Monday Morning Inspiration: Ten Blessings

“Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it.” — Buddha

It’s Monday morning and here in Illinois, we are beginning our fifth week of stay-at-home orders and social distancing. It is gray and cold, and the wind is literally howling. The word ‘bleak’ comes to mind. It’s a good morning for a little inspiration, so challenge accepted!

After a little bit of thought, here are ten blessings that I recognize on this otherwise bleak Monday morning:

  1. I am inside. No kidding – the wind is howling and it is 35 degrees. I am on my couch with blanket and a cat as I write this. Blessed, indeed!
  2. I have nowhere to go. Normally at this point, I’d welcome a place to go, but see #1. It is also a blessing to have to stay home.
  3. I have recognized that lack of time is not really an excuse for why certain things are never done (cleaning out closets, for example), and this leaves me free to discover what my real reason for procrastinating is. Truth and clarity are blessings, too, right?
  4. I have accepted that certain projects (cleaning out closets, for example) don’t inspire me and I am likely to continue procrastinating. Acceptance is a beautiful thing.
  5. I have learned to effortlessly use Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Marco Polo to stay in touch with family and friends. In some cases, we’ve talked more since the quarantine began than we did before. Win-win!
  6. I have come to appreciate the simple act of running errands. Everything from grocery store runs to Home Depot – these little “chores” are so taken for granted, and while maybe they are not “blessings”, I am ready to embrace them again.
  7. Conversely, I also appreciate being able to order anything from groceries, garden soil, and tonight’s dinner online. I have discovered services like Instacart (that I will continue to use when life gets busy), and local restaurants that have already become favorites. We are blessed to have all these options even when isolated.
  8. I am picking up old hobbies again, which has been fun. To have a stretch of uninterrupted time to make a mess with craft supplies, sewing, or painting is a total luxury. Do we really need a pandemic to allow ourselves this time? Lesson (and blessings) learned.
  9. Ditto with cooking. I like to bake and have found some fun desserts to make (like Umm Ali, which I will make again today). It has also been strangely entertaining to play Chopped with what is in the pantry. Creativity, no matter where it is found, is a blessing!
  10. Without the structure and busyness of a typical day, I have learned to listen to myself and as much as possible give myself what I need to manage this difficult time. This valuable lesson has been the greatest of blessings and worth the isolation and stress of the past four weeks.

Without a doubt, this time has been strange and unsettling. But as Buddha so wisely said, there are blessings in every situation, including this one. The challenge will be to remember these lessons when this stay-at-home time has passed.

Five Ways to Release Anxiety and Imagine Better Outcomes

Cairn with a sunset in the background

“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.” –Deepak Chopra

It’s our third week of social distancing and shelter at home. On family group chats, we joke about changing from our day sweatpants to our night sweatpants and how many jigsaw puzzles we’ve done. Yet while we laugh at our imposed laziness, there is a sense of malaise that cannot be ignored. These are scary times.

Anxiety and Imagination

For better or worse, we humans are blessed with imagination. We can create elaborate realities that pass the time as pleasant daydreams, but just as easily we can imagine scenarios that leave us breathless with fear and anxiety.

As the news about coronavirus becomes more grim, and as we realize the ramifications of no work, few face-to-face social interactions, and the possibility of serious illness, it is easy to see why so many imagine the worst and become anxious these days.

Imagine a Better Outcome

But we don’t have to do this. Imagination used in its best form can create a reality that is much more hopeful and optimistic. Here are five ways to release the anxiety and tap into a more positive use of imagination:

