lines now. Resist the urge to isolate, to avoid the changes we’re all adjusting to, and reach out. Write letters, send cards, connect with people you’ve been meaning to re-connect with. You have time, and everyone needs to hear from the people they treasure.

Lastly, start to reframe your relationship to historical trauma. If we are here, we have survived trauma, personal, ancestral, historical, and collective. This means we are resilient and we have developed coping skills that not everyone has. We know how to self-calm, self-care, rise above, forgive, and even help others. Build on the resilience you’ve developed thus far! We are strong, flexible, wise souls and our energies are needed in this crisis.

               “We can make ourselves miserable or we can make ourselves strong.                    The amount of effort is the same.” – Pema Chodron

We are in a state of collective trauma. So let us attempt to join in collective healing, first by taking good care of ourselves, then by contributing to healing the energy of the planet. We all need the energies of compassion, positivity, balance, and calm right now. Let’s practice this in our daily lives and see what healers we are.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

3/20/2020

Why We Sometimes Hold Onto Trauma

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“The sooner we heal our traumas, the sooner we liberate ourselves from the people who hurt us. By hating them, we hold onto them. We cannot heal.” – Vironika Tugaleva

As I have studied, learned and written about healing trauma, I find I’m guilty of assuming that if you have been through trauma, you must want to heal. I forget that some souls perhaps don’t want to look at it, deal with it, or get better; at least, not now. I forget it until I’m face to face with such a person and I realize they are still holding onto a trauma from long ago – sometimes decades ago.

I used to wonder “What are they getting out of it? What’s the payoff?” Which sounds cold when you’re talking about a trauma survivor. But this is the thought I jump to when I see someone not making progress years after trauma. In reality, it’s far more complicated than my question, and of course, the reasons are as individual as we are. So in digging a little deeper, I found the reasons for holding onto trauma fall into three large categories (with many sub-categories).

The thought processes are basically the following:

Moving past trauma lets the person who caused it off the hook.

Moving past trauma means I can no longer be let off the hook.

Moving past trauma means I will have figure out who I am if I’m not suffering.

These are not light issues, not light thoughts. They are huge and overwhelming and no wonder people are often reluctant to confront these feelings! Let’s dive deeper.

“Moving past trauma lets the person who caused it off the hook.” This thought is often accompanied by other, related thoughts. If I forgive, then they’ll think they didn’t really hurt me. If I move past this and become stronger and more resilient, they’ll think their actions had no effect on me. If I forgive them, I’m weak.

The reality check to this thinking is part logic, part spirit. Logically, we have no idea what another person thinks of us, even they treat us poorly it’s more about them than what they think about us. And when we second-guess others’ thoughts and motivations, we give them even more power over us, thereby remaining stuck in the past. Spiritually, forgiving and moving on is something we do for ourselves, not for them. The longer we hold onto anger and withhold forgiveness, the longer we are in a state of inertia that we perpetuate. We don’t let anyone off the hook by moving past trauma – we break the chains that are keeping us in a dark place, so we can begin to climb to the light.

“Forgiveness is not always easy. At times it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” ~ Marianne Williamson

“Moving past trauma means I can no longer be let off the hook.” This second reason people might hold onto trauma is pretty insidious. Sadly, some of us find that in sharing our trauma we are seen as a victim, and people around us can start to let us off the hook. If we have certain unmet needs inside us, this can feel pretty good. It also gives us valid reasons for not fully dealing with people and situations in our life. We can start to use it as a way to avoid life, people, and in the worst cases, work and responsibility. I think all of us who have gone through trauma have been through phases of this. With therapy and hard work, we usually get past it.

The reality check to this thinking is realizing that again, you’re giving the trauma and whoever you associate with it, the power to keep you from fully engaging in life. Every time we use it as a way to avoid life, we empower the trauma, not ourselves. I’m not talking about the times we need to practice PTSD self-care and carve out safe, quiet time. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know the difference between self-care and avoidance. And if we’ve really gone down a dark path and avoid work and responsibilities, it will undoubtedly cause people who care for us to have to pick up the slack or bail us out.  It’s so important to take an honest look at how our healing impacts others, usually our family. If we have avoided therapy, or are playing on being a victim, not a survivor, we are denying our full and beautiful light from coming forth. Our inner wells of strength and faith are deep, so turn this fear over to God so we can truly conquer trauma, and not live it again every day.

We can make ourselves miserable or we can make ourselves strong. The amount of effort is the same.” ~ Pema Chodron

Moving past trauma means I will have to figure out who I am if I’m not suffering.” This thought manifests as many different thoughts that allow the trauma to define you. I’m a person who was profoundly hurt. Trauma is my identity, therefore in my pain I feel safe. We naturally do identify with being a victim of trauma initially. This should fade and assume a back-burner position in a healthy identity as we heal.

