Coronavirus Conundrums

I’m unnerved by the novel coronavirus. Watching it travel throughout the world and now affect our country and state, I don’t know how our national and local governments will lead and support its citizens during this uncertain time, who will become ill, how long the crisis will continue, or if it will re-emerge later in the year or next year.  So much is not known. 

My nervous system is easily upset as I tend to expect the worst possible outcomes in situations, so my response is nothing new.  But I’m listening to others’ worries every day now, both in my office and at home, and I know I am not alone. This is important for all of us:  we are not alone.

My daughter’s final college semester is going to be finished “online” -upending just about everything she and countless others thought their final months at college would be like.  My son, a high school senior, is also worried about the implications for finishing out his year. My sister and father, and other loved ones, are in poor health with weakened immune systems.  Anything planned could be cancelled.  How we work is already changing. The economic impact is unknown, but clearly happening.

Clients and friends are rethinking travel plans, worried about loved ones and recognizing the disruption to their work, social and home lives.  Anxiety is high.

In other parts of the world and country the disruption and death are already painful realities. It’s becoming clear that in order to slow and “flatten the curve” of the virus’s spread, we have to make drastic life changes.

Difficult, uncertain times call for us to dig deep and remember what centers and grounds us, and to clarify what options are open to us.  When I’m tempted to yet again comb through all the news sites for something definitive about the virus, I now work hard to not “go there” – to go instead to getting clear on what I can do, what’s possible and what’s not.   And sometimes I do my best to simply breathe.

We know the best advice about hand-washing, not touching your face, making sure you’ve got extra food and supplies in your home, etc.   Suggestions about how to manage strong emotions and worrisome thoughts during this time is less available.

I follow several bloggers and one of my favorites, Sandra Kornblatt, recently posted, “How to Decontaminate Your Mind.”  She wrote from an early epicenter of the virus in the United States:  Seattle.  She’s thoughtful and honest and recommends a procedure to get grounded and recognize our larger connection to others, to the mystery of life, to the divine, to whatever helps us recognize a bigger picture and reality.

You can read her post here.

Jason Stephenson shares YouTube music and meditations for those with sleep and stress challenges.  Hailing from Australia where wildfires destroyed so much already, he intimately knows disaster and upset. His most recent post lists some suggestions, including:

Refocus on your highest intent: Take a moment to become aware of any fearful thoughts. Only when we are aware of what is here can we shift our attention to something new. Spend a few minutes considering your highest hopes for the future. Then visualize what this looks and feels like for another few moments.

Come down to your heart: What does it offer at this moment? With your eyes closed, invite all uneasy thoughts down to the heart. As you sink into the peace and stillness of this space, let it be okay to not have certain answers or insights yet. What wisdom or virtues can your heart offer you in place of mental understanding?

Seek support: When we fear the future, it can be so deeply healing to turn to a loved one, friend, or professional who can lend an ear.  Our human fears are universal; take this as an opportunity to connect rather than to pull away.  Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you have made it through tough times before.”

You can sign up for his meditations and articles here.

It’s impossible to know how the virus is going to change our lives and world.  It already has and it’s going to keep changing.  Surrendering to this reality is wiser than fighting it.  At the same time we can work to care for ourselves and others in ways that use our inherent strengths. And we’d do well to remember that old Buddhist truth: Everything changes, nothing is permanent.  

This too shall pass, but it’s going to be awhile.

The Telemental Health Option

I’ve started providing video therapy sessions to clients who moved to another part of the state, were unable to leave their home, or when a snowstorm made travel ill-advisable. I use doxy.me, an encrypted and HIPAA approved platform. 

I prefer in-person sessions and yet find this a suitable alternative for clients with whom I already have an established relationship.  I offer this option should the coronavirus response prevent office sessions.  You’ll need a laptop or tablet, a quiet place that preserves your confidentiality and a decent internet connection.  You’ll also need to confirm that your insurance company reimburses for telemental health; some plans don’t.  More on all this in another post.  For now, just be aware that video therapy sessions are an option.

Brenda Hartman-Souder March 2020

Nope, Not This Year

Everyone who knows me well knows I’m a gardener. I grew up in a family with a vast vegetable garden. We ate from it all summer while preserving more for winter: corn, peas, green beans, tomatoes.   My mother grew roses, petunias, geraniums and gladiolas.

And almost everywhere I’ve lived I planted a patch of something.  In New York’s north country I put in perennials that could make it through the bitter winters. When we rented an apartment in Syracuse, I begged permission from the landlord to dig up a patch of the back lawn. After buying our first home, I planted cottage gardens around the front of the house. When in Nigeria I sowed all manner of vegetable seeds until I realized the pests were different there and I couldn’t outsmart them.  But even then I persisted with a year-round flower bed, using precious water through the dry season for the beauty that helped sustain me.

In 2013 after returning to the United States, my spouse built a sturdy 28’ x 28’ fenced garden in the side lot of our home – enough to keep out deer and most of the groundhogs. I planted vegetables every summer.  Getting out in the soil was a joy.

Until recently.  The last few years I noticed I became resentful when the garden took so much time.  I’d get a clutchy feeling in my stomach thinking about the needed weeding or the beans that were ready to pick.

This spring, every time I consider gardening, a loud “NO!” rises up in me.  Something within needs to lie fallow longer than the winter. And this is a big deal for me, as gardening is part of my identity.

What does this have to do with you, client or potential client, or visitor to this blog?  

Well, it’s this: change is normal. At times something we took for granted, deeply enjoyed, felt we needed or did all the time stops bringing meaning or pleasure.   

I often ask a client, once I have learned about their challenges or symptoms, “Do you know what you need to do or stop doing or change?”  And often they know.  They just haven’t had a chance to voice it.  Or trust it.

They may need to start to look at a pattern in a relationship where they are stuck or are giving up too much of themselves for the sake of “peace.”  They may need to mourn someone or something that has died.  They may need to stop taking care of other people at their own expense. They may need to start attending  Al-Anon or AA.    They may need to quit their job and go back to school.  These are serious decisions that often take time.

My work with clients often involves helping them trust what they already know…that they are not broken or defective, but in process.  That symptoms are telling them something is out of alignment with deep values. That often grief and letting go is involved.  And that the path, though not always well-lit, is nevertheless clearer once they decide to take one step down it.

For me, even though honoring life’s cycles by getting my hands in the dirt has been vital, I need to stop vegetable gardening this year.  It’s a way of honoring some other cycle now becoming clear in me. 

I trust that when I follow my inner knowing, I’ll learn more what this is about, what opens up for me as I welcome more free time this summer.  I’m committed to allowing the garden to go ugly this year if it needs to, or loaning it out or planting a cover crop to nourish it.

Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening, says this:  “There is very little difference between burying and planting. For often, we need to put dead things to rest, so that new life can grow.  And further, the thing put to rest—whether it be a loved one, a dream or a false way of seeing —becomes the fertilizer for the life about to form.  As the well-used thing joins with the earth, the old love fertilizes the new; the broken dream fertilizes the dream yet conceived; the painful way of being that strapped us to the world fertilizes the freer inner stance about to unfold.”

I’ll keep you posted on what this summer brings.  

And trust your own process if something in you needs to be born or to die or lie fallow.

Brenda Hartman-Souder
May 2019

Painting Credit: Greg Hartman-Souder