Balancing Anxiety with Awareness

As we entered this week, we were told to expect infection rates and death to dramatically increase. While we have consistently been told that things will get worse before they get better, this headline highlights the dread of this long march.

This long march

I begin every day with meditation, to get in touch with the state of my body and my mind. I simply sit up in bed, say prayers and rest with whatever is going on. The point isn’t to fix anything, to change anything but to rest in the nature of my mind. In the face of the intense suffering of people around the world, the desire to understand it, the fear of how the disease and the turmoil will evolve, the impulse to DO something, resting takes resolve.

Gone are the days when my thoughts floated among more mundane events and news and relationships. While there’s always something buzzing in my head, passing like clouds in my awareness, this p r o l o n g e d event has special weight and it presents a special opportunity. It calls me to be resolved and clear about what matters; people, kindness, consideration and care. It calls me to get out of my narrow concerns for myself and to pay attention to the welfare of others.

This solitary experience of writing is one of my feeble attempts to make a connection with others. While recording my thoughts in print may appear contrary to the experience of letting thoughts pass in meditation, it is a vehicle for facing the reality of today (recognize and release, recognize and release). While I would love it if someone benefits from my stories (connect with me), I am content with the connection that this exercise gives me to others. I intend to use it to to deepen my awareness without stealing my ability to be a support to others.

How Much News Can We Bear

In order to understand the daily news and make a connection, I am taking quite a bit of time to read and listen to the news of the day. I’m trying to discern the pattern of events, stories, edicts, and pronouncements. All this reading can take it’s toll on my psyche. It has the potential for generating anxiety and fear, grasping and avoidance.

This morning I woke wondering how these emotions are being processed. Am I capable of staying informed, bringing information to this blog, while maintaining a degree of balance? Can I maintain composure in the face of the pounding waves of uncertainty and death?

As I ponder my own ability to weather this storm of uncertainty, I wonder about the resilience and commitment of others (my community, state, nation and world). We have never faced an “event” that requires such extended commitment or concentration. We have been engaged in war. But while the conflicts in the Middle East have been raging for almost 2 decades, most of us, save the service men, women and families, have not felt the sacrifice and dread in our homes. This pandemic event is more aptly called an all-inclusive proceeding. Not only is it a slow process but no one is immune from it’s effects. It will require continuous adjustment on the part of everyone and a renewal of our intentions as it evolves.

Long Term Sacrifice

There is no doubt that this all-inclusive proceeding will continue through the years to come. The question is, will we unite as a nation following best health practices for the greater good OR will we take sides, argue and dilute the best advice of scientists under the banter of partisan opinion and individual autonomy.

Given the immediate resistance of some politicians to provide clear guidelines for isolating the virus, it seems likely that partisan opinion will persist. This will happen despite the fact that people’s physical health is at stake. Their objections to sheltering take many forms. One governor expressed doubts that people can handle isolation at home.

Even as Iowa’s coronavirus cases have grown to more than 1,000 with 26 deaths and the state’s medical board has recommended a stay-at-home order, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds maintains that demanding people not leave their homes would threaten their mental health.

570News

Other state governors cite the economic impact (a reflection of their popularity). All appear to value their sense of autonomy more than pragmatism. They ignore the advice that stay at home rules will shorten people’s suffering while building a banner for doing it their own way. Having worked with rebellious teenagers, their opposition feels very familiar to me.

I realize that we will have differences of opinion and act differently. Just as people on the street conduct themselves in different ways; face mask or not, 6 feet or not, gathering or not. We should accept that this is going to be the case. But laissez faire leadership the muddies the water of healthy practice presents a much more dangerous precedent. I am puzzled by their audacity to count themselves differently than the rest of us and put their agenda in front of the health and welfare of the community.

The cost of gathering and spreading covid-19 will be born by us all. While individual rights and the right to act unilaterally against tyranny deserve respect, this is no such time. Their actions degrade the general welfare of our national community. It is selfish, and borders on neglect and dereliction of duty. The virus has no boundary, no nationality, no state identity. It favors human contact and WILL spread. While some lead and act on the behalf of the group, these contrarians act unilaterally just because they can.

https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/unilaterally

This pandemic is a lesson. We are learning a lot as we suffer through it’s mystery. But our insight will need to be applied consistently, across communities and over the long term. The virus and the remedies don’t leave much room for individual expression. They are beyond politics and negotiation. This isn’t something I or any leaders relishes or invites. How we adapt to the virus to provide distance, in the heat of increased infection or in the aftermath of rebuilding, will be shaped by creative solutions of individuals but the rules it imposes will be prescriptive. There is no negotiation of it’s existence or power. Take your medicine or take the consequences.

