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FINDING THE BALANCE

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“Life is a balance between what we can control and what we cannot. I am learning to live between effort and surrender.” ~ Danielle Orner

I have lived a while, and I’m wise in many ways, but being human means I struggle with finding balance every single day. Being spiritual, living on the Earth in 2021, constantly barraged by media, social media, and bleak news in the midst of a global pandemic, balance often eludes me. And I see it in those around me, as well. We are, after all, in this together.

But I know that without balance, I will fall into depression. If I’m only turning toward the flash, the shock and awe, I miss the constant glow of the Divine. And that is where my saving grace abides!  So how do we find balance? How do we avoid the abyss?

So many of my friends have expressed in the past few years how difficult it’s been to stay informed, but not drink from the firehose. We’re concerned about so many issues right now, and as the world has become more accessible to individuals, it means we also know more. There is more to be concerned about, more to feel compassion for, more to make our hearts heavy. How do we fall asleep at night knowing what we know? Covid, Syria, climate change, school shootings, earthquakes, homelessness, floods, uprisings, unstable governments – I could fill this page. And of course, it’s important to stay informed, but it’s also important and appropriate sometimes to turn away.

I don’t mean completely turn away from pain and suffering, especially if you can help. What I mean is it’s crucial to turn your thoughts away sometimes so your heart can remember its essence, so your soul can recover and reboot. Think of the news or doom-scrolling as ice cream. You can only have so much before you start to feel sick.

“Do not wait for leaders: do it alone, person to person. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” ~ Mother Teresa

I had a day recently of feeling so angry. In our county, we had been doing better with Covid, but then the Delta variant showed up, the vaccine breakthrough cases were starting to be of concern, and we had to end and cancel several events and gatherings as our county reinstated a mask mandate. I was so angry that some people’s choices were impacting the quality of life for so many, and even causing illness and death. I was so very pissed off!

Anger is certainly warranted in many situations, and just because I call myself spiritual doesn’t mean I can’t get angry – anger is part of the human existence – but I also know that staying in a state of anger helps no one. I stumbled through the rest of that day, but the following morning my rested mind returned to the three things that help me find equilibrium again when I’ve turned toward the suffering in the world for too long with no counterbalance.

The first of these is gratitude. Yes, it’s been said before but it really is true and it really does work. Putting myself in an extreme state of gratitude helps me let go of bitterness, pettiness and even rage. When I think of the things I’m most grateful for (my home, my husband, my son, my sister-friends) I feel my heart and soul start to reset. I turn toward gratitude and breathe it in.

“If you go off into a far, far forest, and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you are connected with everything.” ~ Alan Watts

The second is nature. Spending any time in nature actually effects stress hormones, and helps us appreciate what is good in this world. Even if you don’t have a beautiful yard or outdoor area, just a local park or community garden can help you connect with the natural world and ground yourself. Sitting outside at night, spending time with the moon and the stars, realizing how small we are in the vastness of the universe is also healing. Play with your pets, nurture your plants, dig in some dirt, watch an ant colony at work – you will feel balance creeping in as you turn toward the miracles around you.

The third is to remember who you are as a spiritual being, a child of the Universe. My mantra the past few years has come from Ram Dass. “I am loving awareness.” When I am angry, frustrated, distraught with the world, chaotic within myself, this phrase brings me home. Sitting quietly, focusing on the breath and repeating this to myself, I remember my essence. I begin to feel filled with spirit rather than fear.

My job is not to fix the world, but to fix myself so I may better serve those around me. I cannot do that if I am out of balance. So some days I will turn away from the suffering and turn toward the love and grace of God, because I cannot be of help if I’m upset – I cannot pour from an empty vessel. Together, may we find balance moving forward. The world needs us to.

