tips, round 3

Sticking to the two weeks this time! Enjoy, friends.

May 11, 2020

Look where it’s tender. Last Thursday I wrote about the importance of backing off when we feel pain. That’s important because it gives us a rest. But we also need to look at the causes for tenderness. Sometimes there’s an obvious reason or no reason. Sometimes that spot right there just hurts a bit. It will be better later or it won’t. We’ll look at it again then. But sometimes we need to look really closely at what’s tugging and tightening and tweaking. Last week video leaked of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, being killed while jogging. I haven’t read much about it at all. In part because, well, haven’t we read this story before? And aren’t we exhausted with this story? Not because I think Ahmaud’s particular story doesn’t deserve to be told. It does. It deserves to be shouted from the rooftops. It deserves so much lament. But, God, I’m exhausted with how awful white people can be. I’m so damn tired of conversations about protecting unborn babies while we can’t see the inherent dignity of black and brown bodies right here, doing things white bodies do all the time without fear of death or prejudice or sneering or danger. I’m sickened by the ugliness of people with my skin color. And I’m afraid of the ways in which I am blind to my own prejudice. What am I doing to further, how am I participating in these injustices, these tortures, these killings? Yes, that’s tender. I don’t want to look there. I don’t want to read this story because I don’t want to find myself in any part of it. And because I’m white, I can go about my days without reading this story. More, I can go about my days without living this story. I don’t know how to fix systemic racism. I don’t know how to apologize for the sins of my race. Aside from voting out white supremacists and supporting policies, politics, and theologies that honor all bodies, not just white (male) ones, I don’t know what to do to make this better. Except this: I can be kind; I can work to harbor no hatred in my heart; I can fight any inclination toward prejudice I might have when and if it shows up. And for today, I can find the news story of this man, this tragedy, this death, and I can read it. I can look there and let it be tender.

May 12, 2020

Soften. Can you tell I’ve started doing yoga again? My mornings had gotten a bit unwieldy over the past few months, and this month I have a lot of work to do. I needed a way to wake up and get the day started intentionally and with focus. Sometimes I can do that just by getting out of bed, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Pandemic Era. So I broke out the yoga mat and decided to start using that subscription to Clara Roberts-Oss‘s yoga that I’ve got. The first couple of days I noticed that my shoulders were actually tighter after my practices. Yes, I’m using muscles that have been a little rusty, but sore neck and shoulders are no fun. So I started paying attention to how I was holding the muscles in these areas when practicing. I realized that I’m tensing them a lot. Even when Clara says to soften, I don’t. Even when I think I’m letting my head hang in forward fold, I’m not. Even when I’m enjoying a pose, my jaw can be tight, which means my neck is tight, which means my shoulders are tight. So I’m learning to soften these things, to be attentive to really letting them gentle. It’s not easy, especially now, when even subconsciously we’re in protective modes. But in today’s practice, I noticed it was easier to soften. And throughout my days, I’ve felt myself attend to the tenseness in my body differently. Hardening through life can be a default position. We harden to protect ourselves from tragedy, to steel ourselves against grief, to preserve joys, to endure anxiety. Softening ourselves into these things is counter-intuitive—unless we practice it again and again. I do not want to be a hardened person. There has been plenty that could make me that way, but each thing is an opportunity to be a softer person, a gentler person. If only I release into it.

May 13, 2020

Consider the obvious. Anxiety creates stellar imaginations. Unfortunately, it’s imagination that tends toward the disastrous. Still, it’s pretty amazing the different reasons your brain can come up with for any number of situations. Last night my sides were super sore. Almost crampy sore. Of course, that meant I have covid and probably cancer. Together. Developed instantaneously. I didn’t spiral with these thoughts, but they did cross my mind. And then I remembered that it was 6:00 and I hadn’t had anything to eat since lunch. So maybe I was hungry. And the yoga class I did focused a lot on the side waist. So maybe my muscles were reacting to, you know, being used. And for the past couple of nights, I’d woken up for about an hour at 4:00. So maybe I was just a bit tired. We ate, and my tummy felt better. I shifted my perspective to gratitude for muscles that work, and they were still sore but less threatening. And I went to bed early and left my phone off and on the nightstand. (Often when I wake up in the night, if my mind gets going, I start playing a game to help me still it again. That’s what I’d been doing the past few nights.) When tempted to go to the worst, consider what’s right in front of you. Consider what’s most logical. It’s very likely that your overactive imagination is playing tricks on you. Maybe it isn’t, but probably it is. You can’t always logic your way out of anxiety, but sometimes you can. So if you’ve given yourself time to consider the fantastical, take a few moments to consider the obvious and see if that helps.

May 14, 2020

Anxiety changes. After Shaun died, my anxiety was about my body and illness. About five years ago, my anxiety was about being unable to get out of crowds or traffic. A lot of mass shootings were occurring, which was a big part of my fear; I felt trapped and paralyzed. This year, my anxiety has been about illness again but also about the shifting of the world. It’s a nasty little trick that anxiety plays, not being the same way all the time. It takes me a while to realize the theme of a given anxiety spell. Every single time, I wonder where this is coming from, why it’s happening, where it’s going. Every single time, I have to remind myself that this is how my brain works, that I am capable of managing it, that I have many tools at my disposal. While it’s really frustrating to have happen, anxiety is a way for your mind and body to let you know that things are out of balance. Maybe I’m not eating or sleeping as well as I should be; maybe I’m not writing and getting it out of my body by exercising; maybe work is more stressful than I am willing to admit; or maybe I’m thinking about all my dead people. Acknowledging the anxiety and recognizing the imbalance is an invitation to return to what centers and grounds me. I use those tools of good food, meditation, yoga or walking, sleep, saying words about anxiety, writing daily, breathing exercises, drinking more water, finding rest for my brain. These are my safety net. This makes it sounds like a swift, easy process. It isn’t. I wrestle with my anxiety a lot; I am surprised by it almost every single time it shows up. But sometimes I’m able to see her and think, “Oh, you. Hi. Well, let’s see what you have to tell me today.” And then I curse at her a bit and get down to the business of being well.

May 15, 2020

This tip was a blog post on keeping death daily before your eyes.

May 18, 2020

Take it slow. Today we move from Stay Home MN to Stay Safe MN. So, as our governor says, we’re turning the dials up on social interaction and economic possibilities. (I refuse to say that we’re “reopening,” because we haven’t been closed. “Reopening” language ignores the fact that plenty of places have been open and that essential workers have had to keep going to work despite this raging pandemic. Certain segments of our economy have been closed, yes, but on the whole, our economy is open and has been all along.) I don’t know about you, but I’m not rushing anywhere. I get the reasons for loosening the restrictions, but personally, I’m not quite there yet. We entered this time of quarantine so quickly. We adapted and changed and revamped our days and took on new responsibilities and let the superfluous things go. We entered a weird time, but it was also sacred time. I’m not ready to leave that yet. The Irish talk of “thin space.” It’s where this world meets the heavens. It’s sacred space: a church or a spot in nature. It’s those places where the veil between worlds is, well, thin. I think there are thin times too, and grief is one of those times. In grieving, we are jolted into a different way of being. We adapt, change, revamp, let go. We aren’t who we were, but we’re also not who we will be. It is strange time. It is very holy time, even if we resist or fight or hate it. Eventually, we start to emerge from the deep grieving. We laugh again or do something our “old self” would have done. We recognize the person we were in the very new light of being a person-without-the-one-we-grieve. It brings us up short. As we emerge, we see just how different we’ve become. And this emergence isn’t a matter of simply jumping back in where we left off. It’s a slow process, one of remembering how to be in a world that hasn’t grieved the way we have. But it’s also a process of deciding what we want to bring with us from that thin time. That deciding takes some time. We’re not through this yet. Plenty of people still need protecting, and even if we’re staying safe instead of staying home, it’s still a weird, sacred time. We’re still figuring out how to be in this strange, new world. So take it slow, remember what you want to carry forward, and keep being attentive to the ways you can help and protect others.

May 19, 2020

Make a list. I slept poorly last night. Woke up feeling anxious and hot and a little panicked. So I put in my headphones and had a somewhat restless night of sleep. This morning I got up to do my writing and acknowledged this anxiety. And then I listed what’s causing it. As I looked at the list, I realized that all of the things on it are logical anxiety-makers. And all of them just have to be got through. And they will be got through. This listing and realizing took the wind out of anxiety’s sails a little bit. Sometimes when I make this list, I see that there’s an equal number of things in my control and out of it. Then I can start focusing on what I can control and try to let go of what I can’t. Other times, I make the list and realize I’m spending a lot of time thinking about ridiculous things that are way beyond my control. It’s a way to reel in the anxiety. By naming the anxiety, it returns to normal size (rather than overwhelming size), and then I can choose where to put my energy. Anxiety likes to spiral. It bounces from one idea to the next, making you think that you’re going crazy. By making a list, you can see that (a) you’re not crazy, (b) some of your anxious thoughts are legitimate, (c) some thoughts aren’t legitimate, and (d) you have power to address some of the things. Even if you can control only one thing on your list, and the rest are wild thoughts having their way with you, focus on that one thing. This gives you some direction and allows the wildness to settle a bit.

