A Viral Strain Worth Sharing

Every now and then we stumble upon a funny or warm post on social media, but generally speaking our platforms have become a cesspool of hateful rhetoric and vile behavior. Over the past two months, however, something new and inspiring has been occurring. People are using social media to share and connect in positive ways. I call it Coronavirus Kindness.

Just a few months ago, if anyone were to judge our society through social media, they would likely conclude we are in the midst of a moral crises. While that is undoubtedly still true today, Coronavirus kindness gives us reason to be hopeful.

Based on what we have seen on social media during the Coronavirus, we know without question, that people have the capacity to be warm and caring. The question, therefore, is not if we have the ability to act with compassion, as I was beginning to conclude just a few months ago, but if we can sustain the willingness to touch our humanity in the days ahead. It will not be easy.

Though we all possess an innate loving kindness, we have been conditioned to bury that goodness from our daily lives, allowing it to rise up only when tragedy strikes. We witnessed our potential for kindness in the aftermath of 9/11. Our country came together with strength, support and an abundance of love. There was a palpable feeling across the country, even around the world, that we were all united, grieving as one. On the streets of New York and other cities, strangers found themselves hugging one another, overcome by the spirit of humanity. It was as if we had just discovered this new emotion called love and everyone was thirsting for it.

However, love and compassion are not new to humans, nor is this uprising of Coronavirus kindness. We can all think of times when people in our lives have put aside their differences to share love. Maybe it is the birth of child, or the death of someone. It is almost cliché to hear about people making amends with someone on their deathbed. Someone they had long since cast aside. In those last hours prior to someone entering the mystery we all share as our destiny, people become transformed. Somehow, the fragility of life allows both parties to sit together and forgive.

Humans absolutely have the potential to be compassionate beings. We are meant to love each but we lose our way and get caught up in our self-righteousness or ego. We become offended and close our hearts. So many things shut us down and close us off from our potential. It really is too bad we squander all the love we have inside. We don’t even talk about these things. We just walk around in a trance, as if there is a filament over our eyes that prevents us from seeing into each other. Are you in there? Yes, I am here, waiting to share my love.

Fortunately, Coronavirus kindness is not just a phenomenon seen on social media. It has manifested in many ways. We find ourselves making eye contact with a cashier in the market, asking how they are doing, and actually listening to the answer. We make a genuine connection. Or maybe we offer a hello to a neighbor who passes us on the street. Small gestures that seemed to have disappeared due to lack of use, are once again blossoming, taking root in our culture.

All that said, however, I must admit that I can already feel Coronavirus kindness dissipating as we reopen the country. On social media and on the streets we hear anger rising over the issue of face masks. But regardless of whether you wear a mask or oppose masks, we have the choice to express ourselves with kindness. We do not need to relinquish the goodness we have seen the past few months. There is no rule that says in order to survive we must go back to our hardened ways. Why not touch the soft stuff just a little bit longer? Why not share a little more love?

These feelings of warmth are our birthright. We do not need to deny ourselves. In fact, since social media challenges are all the rage these days, I would like to propose this challenge:

The next time you go to share something on social media, ask yourself, will this post feed others or trigger them? Does it contain wisdom? Am I speaking with compassion?

By asking questions like these, perhaps Coronavirus kindness will become an everyday form of social kindness. That’s a viral strain worth spreading.

Welcome RAIN in the Midst of Fear and Chaos


The power of touching our compassionate heart

News outlets and media publications have covered the Coronavirus pandemic in great detail, but they have overlooked the biggest story…how to manage our fear.

Images of patients on ventilators and coffins lined up in cemeteries have created fear in everyone around the world. If that sounds like an overstatement, consider the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard.

Johns Hopkins Covid-19 map

The dashboard, which you have likely seen, contains a map tracking the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, and deaths around the world. Last month, this map quickly became a daily part of our lives, receiving more than a billion views per day.

Understanding the numbers

I decided to study usage data of the map, and quickly noticed one form of human behavior that was consistent around the globe. As the red circles on the map, which indicate active virus, appeared closer to our home towns, our interactions with the map grew exponentially. This behavior confirms that people grow more fearful as the virus approaches their neighborhood.

