Reflection from Joel

This is a week when our anxiety is as high as the humidity. And unlike the humidity, our anxiety won’t naturally decrease once the weather system passes. We are being inundated with alarming news that is once again putting us into hypervigilance, and making us reexamine our plans and dread the coming fall and winter. And this was supposed to be the summer when things became normal. So there’s a lot of disappointment, a lot of frustration, and all under the shadow of the uncertainty that leaves us feeling restless and distractable – sometimes overfunctioning, somethings underfunctioning and always a little exhausted.

I’d like to share two things that won’t make any of this objectively better, but may help you as you try to navigate your own way through the maelstrom. The first is an article (and recording if you prefer audio to text) from NPR this week that my colleague Kimberly shared with me. The piece, entitled: How to Deal with Renewed COVID Anxiety is based on an interview with DC-based physician Dr. Lucy McBride. The article helpfully brings us through the experience so many of us are grappling with right now and Dr. McBride speaks into it with skill and expertise helpfully offering advice for all of us as to how to cope like this snippet:

“The first step is acknowledging the trauma that we’ve experienced, the stacked stressors we’ve all been through over the last 17 months. That is real: It takes a toll on our bodies and minds. And once we allow ourselves to feel those complicated feelings, then we can unlock some coping strategies like making sure we exercise, prioritize sleep, connect with our loved ones and follow the facts. Make sure that you are looking to experts, including your trusted primary care provider, for nuanced advice to help marry broad public health advice with your unique situation. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for human behavior in a pandemic. So, we really need to drill down into what it is that gives us a sense of safety and security, what it is we need to feel protected from disease and despair in tandem, and that is going to look different for each person.”

I encourage you to take the time to listen to the five minute interview or read the article and the highlights – One thing we know about coping with anxiety is that it very much can help to reengage the thinking part of the brain to calm the animal part that just wants to fight or flee or freeze.

But beyond that, we also need spiritual practices to slow us down and connect us again to ourselves and to the Spirit and to the sources of meaning and strength that sustain us. And so I offer also this blessing from poet John O’Donahue that you might read slowly to yourself during a break in your day or this evening – and let the words speak to you and give you some comfort.

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

May you be “excessively gentle with yourself” and feel supported today and may the blessing of God or all that sustains you, keep you safe, grant you peace and fill you with all that you need, just for today. Amen.