May 20, 2020

Think bigger. I am really struggling with churches opening to allow small numbers of people to join liturgies. However they’re choosing to limit attendance (lottery or on a first-come basis), it’s contrary to what church is. This is a fractioning of the community that makes no sense and is unnecessary. Is it unfortunate that liturgies can’t happen in our churches? Yes. Do we miss being in community in person? Absolutely. Does this mean the Body of Christ has been dismembered? Not at all. We are still church. We are always church. But we need to be rediscovering what church means right now. This is opportunity, not oppression. This is a chance to really explore what having a domestic church means. When we talk about sacraments and sacramentals in a church building, we know exactly what that means. But what do they look like at home? Bath time or washing dishes becomes a reminder of baptism. Cooking and baking become Eucharist. Now that we have experienced shortages of food, perhaps we are more attentive to what we’re putting on our tables and in our bodies. We bless it differently; we give thanks for it differently. Bumping into our partners as we figure out how to work from home together is a reminder that we said yes to this relationship in good times and bad, in sickness and health. We say yes again day after day. And are we not ending up learning new ways to say, “I’m sorry,” and, “I forgive you”? Is our reconciliation a little quicker, a little softer, now that we’ve read stories of people being taken to hospitals alone to die alone? And how do we anoint these days: confirming our commitment to stay home, stay safe, stay attentive? We do not pour oil over the sick, perhaps, but we acknowledge that some of us are weaker, more susceptible to complications—we anoint them with consideration instead. We may not be priests or pastors, but we are presiding at the quotidian liturgies that fill our days. Someday we will be able to break bread at church again. All of us. Not just those who “win” the lottery. It will be a time of lamenting and rejoicing, grieving and giving thanks. But until then, we look around us and see that we are church right where we are. We always have been.

May 21, 2020

Mind how you go. We here at Thornphy Manor enjoy all the English mysteries. Midsomer, Morse, Lewis, Endeavour, Unforgotten. Love them. In Endeavour, I was struck by the way DCI Thursday takes his leave of people: “Mind how you go.” It’s such an odd departure, but it has stayed with me. We often go without intention. We interact with people on auto-pilot. We rush to comment on a story or post about how stupid we think people are. We speak rashly or simply ignore others. We do not hear or see. One of the things I hope to carry with me in this new covid world is attentiveness to the other. A slower interaction with the other. We have been awakened to vulnerability in a new way in these months. We have realized our own vulnerability and have been called to act or not on behalf of others who are vulnerable. Some people seem to think this is a time of natural selection: let’s get back to normal and let the weakest fend for themselves. But all of us are weak, all of us are vulnerable on some level. We are emerging from hibernation as stores and restaurants allow (more) people in. Everyone is trying to figure out how to be. Some people are rushing it; others are more timid. We want “normal,” but we’re trying to figure out what kind of normal we mean since we cannot go back to what existed before covid. This is a time of minding how we go. In so doing, perhaps we can create space to recognize vulnerability as a thing to be cherished and protected rather than done away with and erased. Indeed, let us mind how we go.

May 22, 2020

Be both. This morning the Indigo Girls released a new album, Look Long. The last song is called “Sorrow and Joy.” The refrain has this line: “Sorrow and joy are not oil and water. . . . In the end we must hold them together.” Oof. How true that is. And how challenging. Grievings are all different. And they change. My dad’s has become worn and soft; I wear it more comfortably after these many years. Shaun’s tends to be heavy still at various times. One of the things my mom learned in a grief group she attended was that suicide deaths affect survivors like a physical assault. They can be that traumatizing, that surprising, that violating. Shaun’s death hits me sometimes, almost physically. In 2013, a family friend, Barb, died of cancer. Her grieving is odd. It’s actually very similar to my Ryan grieving: it’s a revelation. Their deaths have to dawn on me. Thinking of the world without these two is so strange, so illogical in many ways. Thinking of them takes my breath away. But I learned something with Ryan’s grieving. Because his suicide was so contrary to who he was as a person, I chose to focus on his life. Though I grieve him, I also remember his infectious laugh, his gentle spirit, his wicked sense of humor, his big heart. I think it’s tempting with sudden deaths to get stuck in the final moments. I know that happened to me with Shaun. But with Ryan, I couldn’t focus on the end; I had to look backward. In so doing, I balanced the sorrow of now with the joy of then. It has been an odd tension. I often think that I’ll be in denial about Ryan’s death until my own, but maybe it’s more accurate to say that I’ve learned to be both: sorrow and joy have coexisted here. Sometimes one is more dominant; sometimes they sit together peacefully; sometimes there’s tension. I think this quarantine time has been one of being both: we’ve been afraid and brave, quiet and restless, small and expansive, alone and in solidarity. We have been balancing a lot. That doesn’t end just because restrictions are lifting. At some point, we need to process these months. There is much to lament, but there is also much goodness that we can carry forward. Now’s the time to jostle these things around and see how we can hold them all together.

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