“If you restore balance in your own self, you will be contributing immensely to the healing of the world.” ~ Deepak Chopra

You Are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee 9/23/21

3 Quotes for When We Lose Hope

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 

The world is upside down. We struggle every day to make sense of the happenings in the world. We reach, gasping for breath, hungry for hope. We reach, but many days come away empty. We feel at the mercy of events that spiral out of control – because we truly do have no control. We have only ourselves, our faith, our God. So where is God anyway? As someone who has survived trauma, I know there are moments in life where God cannot be found.

When I reach for hope, I find I keep coming back to these three quotes for comfort. They are simple, profound, and reassuring. They remind me that almost everything we experience has happened before, but the human race survives, faith persists, and somehow we go on.

The first is from Martin Luther King, Jr:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The moral universe being that which is the ultimate compass of what is right and what is wrong. Bending toward justice reminds us that when pain and suffering is caused, the tilt in the moral compass must be righted at some point. The Universe will bring justice to the situation, perhaps not in our time or in a way we recognize, but it will. We can look back and see this at work in the past, and we must cling to this truth in the present.

The second is from Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic of the 14th Century. She wrote a passage I clung to when the pandemic started and still repeat it almost every day for comfort!

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well… For there is a Force of love in the Universe that holds us close and will never let us go.”

The force of Love moving through the Universe is whatever you call God. God does hold us close and never lets us go. But how shall things be well? That’s all relative, isn’t it? For some, it’s making enough this month to pay the bills; for a refugee, it’s a warm bed and a meal. For others, it’s winning one day in the battle of depression; for another, it’s surviving a night of shelling. For some, it’s being accepted by your family for who you are; for another, it’s being treated fairly and without prejudice. If you’ve survived trauma you know, there will eventually be days that all is well. They come, and will come again, in whatever form it takes. Have faith that God is holding us close.

The third quote is from author Jennifer Worth, who wrote “Call the Midwife.” As the Mother Superior counsels a young nurse who is distraught over something that happened and questioning God’s presence, she tells her this:

“God isn’t in the event. God is in the response to the event. In the love that is shown and the care that is given.”

This, for me, is perhaps the most comforting of all. Of course, God is not in events of human atrocity and cruelty. But look at the response. Look at the ICU nurses and doctors holding the hands of the dying during the pandemic, working tirelessly to save lives. Look at the Eastern European countries opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees without pause. Look at any disaster, and look at the response. There you find God. Hands-on God. Practical, tangible God!

Here is where we find hope. In each other.

These are my quotes that bring me peace of mind in troubled times. What are yours? Please share in the comments! The more we can ease each other’s hearts, minds, and souls, the better. These times can be exhausting – let’s hold each other up.

Because I survived trauma

Image by Kei Rothblack from Pixabay

Because I survived trauma, I often find it hard to sleep.

Because I survived trauma, I double check all the windows and doors and lock them, even in the middle of the day, with two large dogs, just to take a shower.

Because I survived trauma, I jump at sudden noises and movement.

Because I survived trauma, I sometimes wake my husband in the middle of the night groaning in a night terror.

Because I survived trauma, please don’t ever jump out and surprise me because I will leave my body for a while.

Because I survived trauma, it is sometimes difficult to completely relax or feel safe – anywhere.

Because I survived trauma, there are times I will cry and mourn for who I was before; the person who felt safe in the world.

Because I survived trauma, my moments of joy are dampened with caution.

Because I survived trauma, I sometimes fluctuate between being hyper-alert, and numb.

AND

Because I survived trauma, I found inner strength I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Because I survived trauma, I learned about healing and courage and grace.

Because I survived trauma, I discovered that forgiveness really was something I had to do so I could move on.

Because I survived trauma, I viscerally realized that anger could be a healing agent when used correctly.

Because I survived trauma, I turned to God in a more profound way than I ever would have without it.

Because I survived trauma, I assembled a toolbox of meditation, spirituality, journaling, therapy, and mindfulness that helped me survive other, lesser traumas in my life.

Because I survived trauma, I made the surprising discovery that service to others is a powerful balm for traumatic wounds.