If it doesn’t, as a therapist I once knew said, “It doesn’t feel good, but it feels familiar.” We know how to play that part, so we play it because it’s comfortable, it’s easier, and we’re tired. But the danger, the reality check in this thinking, is that you’re once again giving your power to the trauma, not the recovery. You’re living a role, an identity, that was forced on you, not one you’ve chosen for yourself. Your true spirit, your true nature is on that back-burner. Invite it to come forward, try to open yourself to what the Universe has for you next. When you put a foot on this path of letting that old identity go, new possibilities will unfold!

Healing trauma is rich, unrelenting, exhausting, and rewarding. There are so many modalities now to deal with PTSD – therapy, EMDR, tapping, and of course, I believe, taking God with you every step of the way can only enhance your experience and restore your faith more quickly. So who could you become as you move past trauma?

We can only know when we begin to climb out of the quicksand. Staying stuck can only pull us down into depression, health issues, addictions and more. Healing is the process of getting un-stuck, of creating movement, of creating energy to move, of letting go.

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

 

What Does God Think of You?

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“Be kinder than necessary. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” ~ Plato

This often-quoted statement from Plato is such a wonderful reminder to us to try to be kind, always. It’s so true – if you scratch the surface of anyone you meet, you will find wounds and hurts. Some of us have deep battle scars that make us lash out at others or not behave as our highest self.

So compassion is key. None of us truly know the history or inner workings of anyone else. Not even loved ones we have spent decades with. We might know them well, but we can’t know how their deepest scars might affect their daily life. Compassion is key. We may not understand why someone is behaving a certain way or made choices we find confusing or even hurtful. But if we can remember that they have inner wounds and battles that are causing them to make these choices, we can find compassion.

It is sometimes (often) challenging to find compassion for others, especially people we don’t truly know. Our own loved ones are easier to have empathy for, as we have a better understanding of their battles. So it’s curious that we often have trouble finding compassion for ourselves.

“The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself.” ~ Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou hit the nail on the head. If we can overcome how we think about ourselves, we can soar! Our own self-condemnation, judgment, and doubt often obscure our ability to love ourselves. If we can truly overcome how we think about ourselves, we can find a freedom and sense of security in the world.

I’ve done a lot of work in my life in the field of self-esteem. I’ve worked on it for myself and with countless students as a counselor. Low self-esteem is a core issue for many, many people, formed often in childhood, reinforced by life events, and carried around inside us like a little alien, ready to pop out and ruin our day at the slightest whim! And we know, deep down, that it IS an alien – it doesn’t belong. Because we are beings of Light, children of God, purveyors of Love! That is our truth, but our thoughts, our ego mind, block our true vision.

“I found that there is only one thing that heals every problem and that is: to know how to love yourself.” ~ Louise Hay

Learning to love yourself and be compassionate toward yourself, and your great lumbering, mistake-filled life, is an ongoing process. A life-long process! But something I have found helpful is to try to see myself as God sees me. I try to imagine what God must think of me.

This could be scary to contemplate but think of it this way. If God is the Beloved, the Divine Spark, the profound Love of the Universe, God cannot help but see me with compassion and understanding and forgiveness. God, in this sense, truly is a parental presence.

If you have children you know this well. No matter what your children do as they grow, even as adults, you see that they are still learning and most often doing the best they can. Even when they make mistakes we continue to love them and help them right their sail again. We have compassion for them so easily because our heart is full of so much love for them and it is constant.

So it is with God. God’s love is so all-encompassing that compassion, understanding, and forgiveness are the natural state of God’s relationship to us. And if God is IN us and we are, indeed, God, or OF God, then that profound love for ourselves is available at all times, if we but ask.

“If you saw you as God sees you, you would smile a lot.” ~ Neale Donald Walsch

You have survived trauma in your life, you are healing, you are hurt, you make mistakes, you do things right, you seek help, you avoid help, you try to help others, you are sometimes selfish, you give too much love, you withhold love. You are human.

Now imagine this: God and all of your angels and guardians are amazed that you would choose to learn these lessons so profoundly and so deeply in this life. They are stunned by your courage. They wrap you in compassion nightly, hoping to heal you with enough light to carry you through the next day. God holds you constantly in the heart of Love, amazed at your determination to heal and give compassion to others. You are an astonishment!

So today, practice giving this compassion to yourself. Love yourself. Honor your growth. What does God think of you? God thinks you are a tender, growing soul, deserving of Good, fighting hard battles, and trying to grasp the extreme profundity of Love. Rest in that.

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” ~ Hafiz

You Are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

May 6, 2019