  1. Breathe slowly and deeply when anxiety hits. Focus on feeling your breath entering and nourishing your body and spirit. If you can’t control your breathing, try using a breathing or meditation app to help you visually regulate inhaling and exhaling. Practice it regularly, and use this time to imagine the feeling of being safe and loved. When I was young and feeling anxious, I used to imagine myself sleeping in the palm of God’s hand – totally cared for and safe. That image is one that stays with me now.
  2. Take stock of what you have and be grateful. Whenever I feel anxious about money or my future, I remind myself that the universe is an abundant place with plenty for everyone. I have a roof over my head, clothes to wear, and food to eat. For today, I have everything I need (and most of what I want). Acknowledging this, and being grateful for it, relaxes my mind and allows me to imagine abundance rather than lack.
  3. Put things in order. An anxious mind is is cluttered with scary images and fears, and this disorder is often reflected in the space around you. To regain control of your mind, take back control of your space. Make the bed, put something back where it belongs, clean out a small drawer, or organize a shelf. These small acts of physical order can help put a mind at ease and free up mental space for positive imagination to work.
  4. Go outside. Set aside an hour to walk or go for a run in nature. Work in the garden, rake up dead grass (the order thing again), or plant a garden. Fresh air and activity do wonders to clear negative energy and help you imagine new possibilities. It is hard to feel anxious when the sun is on your face and birds are singing around you.
  5. Create a vision board. Once you have calmed your mind, creating a vision board is a fun way to use your imagination to design a better outcome to whatever the situation. Use old magazines and a notebook or one of the vision board apps that are available and collect images of the outcomes you desire. The pictures should reflect not just the things you want, but the feelings that are invoked when you think of your ideal outcome. Keep it fluid and update it often to start using your imagination more productively.

Imagination is a wonderful tool to help us create and escape the everyday. But when we imagine the worst that can happen, anxiety is the result. These days of isolation and uncertainty are scary. By harnessing the imagination, we can release our anxiety and create new possibilities for the future.

Six Silver Linings to Social Distancing

As we near the end of the second week of social isolation, news of the spread of coronavirus is worsening, and social distancing has become the new standard. It is daunting to realize that nobody knows when we will return to our normal lives, or even how “normal” our lives will be when this is all over.

But in the midst of all these changes and the onslaught of bad news, there are some silver linings to the enforced social distancing and self-isolation so necessary for staying healthy and helping others to do the same. Here are six good things that are happening right now:

More Family Time

When families with young children or teens would normally be going in several directions at once, as I walk around my neighborhood, I see whole families – both parents and all the kids – out walking, throwing a football, jogging, or playing their own special games. I hope this lasts after social distancing ends.

Positive Messages

The children in my neighborhood have been writing wonderful and encouraging messages on the sidewalks! Yesterday, while walking the dog, I saw all of these: “You’re outside!” “Isn’t fresh air great?” “You’ve got this!” “Keep smiling!” “We’re all together in this.” “Looking good!” and many others. These messages make me smile every time and kudos to the parents who are encouraging their children to help in this way.

Creativity

Parents in our town have gotten very creative in entertaining their little ones. Each week they do a craft project with their kids – something that can be hung in the window, like shamrocks or silly faces – and then do a scavenger hunt as they walk to find as many displays as they can. The more we have had to stay apart, the more creative people have gotten in finding ways to connect with each other, reminding all of us of what is truly important.

Time to Do Overdue Projects

Without commutes, sports and activities, the gym, and social gatherings, all of a sudden, cleaning out the closet, or finishing a craft project started two years ago seems like a good idea. There is a strong sense of accomplishment in finally taking the time to finish things on the to-do list!

Learning New Technology

In the last two weeks, I have participated in a book club meeting on Zoom, several virtual family gatherings on Google Hangouts, and most recently, quick video chatting on Marco Polo – an app I had never heard of but know I will enjoy because I can stay in closer touch with my daughters. I am so grateful that we have the technology to connect virtually when we can’t do it in person.

More Frequent Connection with Friends and Family

With more time on our hands and concern for family and friends, people seem to be reaching out more frequently. In the last few days, I’ve chatted with former students, old friends, and family members with whom under normal circumstances, I would talk to maybe once every few months. We all have asked why we don’t do this more often, and I hope when this is over, we will.

The important thing is to stay healthy during this time, and the best way to do that is stay home and self-isolate as much as possible. But social distancing has its advantages, and with luck you are experiencing these benefits as well. How are you making the best of your stay-at-home situation?