Because I survived trauma, the tools of self-awareness, self-compassion and self-care are at the forefront of my daily ritual. I deserve nothing less.

Because I survived trauma, I changed the course of my life and sought to teach and inspire and empower young people.

Because I survived trauma, I became an alchemist, transmuting the bad that had happened to me into a fireball of motivation to live well in spite of it.

Because I survived trauma, I gained wisdom I wouldn’t have learned any other way.

Most profoundly, because I survived trauma, over time, I gave birth to a deeper version of myself.

You are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee

11/14/2021

Sometimes the wall is the way

Photo by AD_Images on Pixabay

“Though we can’t always see it at the time, if we look upon events with some perspective, we see things always happen for our best interests. We are always being guided in a way better than we know ourselves.” ~ Swami Satchidananda

When I was much younger, there was a popular quote going around: “If you love something, set it free; if it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.” My friends and I applied this with great ferocity to relationships at the time, and it actually does make sense. Often, the tighter we try to hold onto something or someone, the more we push them away. The simple truth is we can never open the door to new love or new opportunities if we are still beating our head against a wall.

Since I have some years to look back on, I can see now that unequivocally, the times I felt blocked or stuck in life had to happen for me to finally seek a new way. The wall I felt up against was providing me a chance to choose differently, reframe my thoughts, and find a new path. But sometimes it took me SO LONG to give it up! I would try to get around, through, under, over, paint a door, blast a window, massage that damn wall for far too long before giving up. Long after the Magic 8 Ball said “Outlook not so good!” And if I’d had to admit it to myself, my gut knew the truth. My gut knew I had to let go of whatever this dream was, or the next one could not begin.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell

Even so, it’s all part of the process right? All those attempts to make things work taught me a lot about myself and others. It always taught me what I was and was not willing to compromise. It taught me to begin to trust myself and my ability to make decisions. And it ultimately taught me not to fight the wall quite as long the next time. Because the wall is always showing me the way.

“Be grateful that certain things didn’t work out. Sometimes you don’t even know what you’re being protected from or where you’re being guided to when you’re in the midst of chaos. That’s why you just have to trust that greater things are aligning for you. Let go gracefully.” ~ Idil Ahmed

In my life, I’ve seen this in work and in relationships. Years ago, feeling stuck as a school counselor I changed schools. Same job, different school, same wall. Plus, I felt really stuck because retirement was getting close and I had a pension and I’d paid into it and I thought I just had to stay there. But I lifted my eyes from the wall and threw myself on the mercy of the internet and other types of jobs. I ended up getting a job in Hawaii and moving and living there for four years, teaching speech and theatre, and was never happier with teaching than in my last years of it! My husband also benefited from this move and it enhanced our quality of life and relationship in untold ways! If I hadn’t been at the wall, I never would’ve found the way.

In relationships too, we often get to where we feel stuck. Feeling stuck and unhappy in my last marriage was a catalyst for my ex and I to get counseling, but ultimately decide to part.  I never would have had the opportunity to meet and marry my current husband of 20+ years if I had still been in a marriage that wasn’t right for me. My ex remarried and is also in a better fit for him. So again, the wall was the way for us to open to a better partner for each of us.  

“When suffering happens, it forces us to confront life in a different way than we normally do.” ~ Philip Yancey

Looking back at your life, notice those times when things just didn’t work out, no matter how hard you tried to make it work! Look at where you ended up after that. Maybe you’re not there yet, but can you see how the wall is providing the way by making you have to move on? Only in retrospect can we learn to trust this process. In looking back, I see that I never really gave up anything, except suffering. In giving up, I saw opportunities that I could not envision when I was  staring resentfully at the wall! Look up, turn around, give up, it’s ALL OK. A new path will appear. I promise.

“Learn to trust the journey, even when you do not understand it. Sometimes what you never wanted or expected turns out to be what you need.” ~ marcandangel

You Are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee

Oct. 26, 2021

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