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

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

Radical Acceptance

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                       “Radical acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves                                 and our lives as it is.” ~ Tara Brach

In searching for images and quotes for this blog, I recently came across this photo – barbed wire with a tree growing around it. I resonated with it immediately. Because the sufferings of life become part of us, don’t they? Our pain, our trauma, our PTSD, our grief – healing doesn’t mean it goes away, it means we learn how to grow with it and in spite of it.

Like the tree, we are impelled to grow. The tree continues to grow in spite of everything that happens to it, short of being cut down. So do we, hopefully, continue to grow in spite of what happens to us. We have a choice, of course. We can stop where the barbed wire entered our life, we can remain stuck there, allowing it to twist our trunk and ignore or delay healing. Or we can accept that barbed wire, feel the full effects of it, and figure out how the very act of acceptance helps us grow stronger.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” ~ Haruki Murakami

Trees, especially old trees, are just so solid, so fierce and stately. If I think of myself as a tree, I see all the elements of growth that I also need.

Deep roots: I need the deep roots of grounding myself daily. Connecting myself to the earth, to the solid ground under me, so my mind doesn’t take off running to scary places. When I place myself in a grounded state, I am tree-like. I can bend with the wind without losing my footing. I stand firmly within myself. I feel the solid support of God and Mother Earth holding me up and anchoring me down. Fierce. Stately.

Water: I need nourishment to those roots so I can grow. Nourishment comes in the form of self-care, love, friends, and daily connection to the Divine through prayer and meditation. When I “water” myself, I grow, I heal. It seeps up through every cell and connects me to myself, to others, and to God. I am nourished. I am fed.

Air: Did you know there’s a photosynthesis of the soul? We breathe in faith, (you sometimes can’t see it, but breathe it in anyway), and breathe out doubt and fear. God is the oxygen we need to heal and to grow. Breathe in Divine air, breathe out the toxins we keep inside. And like carbon dioxide, God will take those toxins and transform them into more oxygen, more healing. We must keep breathing and breathe deeply!

Light: The tree needs the sun as we need God’s light. But rather than shining down on us, we find it by looking within. When we ignite that light within, it warms us and puts a balm on our wounds. When we ignite that light within, it speeds us on our healing path. Miraculously, when we ignite that light within, it shines out and warms those around us.

New Growth: Each time I reach a new place of healing, a new level of forgiveness, I feel a new branch grow. I feel leaves sprouting forth. As I encompass, envelop and send love to the barbed wire, I swell toward the sky, branches reaching up, drinking in the sun, arms open to receive God’s gifts. When we invite God on our healing path, new growth is inevitable, and we expand in our own individual way because of the wound, because of the barbed wire. Fierce. Stately.

“When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.” ~ Henri Nouwen

So let’s be this tree today. Let’s use and honor these elements of deep roots, water, air, light and new growth. Wounded with barbed wire, but accepting that it’s part of us.

It’s a thorny pain, and sometimes it still hurts, but it’s part of our path and the choices we have and will make. I own this barbed wire. I am who I am because of it, and for that I am grateful. It has made me turn to God over and over, grow in faith and forgiveness, and it has made me fierce and stately.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

04/28/2018

Ground Your Self

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“Ground yourself. Strip yourself down, to blind loving silence.” ~ Rumi

Last week I was fortunate enough to be at a retreat where a yoga teacher reminded us all about the importance of grounding! I have to admit, I had let this area of healing work slip and it was truly an “A-ha” moment and a wake up call.

I thanked the teacher afterward and shared that I truly realized how my healing is usually focused above me, around me, and within me. I seek God above me, in the people and teachings around me, and I look within. I haven’t been remembering to include that which is below me! Spiritually and literally, that is where we find support, by connecting with the earth and allowing it to heal us with energy and balance.

Grounding can be challenging for survivors of trauma. We are very drawn to be in our heads, where we can logically make sense of things, think about our feelings (rather than feel them), and kind of float above the world that has hurt us. So we need to be extremely aware of the need for grounding. Grounding in connection with meditation and nature, has become a valuable tool in the healing of trauma.

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Grounding is a way of connecting our bodies to the earth. There are many ways to achieve it: meditation, mindfulness, prayer, walking, sitting, being outside, being inside. The action of grounding is really simply a shift in awareness. We shift our thoughts and presence from our heads to our body, to the ground. We feel the solid earth beneath us. We are aware of the strength of the chair or mat that supports us. We draw up the limitless energy from the earth and let it infuse our body and soul with its gentle power.

Because we live in houses and work in buildings and drive cars, it’s more important than ever to take the time to get outside, take off our shoes, feel the ground, get some mud or sand between our toes, and connect to the earth. For people with PTSD, this has been found to be extremely healing, helping us feel safe in our bodies, safe on the earth, and more balanced within.

When we are ungrounded, we may feel scattered, unfocused, anxious and unsafe. We may even feel a bit disconnected from our bodies at times, like we’re moving forward, but a part of ourselves is always a second behind, trying to catch up. Finding some time and space to sit and connect with the earth will help center us, help us tame unnecessary thoughts and find the balance we so desperately need.

“Let your roots grow down into God, and let your lives be built of God. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” ~ Colossians 2:7

The Bible, along with other teachings, has many references to rooting ourselves in faith. Rooting ourselves to the ground, like a tree, gives us a place to grow from. Rooting ourselves gives us a strong base, so that the winds of change and hardship cannot blow us down so easily. Rooting ourselves helps us stay centered in the Divine, pulling up that energy and being a conduit for sharing it with others.

So I invite you to go outside, or go into your body, find a place to connect with the ground and really feel it. Grab a handful of dirt, thank the earth for its gifts, and feel the profound support of God solidly underneath you. Feel the healing love of God through the ground.

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”  ~ Kahlil Gibran

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

March 19, 2018