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

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

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