There have been many highs and lows in this new normal that commenced. Many mental health experts talking about the importance of gratitude.
I have felt myself simmer to a max to the cusp of losing it so many times … to the point of reaching to my supports and voicing my struggle. At times I am reminded well you have so much why can’t you see that… others have less, others are starving, homeless etc. Yes I KNOW THIS. This for me is often followed by a massive shame spiral. Whats wrong with me. How can I struggle so hard when I have so many things that are good?
Why and how can we also flatten the hierarchy of pain in a conscious way that allows for all suffering to be seen and greeted with compassion?
Not only do I need my struggle to be met with compassion from others but as my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says “The answer is always compassion, first for self and then for others”.
I keep seeing patterns of someone expressing their suffering and then another suggesting that the suffering isn’t worthy of acknowledgment in light of the suffering of another.
I’d like to challenge this and suggest another model. Forced gratitude before self compassion misses a critical step in the process. True gratitude requires no effort… it flows in when the heart channel is open. The heart opens when there is tenderness acceptance and acknowledgement of the truth.
When I run with my two kids in the stroller and they are at ease my gratitude flows easily … the sweet little crocuses popping up through the earth stroke a deep chord of pleasure in my heart. When my almost 5yo is complaining and dragging his feet and I know this is the only activity we can do outside of the house for the whole day and my mental health is contingent on getting my heart rate up for a stretch my open heart closes… I miss the little flowers and my gratitude does not flow.
Forcing myself into gratitude before acknowledging where I am struggling is a violent act to my spirit that leaves me even more trapped and suffocated than the original injury.
I’ve been exploring what happens when I first give myself an opportunity to acknowledge I am frustrated, overwhelmed agitated etc. Greet that suffering kindly with its message and when that eases I can heal that suffering and then my heart will reopen and my gratitude will flow again.
I have heard Thich Nhat Hanh tell a story of how any animal in nature when injured will find a quiet place to rest until they are healed. They will not continue to move along with a wound.
What will it take to give ourselves permission to first move to compassion for self and then allow the gratitude to grow and flow in our heart because we feel at ease?
So if you have no bananas but you’re trying to be a responsible citizen and only shop every two weeks but its your 2yo’s fave food and they are losing their mind and you’re in a shame storm because its causing you so much grief perhaps there is space to give permission for this to be acknowledged as suffering (even if today millions of people are dying of starvation). Gratitude blooms like a flower only when the sun shines on it warmly. It can not be forced open… only the warm consistent presence of the sun can manifest this. The leap to gratitude can only come when suffering is met with compassion first.
Hello lovely humans in all of the places you are in this really complex time. Perhaps you are trapped at home with small children, feeling disconnected and isolated, or finally connecting with your hobbies and interests. We all respond differently to unprecedented circumstances. Personally in this moment I’m letting Youtube teach my almost 5 year old Pokemon yoga while fending off my 2yo who is smashing two large metal spoons together while crawling all over me.
This has got me thinking about how to respond in this time. Beyond reaching out to my clients in the not for profit work I have offered some free sessions to front line health care workers. An additional place I want to offer some comfort and care is addressing how to support those of us who are stuck at home and feeling the slow (or perhaps fast) accumulation of stress and mental strain.
This could look like feeling numb and foggy or feeling unsettled or edgy. When we are suddenly out of our rhythms and consuming a lot of frightening information it can cause a shift in our nervous system. We are designed to be more alert if there is a new piece of information in our environment. If we see the same dog every day likely our nervous system will cue us that it is not a threat, the same as a car door shutting or the sound of passing traffic. The shift in these times is that it is much harder for us to be regulated because we have stopped our regular routines and rhythms that we have become attuned to. Every weekday (before the virus) I would brace myself for the one horrifically stinky elevator I needed to take. I would start to notice the aversion… the mental chatter as I approached it how I tensed in anticipation of holding my breathing in ways. One day it didn’t smell as bad but still carried on with the same response until another person in the elevator commented that it smelled better.
I realized that they were right, it did smell much better than it had. I was still in that pattern. Psychologically we are protected by a baseline of predictability in our day. What can happen as our days blend on without structure is that we lose the cues of safety and rest that we all need in order to have a baseline of wellness.
I noticed how impactful only 3 days without routine were on my almost 5 year old and how emotionally unregulated he was becoming. The simple act of making a very gentle structure quickly shifted his distress to a more manageable state.
For me my structure is looking like getting the kids out of bedtime and into daytime (out of pjs, teeth and breakfast). Free playtime after breakfast and some creative activities unstructured.
Baby has a nap
2-3h in nature
Home for 6, dinner bed and stories
Screen time on weekends for half an hour and one treat each day.
Most of this has allowed us to carry on more life as normal. Talking lots to the kids about the virus and how we are all working as a team so that people can take turns at the doctor so that not as many people die.
If your nervous system is getting little hits of adrenaline and cortisol every day the impact of this can manifest in exhaustion and general feelings of fatigue. If you are not sleeping well this can compound if you are consuming too much caffeine which also activates your nervous system. If you are too elevated that nightly drink of alcohol can release your physiological (body) stress and relax you but it can also simultaneously block your depth and quality of REM sleep. REM is critical for many functions, immune system health, stress response, neurological function etc.
Have you ever noticed an unwelcome emotion perhaps at work or in a relationship? Would you like to have more say in when and where big and powerful emotions visit you? Do you feel exhausted from being in highly managed states for long periods of time that lead to Netflix/social media/other binges and feeling generally depleted when you start your week.
Wherever you go there you are… Jon Kabat-Zinn
Do you have remnants of your childhood that you know you should find resolve in? Do you feel agitated with certain people and circumstances and practice avoidance? Would you like to have more freedom? Would you like to end the cycles that leave you feeling numb uninspired and ashamed?