Since the virus is global, we can conclude that everyone around the world is experiencing fear. Therefore, the topic we need to be discussing is how to manage our fear.


Understanding Fear

What do we know about our fears, and why do we regard fear as a problem?

When we are free of doubt, and feeling like everything is going great, we tend to feel fearless. In contrast, when we fail to acknowledge our doubts, when we choose to ignore our true feelings, that creates an internal resistance or anxiety. In simple terms, this is fear.

To be clear, I’m not talking about doubting if we should have fish or steak for dinner or if we should renew an online subscription to a newspaper. I’m referring to a more fundamental doubt about ourselves as human beings. We are all filled with doubt. We doubt ourselves every day, but typically, instead of investigating the source of these thoughts and feelings, we busy ourselves with distractions. Turning on the television, pouring a drink, anything to avoid sitting down with an intention to uncover our deeper emotions.

Ironically, now that we are all sheltering in place with time on our hands, we are busier than ever cooking meals, watching videos and generally amusing ourselves. But this is the perfect opportunity to resist those daily distractions, and instead, use this gift of time to explore our fear, and in doing so, discover ourselves more fully.

Start by giving ourselves a break

The human is such an incredible creature, filled with infinite love and compassion, but rarely do we consider ourselves in this manner. Instead, we learn about math, science, biology, and cardiology. For that reason, we know a great deal about the human body and brain, but when do we investigate our inner life and where do we begin?

Psychologists and social workers claim the commonality they see in all patients, regardless of issues, is lack of self-compassion.

Self-compassion requires checking in with yourself and being honest about what you’re feeling. It means tending to your fears, and being gentle with yourself.

RAIN

Personally, I have found the RAIN of self-compassion to be a very simple and effective contemplative practice for taking care of myself. It has provided me with a deeper sense of relaxation, and opened a door to self discovery. As a result, when dark thoughts arise or I experience fear, I no longer resist. To the contrary, I welcome the opportunity to learn more about myself.

If all of this sounds new age, consider this excerpt from a poem written in the 13th Century by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

The point is, whatever emotion you are experiencing, welcome it into your life. It is time to stop resisting.

Ten Minutes of RAIN is all you need

Learning how to embrace emotions you currently perceive as negative is easy, and you can start now. All you need is a quiet space and ten minutes. Leave your phone and devices behind, and follow these four easy steps:

Recognize what is going on with yourself. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out. As thoughts arise, gently acknowledge them and experience what you are feeling. Be honest with yourself about what is going on inside.

What am I feeling? Am I lonely? Angry? Ashamed of feeling this way? How about physically? How do I feel? Am I tired or weighed down by the feeling? Whatever it is, just recognize it.

Give yourself the space to feel whatever rises up.

Am I being defensive or aggressive with others? Am I too attached to my point of view? Why do I have a need to be right all the time?

All of these questions have come up for me personally, which is why I offer them for you to consider. Sometimes it feels like I have been in a battle with myself, trying to avoid examining all of these feelings, my inner life. But when I recognize my feelings, it seems as if a weight has been lifted.

Accept what is going on inside yourself. Try to stop from judging your thoughts, and just be. Let go of the internal dialogue that loves to comment and react. Just be present. The idea is not to suppress the feelings that arise, but to touch them, feel them.

Personally, I feel horrible when I yell at my kids and as a result, I create this whole drama about myself. I’m a bad dad. A bad person. Why did I do that? That’s my habit, my internal story, but accepting allows me to drop the commentary and just feel bad. Maybe tears begin to stream down my face. I’m not running away from the feeling by thinking of something else. Perhaps even more important, I’m not justifying my actions by blaming the kids or accusing my wife of not supporting me. I’m just experiencing my painful emotions. It’s not that I’m a bad person or a lousy dad. To the contrary, I give myself a bit of encouragement in this moment. I love my family so much. I care so much.

Over time, you will find that if you pause just before reacting to something someone has said or done, you will learn to notice what is really going on beneath your initial emotion. I feel rejected or abandoned. I’m afraid of losing my children.

