As I was placing my online grocery order the other day, I came upon a new brand of pickles in the refrigerator section. New and novel things are supposed to be good for us in Covidland as we shelter in place, so I thought, “why not give these pickles a try?”
“Are they new pickles or old pickles” asked my husband Lowell, as he helped me open the plastic container. “Because I only like old dill pickles.” We reminisced about the pickle barrel that used to grace the tables of the many delicatessens of our youth. OMG, I would never eat from a communal pickle germ barrel now! The things we did that never hurt us! But that’s another story!
Back to the pickles in the present time, I said “I had no idea you only like old dills… how could I not know that about you after 40 years of pickle activity together?”
“You probably knew and forgot. At this point, I’m sure you know everything about me, and are just in the process of forgetting!”
I took my first bite and pronounced the pickle perfectly middle aged. Plenty of seasoning in the brine, but still with a bit of juicy crunch.
My after-pickle snack was scooping out Salted Caramel Cluster Dairy Free Ice Cream, by So Delicious because it is So Delicious!
“Pickles and Ice Cream? Are you pregnant?” my husband’s eyes crinkled as his face broke a grin.
“Absolutely,” I laughed. “It’s a miracle!” (I’m almost 60 years old, so I’m kidding!)
Later that day I was driving home from an exhilarating walk on the beach in Del Mar, California. I met a girlfriend for masked up human connection. Safely connecting with friends, getting out in nature, and moving our bodies are all recommended self-care strategies for managing stress during this most unprecedented time.
As I was approaching Will Rogers Beach, the Pacific Ocean was sparkling on my right, the cliffs of Torrey Pines State Park were straight ahead, and I noticed emotions welling up in my torso and tears leaking out of my eyes. I let the tears drip and gently wondered why I was crying… was it the exquisite majesty of nature juxtaposed with catastrophic suffering?
The numbers of families grieving right now is hard to fathom.
“The coronavirus will kill more people in the United States every day for the next two to three months than died in the attacks on September 11, 2001, or Pearl Harbor, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said Thursday.” (The Washington Post, December 11, 2020).
That’s mindfulness in dealing with difficult emotions in action.
RECOGNIZING the emotion is coming up and labeling it “oh, it’s sadness.”
ALLOWING it to be there so that the tears drip.
INVESTIGATING with gentle curiosity what the story might under the emotion.
Then NOURISHING yourself by telling yourself what you need to hear, “I know sweetheart, this is tough, let it out, you are feeling what millions of people are feeling right now.”
Tapping into the common humanity aspect of the suffering is important because it places my sorrow in a larger context, which fosters perspective, and also helps me to feel less alone, which helps raise the bottom end of the pool – the deep end being depression, the shallow end merely the blues.
Then, if you need a channel switch, do something that brings you joy and absorb the good feelings while you are doing it. For me, this last step was setting my Pandora radio in the car to the Carol King station, or what my husband affectionately calls “vagina radio.” I made a mental note to write about the beach walk and view, as well as my luck to live here in a temperate climate, in my gratitude journal that night.
It wasn’t until zooming with my dear friends from our Mindful Self Compassion group the next day during our twice-monthly “Tea-Time” chat that I connected the dots. Trish, a member of this precious group shared that she has agreed to film and edit a video for one of her close friends who is terminally ill as of gift to her kids of her love and wisdom. What a huge blessing that gift will be, and what an enormous responsibility for my friend Trish!
That’s when it hit me. The responsibility of seeing what is real and cultivating a practice that can hold it all with a clear mind and an open heart is the practice, and it’s not easy!
In the past two weeks, two women in the mindfulness and meditation class I have been teaching these past 10 months became widows. One man passed away at age 60, the other in his later years. One man in the class is waiting for a lung transplant, and another woman’s husband is in a nursing home in his 60s. There are people in the class grieving the death of parents, like I am, and the death of friends.
We join hearts each week to lift each other up, to fill ourselves with light to buoy our spirits. And it works.
Being in community helps to stave off isolation.
Isolation can lead to depression and substance abuse which both have a dampening effect on longevity. The Harvard Longevity Study, now in its 82nd year, has illuminated the importance of relationships. “When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment,” said Psychiatrist George Vaillant, who joined the team as a researcher in 1966, and led the study from 1972 until 2004. “But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”
“Those who were clearly train wrecks when they were in their 20s or 25s turned out to be wonderful octogenarians,” he said. “On the other hand, alcoholism and major depression could take people who started life as stars and leave them at the end of their lives as train wrecks.”
The study’s current director, Zen priest Professor Robert Waldinger, has extended the study to the wives and children of the original cohort of men. “We’re trying to see how people manage stress, whether their bodies are in a sort of chronic ‘fight or flight’ mode,” Waldinger said. “We want to find out how it is that a difficult childhood reaches across decades to break down the body in middle age and later.”
Waldinger said he practices meditation and invests time and energy in his relationships, more than ever before because of the results of the longevity study.
I do too, with pickles and ice cream on the side.
May we be safe, as happy as possible, as healthy as can be, and find moments of ease.
Takeaways Tips for Mental Health and Wellbeing: