We are living in a frightening time. Going out the door, or into the supermarket, passing someone on the street, getting on a bus, all these seemingly normal activities have become more stressful as we learn to live with masks, distancing, and the constant “threat” of becoming infected.
There are many different perspectives on what is really happening, and nobody seems to have all the answers. What does seem clear is that we are at the “end of the beginning” and moving into a new phase of re-integrating back into our lives.
As we do this, it is important to recognize that we are in a constant state of risk evaluation and that in this process, we are learning as we go. In a sense we are moving through unfamiliar territory, although all the physical landmarks look the same. For me it’s been like coming home after being away for a long time, and seeing everything through new eyes. On the one hand this is a good thing, inviting us to re-evaluate what is important, to appreciate our blessings, and to simplify our lifestyles.
On the other hand, this carries inherent stress that should not be underestimated. In essence, it is as if we are having to relearn everything, and living in a heightened state of fight or flight. The level of stress is compounded by financial uncertainty, isolation, social awkwardness, lack of structure, lack of leadership, etc, etc, etc…
Some doctors are suggesting that the negative impact of this period of quarantine on our mental health is on course to outweigh the benefits of sheltering at home. It appears that we have been able to flatten the curve in many places by limiting our outward activity and interactions. And yet, the consequences of this choice may be far-reaching and difficult to manage.
Chinese medicine is a holistic system of health and wellbeing that has weathered many epidemics over the course of more than 2000 years and has much to teach us about how to endure, to adapt, and even to thrive in a challenging environment.
One key to health under any circumstance is to harmonize our actions with the movement of the seasons and the natural environment.
So, as we move from spring into summer, it is actually very natural for us to begin moving outward, being more social, perhaps traveling, gathering, celebrating, being creative and expressive, dancing, moving, exercising, and being outdoors.
With current circumstances, we may choose to continue moderation in this outward activity, but it is important to recognize this is what is natural in this season. If we choose to continue to isolate, we are in this regard going against nature, which is not necessarily wrong in this time, but will require adjustments in other areas to compensate.
Summer is the season of the heart, and the heart naturally moves us towards connection, experiences of unity, expression of our deepest truth and our heart’s calling, celebration, expansion, and the fulfillment of our spiritual aspirations. How can we collaborate with this momentum even under the limitations of our pandemic predicament?
The risk if we do not is that we are going against nature, our heart’s natural tendency. We are seeing an increase of anxiety, depression, desperation, loneliness, suicide, and so much more in a world where these were already a pandemic of their own. (Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America)
According to Chinese medicine, all of these are symptoms of a heart out of balance, and a symptom that we are living out of balance. What I am suggesting is that we do need to get creative and find ways to connect, to express, to move outward in ways that feel safe to us, and to nourish our hearts in this difficult and stressful time.
In times when being social may be difficult… One of the simplest tools we have to nourish the heart is meditation. Meditation has been shown in many research studies to benefit mental wellbeing, what it does best is to put us back in our center, back in our heart. From there, we can make choices based on what is true for each of us, take actions that feel aligned to our inner wisdom, and collaborate on solutions that will not only help resolve the coronavirus pandemic, but also move us closer to a way of living that is more in harmony with who we truly are.