Rules of Engagement

Precautions or Restictions?

Yesterday our governor encouraged people to wear a mask when they leave the house

“We’re asking all Coloradans to wear face coverings when they go out of the house for any of your essential functions like grocery shopping.”

Jared Polis – Fort Collins Coloradan

Also yesterday, Trump announced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending the use of non medical cloth masks, either homemade or purchased, in public settings. Notice he didn’t say that he is recommending or standing behind this recommendation.

The CDC recommendation is just that, Trump said, and not mandatory, though he said he probably wouldn’t be wearing a mask. The recommendation does not replace social distancing measures, he said.

USNews

We are in the process of setting new social norms. This isn’t rocket science, it is social science that has been established for 70 or 80 years. If you want to change human behavior you need to be clear in your expectations and communication. You need to repeat your message and model it in various ways. Contrary to this science we are being provided half hearted directions. Of course, if you never really decide what you want people to do OR if you are vague in your support of the change you will NEVER see any change. You will see confusion and even passive and aggressive division among the masses.

Behave Yourself

Today I filled a prescription at Target and I saw very few masks or face coverings of any kind on shoppers or the staff. I realize that this is the first day of the recommendation but I wonder when or if people will take action. Covering your face is a big change of style. The fact that it has taken us so long to believe the benefits of a mask is incredible. This has been known for a the past month at least:

The new coronavirus spreads mostly through person-to-person contact within about a 6-foot (1.8 meters) radius, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People with COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the coronavirus, spread viral particles through coughing and sneezing. The particles can land in the mouths or noses of those nearby. – Live Science – March 3, 2020

Wearing masks is only the most recent recommendation of behavior change. Social distancing was recommended before masks probably because the fear that there would be a run on masks and that it required less change for the public. Distancing does run counter to the human desire to be social and engaged but the consequences are disastrous.

Service to our Country – What does it look like?

Clearly, all recommendation, whether for scientists or government, might feel invasive and counter to personal freedom. While I haven’t been bold enough to ask, I see people in stores who blithely move in and out of groups of people, who don’t appear to be concerned at all. I wonder if they are simply unaware of personal space or defiantly ignoring recommendations. The problem of course is that they are endangering others, not just themselves.

As this crisis moves into it’s second month, I wonder if we are going to see greater defiance or greater cooperation. How will people deal with the behavior of others coming close or not wearing protection? Will there be open confrontations in public? One of the hallmarks of the Trump administration’s narrative has been freedom for the individual to do whatever s/he wants and a rejection of scientific, expert and government recommendations (hoaxes). This message is reinforced by his lackluster recommendation to wear a mask. This nature of this crisis challenges this defiance forcing the individual to weigh the facts of science seriously. It requires that we consider other’s safety as our own. It connects personal choice to the greater good.

The difference between a precaution and a restriction is one of perspective. If I feel someone is “making” me do something it feels like a restriction. If I am making the choice myself, it is a precaution. What’s your perpective?

Time, Fear and Hope

The Latest Trend

What day is this? Oh! It’s Friday April 3. How long have we been sheltering? When did this start? I’m afraid I’m losing track.

Has time slowed down for you? It has for me. While my options for activity are more limited, there is no limit to the number of concerns I have, the number of reports, and the lack of resolution in all this information. There is steady stream of new and critical information entering my awareness and yet there is a short list of what I can do to make a difference. This stream is different than the regular news-noise we’ve become accustomed to over the past 3+ years. Rather it contains speculation about people living and dying, suffering, in isolation and facing present and possible loss.

I came across an interesting explanation for the time-warp we are currently experiencing:

There’s a well-known idea that time feels like it speeds up as you age. Summer break feels like an eternity when you’re nine years old but your 60s can skip by in a flash.

The leading theory for why this happens is that the perception of time relies on the number of memories formed in a period, and memories are encoded from new and surprising experiences. The monotony of commuting to work on the same road for 20 years passes without leaving a mark. But every day is a memorable surprise to a child experiencing her first summer camp, or learning how big the universe is for the first time.

Time slowed in March because for the first time since childhood many of us are being bombarded with new and surprising experiences.

Collaborative Fund

Surprise, novelty? These are things that modern people have come to crave aren’t they? The latest music, trend, fashion, technology, idea… The young have craved the “new” as long as I’ve lived and from what I know of history, they always have. Only the pace has changed. But now we are physically at full stop but mentally speeding, with eyes wide open to the novelty of change that is out of our control.

As I have aged I have less need for novelty. I am content with routines aimed at a few goals; family, friends, health, and understanding my world through reading, meditation and observation. Of course I appreciate surprises and a novel experience but I approach them differently than I did as a young man.

As a 64 year old man, days do fly by. It seems like only yesterday that my first grand-child was born, but now she is 7. At the same time she was born, I was retiring. I can’t believe I’ve been retired for 7 years! I returned from Asia 2 years ago. Time did slow while I was there. As I have recounted in my entries from that time, Nepal was like a dream – like a slow unfolding dream. Each day carried unexpected moments of sights, sound, smells and human interaction.

Young Men Nepal – David McGavock

This Present Moment

From what I am reading and hearing, there are but a few categories of activity in this moment of historical crisis. People are doing the best they can based on their geography, profession, age, and socioeconomic status. Some people are challenged with following necessary restrictions while providing service consistent with their profession. It is a shakeup of our sense of normal:

  • People sheltered at home. Limited activity of shopping for “necessities”, exercise, gathering with distance. “At least 297 million people in at least 38 states48 counties14 citiesthe District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are being urged to stay home.” While some of us are in a relatively secure home with access to food and shelter, some are unemployed, some are without shelter and food, some are in crowded situations or institutions where they are close to other residents.
  • People on the front line of health care. With families sheltered at home, these dedicated and precious individuals are working to hold the line on the pandemic. They are the doctors, nurses and all the support staff required to keep hospitals up and running. Some are overwhelmed in the current battle while some are waiting and provisioning for the coming emergency.
  • People on the front line of essential services. While “essential” is currently being debated, people DO need food and other supplies to keep going. Grocery stores, post offices, delivery services employ people who continue to provide us support. These people are exposing themselves every day as the public gets face to face. They are generally low paid and dependent upon the salary.
  • People working to secure supplies. hospital administrators, local, state and national agencies and leaders in a position to identify gaps and do their best to fill them.
  • People reporting on developments, providing information through print, digital and broadcast media. As we shelter in our isolated locations, there is an increasing need for accurate information; to guide our behavior, help us secure support, allay our fears, prepare us for the future.
  • People who are providing service from the shelter of their home. Teachers, unemployment personnel (State and Federal), therapists, social workers, lawyers, technology support services, banks, and other support services too numerous to count.

This is a simple snapshot of the current social shift of work in the United States. Some likeness of this is being mirrored around the world, though we are blessed with an infrastructure that makes adjustment easier than a village in Peru.

While news, digital communication and direct observation are providing us with a small window into the activities of our fellow citizens, each of these groups is experiencing this crisis differently. My small window into the hospitals in New York and other cities of high infection gives me some appreciation for their sacrifice, but it doesn’t do them justice. This ignorance of other’s effort is evident in the denial that some cities and states maintain, despite daily news of the tragedy. There is an attitude being above it all, continuing with business as usual.

Silver Lining of Fear

We are all hopeful that the tide will turn quickly and we can return to business as usual. At the same time we are fearful. Fearful for our personal safety, for our livelihood, for our children and our future. For some this fear is motivating and bringing us greater appreciation for our community and our blessed, comfortable life.

This moment of crisis can be a moment of clarity. We are fearful and want to protect ourselves and our loved ones. That’s understandable. This virus, shows us our connection, our interdependence. It shows us how our protection is dependent upon everyone in our midst in a chain of connection that goes all the way around the world. We can take this moment to share other connections; our kindness, compassion, appreciation. These are also infectious.

A retreat for Buddhists is a time for drawing a boundary. It provides one with time to come to terms with the mind and how it creates our reality. Isolated from daily distractions we are left with only our thoughts and feelings, the disturbed and the blissful. Through reflection we learn that we have a choice to create an angry world or a peaceful world. When we are willing to pay attention our thoughts we will discover one important source of our suffering – ourselves.

Paradoxically, this retreat (safe at home) can provide us with a sense of connection to others. In recognizing our personal suffering, we realize that all beings create suffering for themselves, even as they strive for happiness. Like a mother responding to the suffering of her child, this realization brings us compassion for others. I pray that this crisis, and the retreat it has forced upon us, will bring people to realize their common humanity and spark compassion for the welfare of all beings.

Day 3 – What does the future hold?

Over the past few days I have taken time to speak with a few friends and family; to check in, talk about life in general and of course discuss how we are coping with the crisis of Covid 19. Sometimes the conversation steers toward how we and our loved ones are coping with the restrictions. At other times we talk about the future; when we will be able to be with each other again, when we will have more freedom of movement. We wonder about the days to come, spring and summer and fall, whether and how we will have to protect ourselves. Sometimes conversations lead to concerns for our physical and financial future; what kind of job, income, retirement people will have. All of these topics underline our sense of uncertainty – our desire to know more.

Fear and uncertainty can be motivating or debilitating. It can lead one to exercise caution and take positive action. It can also lead to anxiety, indecision, obsessive behavior and thinking, and violence.

