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Is there a conversation beyond the coronavirus?

As we sit at home (mostly) in this extraordinary circumstance of public health crisis that North Americans have not had to deal with for a century, what opportunities are there to transcend the oppressiveness of the topic itself? Just because we're affected by the crisis, does the crisis have to be the only thing we value and talk about? Of course, we all know the answer is no. But are we acting on that knowledge? This post suggests some options.

Some of us are sitting at home isolated. Others are stunned by being suddenly locked up in a house of children and each other possibly for weeks. There is no question that there are unpredictable mental health implications. It's hard to say how much of the collective anxiety is being felt in our own nervous system. So what's the game plan, not only for staying sane but deepening our self-understanding and connection to one another?

First, there are some steps to take in staying true to what you value and not being a victim to the flood of information that wants to take over your amygdala:

  • Decide what you actually need to know about what's going on. Once you know that, establish boundaries with yourself and others about taking in additional news.

  • The next time you talk about a coronavirus related subject (wait, that's what you're doing now, right?), pause and see what is happening in your body; what is motivating this conversation--a legitimate need for information or a compulsion driven by anxiety?

  • Set aside time every hour--as soon as you finish reading this--to look around the room you're in, feel your breath coming in and out of your belly for thirty seconds, and express gratitude for something you see or hear or smell.

  • Reach out to someone nearby and talk about something else. See how that feels.

  • Find out if there are ways in your neighborhood that you can help practically those who need support--and then also ask for support for what you need.

  • If you can, take a walk.

  • Meditation groups are happening online. Join one and sit quietly with others in the morning (see here with Will Kabat-Zinn or here with Gil Fronsdal, or contact me to participate in our morning chanting and meditation here and click "Get in Touch" -- and there are others).

Second, use this chance to take an inventory of your life as it is right now:

  • Do that spring cleaning you wouldn't otherwise have time to do. Really, it makes a difference!

  • Pick up that book and read it that you have looked at on your bookshelf for the last two years.

  • Think of the people you love you have not had a chance to talk with, and make a call right now (practicing the suggestions about about limiting coronavirus topics as needed).

  • Think ahead to the time you will leave your house again and decide what could be different, what you are learning to let go of quite readily, and what is more in line with what you really care about.

  • Now that you are quarantined, gently touch your face and hands and see how remarkable it is to be alive right now in this body.

There are many other practical suggestions about meaning and values that will occur to you on your own. But do not ignore the obvious here: You are alive right now. You are watching an extraordinary combination of internal fear and external serenity. The stores are full of luxury items that no one wants right now, and is empty of the essentials of life. What does that tell you?

Whatever you do, this is the time to discover what is truly beyond the coronavirus. Don't squander the chance to settle into the unusual opportunity to relish in what is simple and true. That will be the best medicine for your mental health and your life.

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