Creating that brief moment of space presents an opportunity to make a better choice for how to respond.

Investigate what is going on inside yourself. While recognizing is the first step and accepting creates space, investigating is a more active part of the practice. It requires inquiry. How is my body reacting to this thought? Where is this feeling coming from? Am I feeling unworthy?

When we investigate the source, what is at the heart of our issues, what is really troubling us, we create compassion for ourselves.

There is a story that helps illustrate what I’m trying to explain. You are taking a walk in the neighborhood and you see a small dog sitting by a tree. You bend down to pet the dog but it snaps, almost biting you. Startled, you jump back and get angry at the dog. Now you feel it’s a mean dog. But then you notice the dog’s leg is caught on its leash and it can’t move. Now your mood shifts from anger to concern, and you realize that the dog’s anger was a result of its vulnerability and pain.

Obviously, the story applies to all of us. When we react in hurtful ways it’s because we are caught in a painful trap. When we investigate the source of that pain, we create room for compassion toward ourselves and others.

Nurture yourself with self-compassion. This is the final step of the RAIN practice. Self-compassion arises naturally when we recognize and nurture our suffering. Fear is a form of suffering. To experience self-compassion, try sensing your fear, and then offer some gesture of active care. Does your fear need words of reassurance or companionship? Do you need a bit of extra love? Experiment and see what act of self kindness helps to comfort you, or open your heart. It might be a mental whisper of assurance. Everything will be okay.

If it feels difficult or awkward to offer love to yourself, bring to mind a loving being — a spiritual figure, family member, friend or pet — and imagine that being’s love flowing into you. When the intention to awaken self-compassion is sincere, the smallest gesture of turning towards love, of offering love — even if initially it feels awkward — will nourish your heart.

After the RAIN

Once you’ve completed the active steps of RAIN, it’s important to just notice your own presence and exist in that tender space. There’s nothing to do. It is simply a sense of self-compassion. A feeling of being truly free, vibrant, alive and filled with boundless love. Free of fear.

Imagine if everyone around the world were to embark on this journey. What would it look like if we all decided to learn about ourselves and get in touch with our compassion? What would happen if everyone was working from a place of love?

This is the big story, the opportunity presented by fear. An opportunity to be free, mindful, peaceful. The opportunity of a lifetime.

To experience a guided RAIN meditation on YouTube, click here

A Remarkable Story About the Power of Faith

This is a story about the human spirit, and the power of faith. It is the remarkable story of a woman named Sandy Brown, who in the course of three days last month, lost her husband and then her twenty-year-old son to Covid-19.

The details of how things transpired do not need to be re-written here as Francis X. Donnelly deftly tells that harrowing nightmare of reality in the Detroit News. What is worth delving into, however, is the psyche and mysterious strength of Sandy Brown.

Unless you have encountered such a tragedy, it is incredibly difficult to comprehend the grief that comes with losing all of your immediate family members simultaneously. Those of us with a great imagination may be able to consider the agony of losing a spouse or child. But losing both? At the same time?

Even if we can relate to such a loss, chances are that while thinking about it, we inadvertently make an assumption that our friends and family will be there to support us and hold us. After all, that is how people grieve. We gather with our loved ones, holding each other tightly and finding solace in the embrace of another human being. But the Coronavirus has made a mockery of grief, and created an isolation unlike anything we have ever known.

Sandy Brown is not near her husband or son when they pass away. They both die alone in sterile hospital rooms while Sandy sequesters in her home. And, when it comes time to grieve, Sandy is forced to do so alone.

Imagine neighbors stopping by to leave food or flowers on your doorstep. Maybe you have a screen door, as Sandy does. You place your hand on the glass while the person on the other side does the same. But there is no touching, there is no physical contact. Eventually Sandy must close the door and endure the agony of her broken heart in solitude.

To grieve the loss of your family completely on your own, without anyone, is just…there are no words. If you slow yourself down, way down, and try to touch the depths of Sandy’s pain and loneliness, it is impossible not to have tears running down your face.

This tender moment of touching our compassionate heart is what allows us to understand how Sandy endured.

