Some thoughts while “sheltering at home”

I was wrong.

At first, I thought measures being taken against the spread of the Coronavirus were extremist and bizarre. Then I reviewed some of what I’d learned in a long ago Public Health class about the history of virus diseases and virology. I read some articles being written now by leading epidemiologists, consulted the WHO and CDC websites, and examined some of the resources being compiled by trusted friends in the medical field.

That’s when I had to reconsider things.

I’m the caretaker for my elderly, frail parents. I need to be at their home at least 3 times daily, making sure they get their medications and food. Needless to say, they are not leaving the house. We even cancelled respite care for this week; I decided that a “day off” from my duties is an unnecessary luxury for me and risk for my parents.

I understand that for many, the very idea of staying home and not going to work or socializing is simply too awful to contemplate. I get it. I was already feeling stir crazy before the “shelter in place” order was issued for my county and then my state. No one says this will be easy.

But the rest of this is for my professing Christian readers…

This is the season of Lent. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, this might be a good time to find out. It’s a penitential time leading up to Easter. Many of us use this season to pull away from life’s distractions and addictions in order to focus more on Christ, and especially on the meaning of His Crucifixion. It makes Easter all the more glorious.

We “give up” for Lent in order to gain more of Jesus, in order to experience Him more fully.

Some of my friends, now confined to their homes, have commented that this is the greatest Lent ever, and they are fully embracing this opportunity.

This is not an easy time, by any stretch of the imagination, and I am in no way minimizing the suffering of those who are sick, those who have lost loved ones, those who are without income, those facing the the very real possibility of losing their homes, etc. I’m talking to those of us who, like me, are as of yet unscathed and still can’t figure out why our government is taking such extreme measures.

Use this season. Allow God to use it. Be willing to sacrifice. And please, please stay away from people as much as possible, no matter how people-starved we all might be right now. Let me get personal. You may think you just have allergies, or it’s just a cold, or you may even think you are the healthiest person on the planet. But unless I invite you into my life and home as a necessary presence, or as a family member needing to shelter here, this is not a time for in-person socializing. This is not a time to “drop by”. Please don’t disregard the orders you are under where you live, or the advice of those who know a lot more about pandemics and epidemiology than any of us ever will.

I have two dear parents who need me to be healthy. My husband is in that over-65 vulnerable group. I have asthma too (which, thank God, rarely troubles me these days) and pleurisy-scarred lungs, and I’m not exactly youthful. Pray for my parents. Pray for us. Pray for the many who are like me and like my parents. Pray for the many younger people who, thinking this disease posed no threat to them, are now suffering and even dying.

Use this season and any extra time you may have to seek God’s Presence as never before. Regard this as a spiritual retreat. May this Lent be a time of personal renewal for all of us. May it be a time of breakthrough.

Adapted from something I posted on Facebook earlier today.

My only comfort

Beautiful, powerful words that remind me of why I am still a Follower of Jesus. It’s all about redemption, and I’m still holding out for the final chapter of that beautiful story.

And when we forget the real curse that is on the world, we turn Christianity into a weird ethical system that is all about homeschooling, courtship, virginity, tattoos and earrings and power plays and making sure women “know their place” and we forget that it is about redemption.

— Read on

A few thoughts about mindfulness and breathing techniques | Mindfulness Monday

Recently I was involved in an online discussion about breath work and mindfulness. What follows is adapted and expanded from some of my comments to that discussion.

I like what Thich Nhat Hanh says about mindfulness:

“Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.”

A lot of what is taught about mindfulness (especially in the workplace) is overly simplified. Too much of what’s going on today is jumping on a fad bandwagon, with people trying to teach something they don’t really understand. They seem to think it’s all about practicing set breathing patterns and sitting still.

Breath work is just one tool — a tool that doesn’t work for me in the way in which it is typically taught. When I tried it, I ended up either even more anxious or terribly distracted and annoyed. (What does work for me is learning how to breathe effectively when doing some physical activity.)

Even if you can sit and meditate and breathe “perfectly” for half an hour or more each day, you won’t necessarily know how to be mindful the rest of the day.

For awhile, I felt like I gave up on the whole mindfulness thing. I don’t think that was actually the case — I think I was aware and present enough to realize that the typical practices I was being taught simply did not work for me. It’s not just because I “wasn’t healed enough”, but because I’m wired differently. So, it turns out, are a lot of people.

Interestingly, I’ve learned more about mindfulness — indirectly — by becoming part of a liturgical church that engages all of me in a way I’ve never experienced in all my many years of church involvement. I’ve also been hanging out at a couple monasteries and learning about things like simplicity, solitude, contemplation, etc. and adapting those things to my life as much as practical and possible.

And I’ve learned the wisdom of taking baby steps, and of setting aside or modifying practices that don’t work for me.

One of my latest thing has been dealing with some particularly troubling unwanted thoughts. Someone advised me to adopt a certain breathing pattern, and focus on each breath. NO WAY. For me, that was worst advice ever. Instead, whenever the unwanted thought comes to mind, I try to focus on my surroundings and what I’m currently doing, and I think to myself something like, “I am walking down the street. It’s sunny and birds are singing. None of this has anything to do with Unwanted Thought.” This is just one of the aspects of mindfulness for me, but I’d never be able to practice it if I had to focus on breathing a certain rather artificial way!

I think it’s important to ask some basic questions in regards to mindfulness “training”:

1. How is mindfulness being defined?

2. What is the purpose of mindfulness?

The reason it’s important to define mindfulness is, in part, because too many people I’ve encountered are really wanting it to be some state of blissful peace wherein one remains detached and untroubled by the world. As tempting as that sounds, it’s not my goal. It sounds too much like the opposite of mindfulness to me. In fact, it sounds too much like dissociation.

Once I have a good definition, then I can ask myself, “Is this how I want to live my life?” If so, then I can analyze each potential practice to see if it’s suitable.

Back to the definition I quoted earlier:

“Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.”

Sitting in a room and focusing on my breathing while breathing in a way I find both unnatural and uncomfortable distracts me from knowing what is happening in me and around me. In fact, I find it downright harmful because it stirs up anxiety, etc. So I reject it as a personal practice. It may work wonderfully for others but, at least at this point in my life, it doesn’t work for me.