Songs for the Shutdown

Sometimes we just need to laugh.  I’ve so appreciated all the creativity arising from this global shutdown. Amateurs and artists around the world are creating funny videos and songs to break the tension with much needed laughter.

The first one that made me laugh out loud was Chris Mann’s My Corona, and it is still my favourite.  I hadn’t heard of Chris before – he was on tv show The Voice in 2012 and has struggled to gain a footing in the industry despite having a beautiful voice. He is simply brilliant with these parodies and tributes. Chris recorded My Corona in mid March, becoming a youtube sensation in hours, and he hasn’t stopped since.

Enjoy these two funny parodies and a poignant tribute to essential workers.  Check out Chris’ youtube channel for more parodies and his other music.

 

 

Searching for Resilience

These past few weeks have reminded me of the need to stay resilient, to find the things that restore my spirit so that I can handle the anxiety of this current crisis without being overwhelmed.  This has been challenging, as OVID-19 continues to escalate here in Ontario, and as I am an avid news reader and have been inundating myself with information.  I am learning to control checking The Guardian and the CBC and CNN for updates, and re-focus on the things I can and need to do to maintain myself, my family, my home and my work.  The small daily chores of living take on a greater importance – taking more care with cooking and longer walks with a grateful dog – and I am appreciating increasing contact with close friends.

Although I am not an especially musical person – I will always choose a book or film over a concert – I am finding that certain songs are helping pull me back into shape when I feel stretched out and stressed.  This particular song, by American global roots duo Rising Appalachia, has been on regular rotation for me, the words “I’ve got my roots down, down, down, down deep” have become a mantra of sorts.  The earth is resilient, and finds so many ways to come back to life, especially now during spring.  Keeping my roots in the earth helps me find my way back.

Enjoy the beautiful music and beautiful dancers of “Resilience”.

Write Away

 

A Quaker women once described the silence in Quaker worship as the time “you were to go inside yourself and greet the light” (in Vecchione, Writing and the Spiritual Life, 2001, p.6).  Writing, for me, is a similar moment in time and place to go within myself and, if not greet the light, at least diminish the darkness.

I journalled extensively in my twenties and early thirties; I found writing regularly was an excellent self care practice. It helped me to understand my actions and sense of the world, but also to stabilize myself.  Through writing I was able to find the ground of my being, and be able to stand more firmly in the world.

Since the fall, when I began participating in a UU Wellspring group, I have returned to journalling – not consistently but regularly, and I have been reminded of its value for my spirit. The writing is largely stream of consciousness, I begin with whatever is on my mind at the moment I begin to write.  I have no agenda to the writing, I am not trying to record my days in detail, or examine myself in any particular way.  I follow the writing wherever it goes.  While it occasionally leads to an insight or epiphany, I find that it is most valuable in helping me let go of anxiety or worries or concerns about having doing something wrong or not lived up to an expectation.  Writing those anxieties out helps me to release them.  Writing out an experience gives me distance and perspective, takes it out of my self in a way that talking about it doesn’t necessarily do.

While I don’t write to the divine or use writing as a prayer, I do find that journalling is a spiritual practice.  I feel better after an extended period of attentive writing: lighter, refreshed, more content.  I don’t always feel like I am “greeting the light”, seeing it clearly, but I feel like I am making room for the divine light within me, clearing out some of the darkness that shadows it.  May Sarton, in her memoir Journal of a Solitude, quotes Jung: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious”.  Writing for me is often about paying attention to the dark, making it less scary and more normal, which allows it to fall away.  If I have been able to write through a difficult experience and come out to a place of integration, then I will write about who and what I am grateful for in my life, where I find joy and wonder.  Writing helps me be more open and present.

In this new era – the COVID-19 pandemic – in which the future seems not just uncertain but dangerous, with infection increasing daily here in Ontario, writing has become a necessary spiritual practice to cope with stress. What is helping you make the darkness conscious?