The conversations we have had are generally comforting as we feel the familiarity and endurance of our bond. With close friends we can learn and benefit though each other’s experience. My friends have helped me appreciate different aspects of the crisis, different experiences that they or their friends are having. They tell stories of friends who are isolated and alone, friends infected with the virus, friends who have no work and little savings, friends who are trapped away from home and some who have just returned from other countries.

These conversations have helped me appreciate the diversity of perspectives on this crisis. Looking into the idea of perspective in the news I have learned that variations may be due to the level of infection in a person’s region, whether someone they know is infected, race, socio-economic status, housing, political perspective, and significantly, their age. For example:

The McCann Worldgroup (a resource for business) has reported that “Young people overall are more worried that they will lose their job or struggle financially compared to older people:”

  • Young people are also more worried that levels of racism will increase as a result of the pandemic.
  • In the United States, 22% of people aged 18-24 are worried people will become more racist, compared to 10% of people aged 45-54. In Spain, 17% of people aged 18-24 are worried people will become more racist, compared to 9% of people aged 45-54. 
  • In the United States, 39% of young people (25-34) have reported concern about losing their job or struggling financially compared to 12% of older people (45-54).
  • In India, 23% of young people (25-34) are worried about losing their job or struggling financially compare to 16% of older people (45-54). 

The dynamic nature of this pandemic makes it very difficult to understand. Not only are number of infected changing by the hour, by region, state and county but the response and information are also variable through time.

I hope you, your friends and family are well. I hope your local community is coming together in support of all.

Day 2 – What are we learning?

I woke up this morning with a limited number of goals in mind. Go to the grocery store, meditate, take a walk, read the news and email, connect with a friend, and write. In the back of my mind I’m keeping an eye on projects around the house that can benefit from some attention. Here it is, almost 4:00pm and I accomplished all of these to some degree.

It is curious how much psychological energy it takes to go to the grocery store now. It was akin to trips I would make outside the monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. My mind drifted toward the trip to the grocery while in meditation. I got dressed with an eye toward the event, even setting aside the beautiful facemask that Joni made for me. I made sure that I had a clear idea of what to buy and was equipped with the right currency and cards for being out and tried to time my trip to arrive in mid morning, after the first rush. Driving into the parking lot of the store, I was happy to see few cars and lots of space between them. In the store the mood was somber but clerks were very helpful and courteous and there were some knowing nods and smiles from people as we passed. Some wore face masks like myself, many did not. Somehow I felt more connection with those who did.

Home made mask by Joni.

I was happy to see that, while the shelves in the store were laid bare in places, I was able to get some version and quantity of the things on my list. The experience wasn’t normal but manageable. Later in the day I spoke to a friend who had gone to the same store at 8:00am for “senior shopping”. His experience sounded harrowing compared to mine. He described the store as packed, especially in the produce and checkout lines. He said that people were unable to maintain distance between them. I had heard stories about these special shopping hours from my neighbors and had vowed that if I ever see a full parking lot at the grocery store, I will return home to shop another time or day. I think the store needs to rethink this senior strategy as it may have unintended and infectious consequences.

I’m going to keep today’s entry short but I want to share an opportunity with you that could make a difference. Today on “Science Friday” I learned about a website that has been created to report our health (feeling good, feeling bad) and our symptoms (if we’re feeling bad) on a daily basis. It is called “COVID Near Me“. Gathering this information will allow health officials to see the patterns of outbreak and the symptoms geographically so that the spread can be understood and addressed.

One of the challenges we face is that we don’t know how the virus is progressing. We don’t have enough testing kits to contain the virus in the way South Korea did (that’s a whole other story). Our only defense has been to self isolate so that we don’t spread the virus. Now that we’re all sitting at home, it is a great time to be a citizen scientist and contribute for the well being of us all. From the website COVID Near Me:

Created by epidemiologists and software developers at Harvard, Boston Children’s Hospital and a group of volunteers from across the technology industry. Covid Near You uses crowdsourced data to visualize maps to help citizens and public health agencies identify current and potential hotspots for the recent pandemic coronavirus, COVID-19. The website is a sister tool of Flu Near You, created by Ending Pandemics and Boston Children’s Hospital in 2012 and maintained by the Boston Children’s Hospital team.

Covid Near You relies on voluntary participation from the general public, asking you to take a few seconds to report if you or your family members have been healthy or sick.

We analyze thousands of reports and map them to generate local and national views of covid-like-illness, providing public health officials and researchers with real-time, anonymous information that could help end the COVID-19 pandemic, and prevent the next one from happening.

With your help, we can all see what’s happening and better still- you have the knowledge to protect yourself and your family against disease.

I hope you will participate.