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Spontaneous Overflow Reflecting in Tranquility

The Official Blog of Michael Schoenhofer, Executive Director

Thoughts by Myself #14 - We Are Not Powerless

We Are All First Responders.

I think about how life changed for us after 9/11. Now metal detectors and security checks are common. Last summer, before we could get into Grant Park in Chicago for a concert (Grant Park is like Central Park in New York), we had to pass through metal detectors and security checked our bags.

We fear the invisible terrorist outside of us.

I think about the future. Will we get stopped at every entrance by someone who wields a thermometer to check our temps? Will we judge "believers" from "nonbelievers" by what we wear—face-covering or no face-covering?

We fear the invisible “terrorist” inside us.

Many of us feel powerless, looking for someone to blame. “You closed things down too late! You are keeping things closed too long. Where are the tests? The PPE?” Conspiracy theories abound further fragmenting, dividing, and polarizing us. Fear is rampant. Fear of death and disease. Fear of economic collapse and ruin.

My nephew, Joseph Kaukola, published an excellent article where he laid out the issues we face.

1. The virus is more deadly than the flu, through some combination of infectiousness and mortality.

2. Economic depressions are deadly in themselves, through “deaths of despair” (suicide, desperation-driven-crime, overdose, etc.).

3. Social distancing reduces the infectious curve, saving lives by reducing the load on the medical system.

4. Forced economic shutdown increases the odds of depression as a function of severity and time (more prolonged shutdown = more economic damage). - Joseph’s entire article is here. -

We are all in this together. This pandemic brings out the best and the worst in us. At worst, there is victim blaming, intolerance, and hostility caused by fear, uncertainty, and social isolation. At best, there are inspiring acts of courage and compassion, kindness, and empathy. Even though we are closing borders in fear, scientists and universities are reaching across borders hoping to find a vaccine.

We are not powerless.

We can ease the fears of our children.

We can console and help those who are elderly or vulnerable.

We can resist the urge to withdraw into our tribes of judgment, blame, and accusation.

We can volunteer or contribute.

The first step to empowering ourselves is the practice of self-compassion:

  1. Mindfulness practice helps us to reframe this moment. Thanks to a friend (Ann Levers) for pointing me to these mindfulness programs. I hope you check them out. UCLA Guided Meditations.

  2. Look for Our Common Humanity - When I hear news of people struggling with the virus, I think of myself as being part of a global family. I remind myself: “Others feel as I do—I am not alone.”

  3. Practice Self-Kindness—I try to feel a moment of compassion and extend kindness to myself — “I am having a tough day today.” Speaking as if to a friend, I reach out in compassion to myself. (Drs Chris Germer and Kristin Neff)

“The point is to lean toward the discomfort of life and see it clearly rather than to protect ourselves from it.”

(Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart)

Faced with this uncertainty, one thing is certain, today I can relieve the fears of a child or a person in need. I can volunteer, write a letter, contribute. I can take a moment in gratitude. I can extend empathy and love to others suffering more than I.

We are fearful, but we are not powerless.

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