(this post is an adapted excerpt from a personal essay written for a class in seminary in 2011)

All the feelings…

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky… Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Thich Nhat Hanh

With the COVID-10 pandemic hitting Ontario with rising cases and increasing closures, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed with all the feelings;  most days I meet worry, fear, anxiety, anger, grief and all their friends, whether it is over breakfast listening to the news or during afternoon tea with CBC.  These are all healthy, valid and to-be-expected ways to feel as normal shifts under our feet, but some days my house feels too crowded for comfort.

Over the years I have learnt not to shut painful feelings out, but I do try to soften their intensity with mindful meditation.  Sitting with a guided meditation from the Calm app has been my go-to in times of struggle. Mindfulness helps bring the emotions into focus while breathing with intention, the breathing brings in just a bit of distance from the feelings, which helps soften their impact.  This is a spiritual practice that is especially useful in these uncertain days when we don’t quite know what is going to happen next. Who is going to get sick? How bad is it going to get? We just don’t know what it is to come.  I can’t change that uncertainty, but I can manage my reactions, so I turn to mindful meditation.

There are many good meditation apps for phones and tablets.  Calm and Headspace are the most well known and worth the subscription cost (I subscribe to Calm, which has series on managing emotions, sleep stories, and more), but there are some that are free or have good free access such as Stop, Breathe & Think, Insight Timer, and Smiling Mind, which has a special focus on children.  Experiment and find out what kind of mindfulness works for you.

The uncertainty of the pandemic means anxiety and stress are spiking.  Days of increased isolation, the loss of steady schedules and predictable plans, and worries about loved ones and livelihoods, all this wears us down.  Spiritual practices like mindful meditation – just sitting and breathing – helps us accept all of our emotions without being overwhelmed by them.

This is a time to tend to your spirit.

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Filling up the Chalice

It’s time to fill up the empty chalice again. In the coming days and weeks I will be using this blog to offer spiritual practices, poetry and readings, music and videos, and humour to help people centre themselves in this new world of COVID-19 pandemic living.

As a Unitarian Universalist I know that the way we get through this is together, with people sharing their gifts and talents with one another.  My hope is that as a UU minister I may be able to provide some insights and practices that help you breathe and find your way back to your inner core of wisdom and strength. One of the fundamental truths of UUism is that we are not alone but part of the web of all life; the COVID-19 virus is painfully showing us how interconnected we are, but that interconnection is also a source of comfort, even when it can only be realized at a distance.

I am at home in self-isolation – well – couple isolation – until the end of March. We came home last week from a week of holidays in Cuba, spending time in close proximity with international tourists and returning through Pearson International Airport.  We are following the government directive to stay home except for walking the dog, and we avoid people when we do go outside.

It was overwhelming to come back to a surge of emails, facebook posts, UU responses, government directives and news coverage after our limited internet access in Cuba. It’s been an anxious few days trying to absorb this new normal, and I have found myself forgetting my usual spiritual practices, when they should have been the first things I resumed!

Today I’ll begin with one of my go-to practices:

Gratitude Journal

For years gratitude journalling sounded a little silly to me; how could saying I like ice cream make any difference to my life? However, in a particular trying time, when life felt bleak I decided to try writing down three things I was grateful for each day.  Each one had to be as specific as I could, not simply “sunshine” but the sun’s warmth shining on my face as I walked the dog in the woods.

At first I couldn’t always come up with three, which shows how much I was struggling, but over time things shifted and I found it hard to stop at three! Taking five minutes each day to sit and think about what was good in my life did re-train my brain to seek the positive.  Each morning after breakfast I sit in my favourite chair and review the previous day, choosing three people, events or experiences. Keeping it specific helps to evoke the positive memory.  Even on sorrowful days there are shafts of light.

When things are going well I can get careless, either not writing at all, or falling back in generalities, but when I am feeling off this practice helps me to remember the good in my life, so I feel like I have solid ground to stand on instead of being stuck struggling in quicksand.

My dog Tikko is a constant in my gratitude journal, so here he is!

Tikko March 2020 2

Tikko is missing his groomer!