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.

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The Top Story News and Media Overlooked

Embracing fear

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

We have been bombarded with tragic accounts of death and harrowing images of patients on ventilators. The exhaustive coverage of the virus has produced an abundance of fear in all of us, but the one topic that has not been covered is fear itself.

The horrific stories of grief and loss are certainly not insignificant, but the story impacting significantly more people around the world is one of fear.

If that sounds like an overstatement, let’s 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. The map has quickly become a daily part of our lives, receiving more than a billion views per day. A staggering number by any measure.

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 even more fearful as the virus approaches their neighborhood.

If everyone around the world is experiencing fear, why aren’t we discussing it? What do we understand about our fear? And, why do we regard it as such a dreadful problem?

As a former operator of social media companies, it was drilled into my head that every problem presents an opportunity. Assuming that is true, then fear is not only the big story of today, but our biggest problem. And therefore, our biggest opportunity…

Understanding Fear

When we are free of doubt, and feeling like everything is going great, we tend to feel fearless. But 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. We turn on the television, pour 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.

We are such incredible creatures, filled with infinite love and compassion, but rarely do we consider ourselves in this manner. We learn math, science, biology, cardiology. We know so much about the human body and brain, but when do we take time to investigate our inner life and where do we begin?

We can start by giving ourselves a break.

If you ask any psychologist or social worker about the commonality they see in all patients, regardless of their issues, it is a 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.

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. When dark thoughts arise or I experience fear, I no longer resist them. Instead, 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.

If you would like to learn how to embrace emotions you currently perceive as negative, I encourage you to find a quiet space where you can be alone for at least ten minutes, without your phone or devices, 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? Am I angry? Am I 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. I’m 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. 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. I feel 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? Of companionship? Of love? Experiment and see what act of self kindness helps to comfort you, or open your heart. It might be the 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. It is also 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. The opportunity of a lifetime.

To experience a guided RAIN meditation on YouTube, click here

One Thing Everyone Needs for Optimal Health

The other day I wrote about the Covid-19 opportunity. How despite the sadness, fear and anxiety we all share, we can also choose to acknowledge the opportunity we have to savor the gift of time. Time to spend with our families or just to read a few good books. But I was wrong. Not all of us have time. Today, I came across a news headline that read, “Unimaginable Pain.” Sensing this was important to bring into my consciousness, I continued to read the full story, and now that I have finished it and dwelled on it for several hours, I feel compelled to write just a few more words about a different opportunity we have.

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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.

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The Covid-19 Opportunity

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, teaching others how to use Zoom video conference calls, watching daily task force briefings, checking the stock market, recalculating how much money we have lost, and sharing 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 and we are all adopting to it in our own ways.

Continue reading “The Covid-19 Opportunity”

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.

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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? 

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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.

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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 tuna.

This is not going as planned. But I re-read the quote I stumbled upon yesterday, and I am reminded it is not the challenges that define us, rather it is about how we respond to these challenges that determines 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.

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