Feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed, anxious, angry, irritable, guilty, and sad are all within the normal range of human emotions, especially given the enormity of current cases and deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic and the more devastating second wave that’s been forecasted by Robert Redfield, CDC Director. What makes matters even worse is the dizzying politician-expert-media interplay and crazy-making divergence of opinions regarding a sensible reopening strategy. Is it surprising that our nerves are frayed in these unprecedented times? To feel any differently, we’d need to have our heads buried in the sand.
In my struggle to survive, heal, and grow after my wife was stabbed to death by her eldest son, here’s what I’ve discovered …
Now is the time for all of us to consider the wisdom of acceptance. That’s the main message of the Serenity Prayer: “Grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.” It’s Buddhism’s Second Noble Truth: happiness is found in accepting what is; suffering is found in wanting reality to be different than what it is. And, it’s the Beatles’ message, too, as expressed in Let It Be.” Given the preponderance of tragedies in our world, it’s best to accept and learn whatever we can from them.
Permit me to share a personal “AHA” moment with you. After my wife’s death, I was overcome with anger, even rage. I tried to tread water, just so that I might manage to survive. After a while, I realized that treading water required a lot of energy — energy that I didn’t have. At the very moment I felt like I was about to drown, a quiet voice from within advised me: “stop treading, start floating.” So, you see, acceptance can be life-saving!
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
With 97% of Americans being asked to “stay-at-home,” we have gained a valuable commodity: time. Just ask three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, writer for The New York Times, and bestselling author, Thomas L. Friedman. In his book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, Friedman reminds us that humans benefit from pausing in the midst of our (usually) fast-paced lives.
Even, or, perhaps more accurately, especially at times like these, when life gives us the opportunity to stay inside, we can go even deeper inside to discover the silver lining in all this madness. As recently quoted in Thrive Global, consider the wisdom of the first century Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius: “People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills … There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind …. So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.” Since staying home also provides the opportunity for us to take walks in nature; be creative, sing, and dance; practice mindfulness; and meditate, we shouldn’t hesitate to do so. Such self-awareness practices awaken our understanding of our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual selves. For me, tragedy broke me open to learn a completely new awareness of myself. And, awareness of who we truly are readies us for self-embrace.
I was recently brought to tears by the desperate pleas of Freddie Mercury in Queen’s Somebody to Love: “Somebody (somebody) ooh somebody (somebody), can anybody find me somebody to love?” Ah, here’s my considered response, as beautifully expressed by a soulful poet …
The Source of Your Love is You
You will keep getting
let down and
until you realize the importance of
you holding your soul together,
until you realize the importance of you
keeping yourself lifted up.
I wish you knew
how much beauty is within
You do not
anyone to love you to
that you are worthy
of being loved.
— Najwa Zebian
Most of us have great difficulty loving ourselves. In order to do so, we need to learn to overcome our mind traps, mental blocks, and historic conditioning. While the road to self-love is tumultuous, even daunting at times, there’s a lot to be learned along the way. Navigating this arduous path requires self-discovery of our authentic selves; self-forgiveness; self-acceptance; self-respect; and, self-compassion. It also requires us to learn that we are deserving of such love and that we are enough. If you’re up for the challenge, I suggest Louise Hay’s Mirror Work: 21 Days to Heal Your Life. However, before you step in front of the mirror that’s required to do the work, just remember that the self you need to fall in love with is your inner self. Therefore, if you happen to be in need of a haircut or hair coloring from your favorite salon, as many of us are, you shouldn’t let that stand in your way! If you decide to journey into self-love, as I did, your life will be transformed in wonderful and unimaginable ways!
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
— Derek Walcott
Self-care has always been about our self-preservation. It’s just that, now, the coronavirus pandemic underscores its importance. Native products’ slogan is: “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” That’s so true. Dodinsky reminds us to “be there for others, but never leave yourself behind.” In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), Rabbi Hillel declares: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”
Taking care of ourselves requires taking responsibility for our choices. It was only after I began to take responsibility for my actions (self-agency) that I began to heal.
Most of us know what it takes to live a healthy life and, we know that poor nutrition; lack of exercise; smoking or vaping; over-eating; over-drinking; and, substance abuse are behaviors that put our health at risk. Are these bad habits simply poor behavioral choices in response to powerful cravings? Or, are they self-sabotaging behaviors caused by dysfunctional and distorted beliefs? Are they self-ingrained or intergenerational patterns? Or, are they caused by what alternative medicine practitioners call dis-ease?
Especially in these times, it’s more important than ever for us to take heed; be mindful of our surroundings; go out of our way to stay safe; and, try to support our emotional and physical (immune) systems, as best we can. While we’re all in this together, we don’t need to be alone in self-directing our self-care. We should take comfort in knowing that if we need help educating, supporting, calming, or inspiring ourselves, help is available. We don’t have to face this dystopian nightmare alone. Teachers, coaches, counselors, and therapists abound. And, thanks to technology, we can get most of the help we need on-line. On May 12, 2020 at 7:00PM EST, I invite you to join me in a free on-line meeting, sponsored by the Oceanside Library, Benefits of Self-Love & Self-Care in the Midst of Coronavirus Pandemic, from your computer, tablet, or smartphone at https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/402105109 or you can dial in using your phone in the United States at 1-786-535-3211. Access Code: 402-105-109.
While the list of emotions I mentioned at the beginning of this article are all within the “normal range,” Vitas Healthcare (vitas.com) sounds the alarm that “Certain severe reactions to a disaster, however, may require immediate attention by a professional trained in post-traumatic stress response. (So, seek help if you, or others, experience) intense and continual re-experiencing of the event; extreme emotional numbing or denial of the event; terrifying nightmares or flashbacks; hypersensitivity; extreme irritability, anger, violence; disassociation; fragmented thoughts, preoccupation, unawareness of surroundings, amnesia; severe anxiety, panic attacks; severe depression; loss of hope, pleasure, or interest; feeling hopeless and worthless; suicidal thoughts; and, substance abuse.”
Last week, I wrote an article about how we can make the best of the coronavirus pandemic. A friend’s response was “WOW. Now, to find the self love to commit to putting this wisdom into self action. To love myself enough …” Then, he continued, “Your previous article really has me contemplating my lack of self respect. Thank you. It’s something I really need to address.” This article is my response to my dear friend’s honest and courageous comments.
I encourage you to ask yourself: “What have I learned from the coronavirus pandemic?” Personally, I’m pleased that, in the midst of being scared shitless, many of us are doing selfless and amazing things. I find it heartwarming to see that acts of human kindness are visible everywhere. I’m appreciative of the One World: Together at Home entertainers who entertained us and raised over $127 million for coronavirus relief. I’m exhilarated by our expressed gratitude for frontline healthcare professionals and emergency workers, as well as other heroes. And, I’m thankful for the stress-relieving posts on social media, both inspirational and comedic. I’m also finding joy in sitting quietly, in mindfully observing, and in exploring my inner self. So, on the one hand, I’m uplifted and, on the other hand, I’m gravely concerned over the millions of coronavirus cases, the loss of hundreds of thousands of human lives, and the destruction of our world economy.
For now, my fellow humans, stay safe, be well, and take comfort in knowing this: by taking personal steps towards acceptance, self-awareness, self-love, and self-care, we are better prepared to combat the coronavirus or, for that matter, anything else.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Darius Bashar on Unsplash