In the midst of her solitary hell of confinement, alone with her grief, Sandy awakened to a sense that we are not alone. That we are never completely alone. She expresses it in this way…

“Medical science says I should be traumatized. I had a traumatic experience twice. I should be banging my head against the wall. But God said no. I’m standing here in the strength of the lord, not strength of my own. God has got me.”

There was no family to hold Sandy, yet she is still standing. How can anyone deny the presence of God in Sandy’s life? And even if the word God throws you, surely, we can agree that the strength Sandy is experiencing comes from something other than fortitude.

It is a bigger power, a higher spirit, something of biblical proportion, and though I call it faith, the name does not matter. What matters is the common human experience of knowing with absolute certainty that there is more to this game than we realize.

This is what faith is all about. Faith has nothing to do with religion. There are many humanists and atheists who have a deep sense of faith. We all have it. Even if we lack the ability to accurately describe the location from which this source of strength manifests, we know it exists. We feel it in the fiber of our being, and that makes faith as real as anything else in this world.

For thousands of years, amidst the inevitable sorrows of life, humans have continually discovered an inner strength that allows us to persevere. Faith is our one common truth. Regardless of how we consider religion or god, we all share the capacity for strength and faith.

Acknowledging this perspective about our common faith allows us to see that we are all connected. And, in times like these, accepting and embracing our universal inter-connectedness is a perspective worth sharing.

The Covid-19 Opportunity: Respond With Love

The Coronavirus has abruptly changed life as we knew it. Daily routines that once gave us comfort are now memories of the past. Our morning exchange with the coffee barista, hanging out with co-workers in the office, an evening yoga class or visit to the gym, all of it now on hold for an indeterminate amount of time.

Replacing our routines is the world of Zoom video conference calls, and teaching others how to use Zoom video conference calls. We watch daily task force briefings, check the stock market, and recalculate how much money we have lost. Finally, we share videos created by people around the globe who are also struggling to come up with ways to exist in a world of social distance. It is the new world order but there is an opportunity.

Continue reading “The Covid-19 Opportunity: Respond With Love”

Try Being Human

I was in the midst of writing a book on social media when the Coronavirus took over our collective consciousness. Unable to focus on the book, or much of anything for an extended period of time, I decided to create this blogsite which allows for short bursts of attention before being pulled back into the vortex of our new reality.

Continue reading “Try Being Human”

Why We Bark

Being confined all day lends itself to spending even more time online than we normally do, and since I’m writing a book on social media, I’ve been justifying my excessive web surfing as research. This morning, I came across a video of a man barking at a dog. Yes, you read that correctly. And the guy was barking with so much rage that the dog was cowering in the corner. For a moment I actually thought it was funny. But then I wondered, who does that to an innocent animal, and why did I laugh? I was disgusted by my own reaction. Is this our new version of entertainment? Is this what social media is doing to my brain? To all of our brains? 

Continue reading “Why We Bark”

What Fear Exposes

My new homepage is the Johns Hopkins coronavirus website, which you can find here: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

As you see in the image above, the red dots indicating coronavirus spread are now covering almost the entire planet. We are definitely not flattening the curve. I think we all need to settle in, settle down and stop running to the markets for more food. It’s just an excuse to get out, precisely when what we need to do is stay in. But I am out of cucumbers, so maybe just one more market run.

Continue reading “What Fear Exposes”

Tiesto’s Secret for Relieving Stress

Good morning. We woke up to a slew of more bad news. The economy is in recession and probably headed for depression. The stock market has erased years and years of savings. Massive layoffs at companies in almost every industry are creating record high unemployment rates, and I’m already out of mayonnaise for my Costco tuna.

This is not going as planned. But consider the quote I stumbled upon yesterday, and am reminded again, it is about how we respond to the challenges that determine if we will find happiness. So, this morning I found a fantastic hip-hop dance routine on YouTube that got me bopping around the room and sweating off any sense of pathos. Tiesto claims it’s his favorite activity for relieving stress, which is why he provided the music. Check it out and dance the stress and daily news away.

You can find the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpLkElQfqPE

Have fun. See you tomorrow.