When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centred, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive. –Thich Nhat Hanh
I hope this finds you as well as possible as we, as a global community, are going through a period of uncertainties and concerns. I am turning my attention to the teachings and the teachers for solace. Jack Kornfield writes:
“The need for the dharma is stronger than ever. We can choose to live in our fear, confusion, and worry, or to stay in the essence of our practice, centre ourselves, and be the ones on this beautiful boat of the earth that demonstrate patience, compassion, mindfulness and mutual care. If you want to live a life of balance, try this: Turn off the news for a while, meditate, turn on Vivaldi, walk through the forest or the mountains and begin to make yourself a zone of peace. Let go of the latest story. Listen more deeply. When we react to insecurity with fear we worsen the problem—we create a frightened society. Instead we can use courage and compassion to respond calmly with a fearless heart.”
Here is an excerpt of his recent talk on how to stay grounded and steady as we navigate the spread of the Coronavirus and other challenges.
The germ-spreading handshake is becoming obsolete, and sadly hugs too, for the time-being. The fist bump and elbow bump are all being suggested as healthier ways to greet one another. But why not namaste? This is nothing new to us yogis – a sanitary and heartfelt greeting. Namaste is our Indian greeting to say hello or goodbye. We say namaste (or namaskaram, in the southern part of India) when we meet and the same when we part. The palms together in anjali mudra in front of your chest with a slight bow of the head. A version of the meaning behind namaste is:
“The divine light within me bow to the divine light within you.”
Or an American yoga teacher’s version:
“I am awesome, you are awesome, and all these other people are awesome, is isn’t it awesome that we practiced yoga together?”
So your pick of interpretation, but let us continue to practice namaste with a smile, especially in these difficult times. As the old saying goes, “Smile and the world smiles with you.” Whether or not that is true, scientists have found that smiling can help people cope with stress. In one study, volunteers were trained so that they could produce a genuine smile, known as the Duchenne Smile* which turns the corners of the lips up and the muscles around the eyes contract. Then the volunteers did challenging activities, such as putting a hand into ice water, while holding the requested facial expression. Although stress levels from the tasks increased, the participants with smiles on their faces recovered a normal heart rate more quickly than those with neutral expressions. The researchers suggest that smiling, even if you don’t feel happy, may help reduce the physiological impact of stressful situations.
The Duchenne Smile is named after the French neurologist Duchenne de Boulogne who conducted a series of experiments which involved stimulating the facial muscles of test subjects with electrical currents. Duchenne discovered that the mouth and muscles around the eyes have to work together in order to produce a genuine smile.
When we experience fear, instead of “I don’t like it, I want to make it go away”, can we make room for it? We can say to ourselves: “This feeling is in me, it will stay for a while, and then it will disappear because it is impermanent.” Just by seeing the impermanence of feelings in this way we suffer a lot less. It’s been said that “what you can’t communicate, controls you”. One way to express your willingness to communicate could be through a gentle gesture, perhaps a hand on the heart or where it hurts most. Call on the Loving presence that is within each one of us. The great poet John O’Donohue writes, prayer is the bridge between longing and belonging. Then bring your gentle focus on the in-breath and the out-breath. The focused breathing calms the sympathetic nervous system.
I am very vigilant but staying calm and following experts’ advice of social distancing. Hence all the more reason to smile when we pass one another. We are in this together and everyone is going through the same fear. Some change of habits such as maybe shopping once a week, if you are used to doing more frequently.
We lived through SARS epidemic in Hong Kong which was the epicentre of the disease. That time was truly scary for me, as I was pregnant and hence couldn’t take the steroid treatment for SARS. Our daughter was born, in the midst of all the paranoia, at the only hospital in Hong Kong, which was not affected by SARS.
We have continued to practice the survival tips we learned at the time of SARS for the past 16 years! We believe these simple measures minimized our exposure to common colds and flu as well.
(when outside of the home):
- no touching the face
- washing hands frequently
- using a tissue on door handles, elevator buttons etc or when out walking, using a leaf to press pedestrian crossing button 🙂
- sanitizing hands right away after handling money (keeping a hand sanitizer in purse/car)
- keeping the phone clean (touching it only with clean hands)
keeping the home safe:
- leaving shoes at the door and not wearing outside shoes inside
- washing hands and arms, as well as changing clothes, as soon as we get home
- not bringing coats, gloves, purses etc into the living area but leaving them in a separate closet
- wiping down all groceries we bring into the house
With so much info out there and all the experts giving advice, it can be overwhelming, I rely on World Health Organisation site, there are 1 min videos with basic info + more WHO.