Hello! Here I am.
Me and my very peaceful friend.
Are you okay today?
I've noticed some people are seized — gripped — by fear in this time of uncertainty with its threat to the three things that most support us; our loved ones, our health and our material security. Especially for those who live all by themselves, with lockdown (shelter in place order) confining their lives and the risk of infection in forays for essential supplies, the anxiety can be overwhelming. And it can come and go, so that one moment you feel fine, then in the next you are exhausted or crippled by dread.
I am not any kind of expert — I have no medical background, no training as a counsellor, nothing like that. I am only a housewife. But I do have a lifetime's experience of living with anxiety and depression and in a family dogged by those challenges. And I understand that fear and anxiety trigger the body's production of cortisol, which lowers the immune system, so it is helpful to cultivate serenity, to stay well.
So, humbly and tentatively, for what it's worth (and you must be the judge of what works for you), I offer you some thoughts about this anxiety in a time of isolation.
Some people online have been stressing the importance of creating and maintaining a routine. My own routines are somewhat loose to say the least, but I do get washed and dressed in the morning, and make my bed. I do a little housework each day so that my home stays clean and tidy. I eat breakfast, lunch and supper, and am careful to strictly limit the snacks. I go for a walk (not very long, perhaps twenty minutes or so) every day at least once. I am blessed to have a garden, and I make sure to spend a little time out in the sunshine every day. I feed the birds and look at the flowers unfolding, I look at the blue of the sky, and the stars at nightfall. I check my friends online to be sure they're managing. I watch something on telly in the evening — something cheerful and calm; two episodes of Madhur Jaffrey's Flavours of India on Netflix last night. I think about work in hand (paid or unpaid) — the next article I will write for a magazine, the act of online worship I must prepare for this coming Sunday; nothing major. I get undressed in the evening, and read in bed a little while before sleep — again, something calm and cheerful; at the moment I'm reading Alexander McCall Smith's The Department of Sensitive Crimes.
So, yes, there is a flow to my life; nothing rigid.
Input from other people is very helpful in lowering anxiety. If you feel frightened and alone, someone I highly recommend is Philip Carr-Gomm, who heads up one of the British orders of druids — OBOD, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Philip Carr-Gomm is the gentlest, sanest, calmest, most peaceful person imaginable. If you were in a tight place, in an emergency, yes even if you were actually dying, you could be in no better company than his. And happily, he has made himself available to us in this anxious time, sharing around his genial, comforting, peaceful presence to boost our well-being.
On Monday evenings, he is offering Tea With A Druid on Facebook — a live link-in with him in his home.
He has made a home retreat that you can enrol in for free, which takes you through calming and restful meditations, a session to be posted each week, I think. It's called The Garden of Flowing in Perpetual Happiness!
If you are gripped by anxiety, I think these will bring you some relief. You don't have to be a druid yourself, and druid spirituality is very open so you are unlikely to come face to face with an unacceptable belief system (unless you are unusually narrow-minded).
Another helpful component in your toolkit for protecting against anxiety is something Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the mother of our present Queen Elizabeth of England, used to do every day.
In the morning, she would gather her ladies-in-waiting, and ask them what was in the diary for today — what duties and obligations did she have? Once that was ascertained, she would then ask, "And what treats are we having?"
Those two crucial things, held in balance, are powerful against anxiety — acting responsibly, and having treats.
So, in a time of imposed isolation, what are our obligations or responsibilities?
I would suggest that setting one's house in order (in every sense) is high on the list. Health is maintained by cleanliness, good diet and fresh air. You have to put in a little effort to get all three. So one of your obligations is to clean your home and keep it tidy and do your laundry and wash yourself and clean your teeth etc. Another obligation is to plan and cook nourishing meals each day, and do what you can to source deliveries of supplies. And a third is to at least open the window even if you live in an apartment block, and get outdoors, if you can, a little each day (depending on the regulations for your area, and keeping a distance of 2 metres from other people).
Next on the list of responsibilities might be helping other people.
Check your friends — are they okay? Phone them, FaceTime them, email them, look them up on Facebook.
Think about those who have suffered most in this epidemic; people who run small businesses, refugees, the homeless. If you can set aside a small budget to assist them in donations or directed purchasing, that would be a kindness.
And this is a wonderful time to ponder and reflect. I am sure you know that this epidemic is not a random, isolated, out-of-the-blue occurrence. It is all part and parcel of modern life. In some ways, it offers us the challenge to make life kinder — hoteliers have offered refugees a temporary home, neighbours have been willing to share resources, the governments have been forthcoming with financial support and relief. Equally, there have been those who used the opportunity for selfishness and profiteering. So this is a time to consider our personal input to the human race — how we fit in to society, how we can work towards a communal effort to build a kinder and more compassionate world. When all this is over, what legacy of goodness will it leave? What lasting fragrance? New closeness to your neighbours? A habit of looking out for your friends? A new routine of ordering food online from small local family firms and farmers?
And of course, there is an ecological dimension. Viruses are released when wilderness is decimated and human lives interact inadvisably closely with wild animals. Potential medicines remain undiscovered and are lost when we cut down all the rainforest. Drought, flood, insect infestation, starvation and water shortage and pollution ruin the whole of creation when human beings ignore their responsibility to live simply, regenerate the Earth by responsible farming and industry, and live sustainably. This enforced time at home is an excellent opportunity to inform yourself and to begin shaping a strategy for how you can be part of the solution not the problem. It takes commitment and self-discipline. Now could be a time to reflect in quietness on the patterns of your life — what they are, and what they could be.
And of course, in these days it is our responsibility to meditate and pray; to hold others in the Light and radiate peace.
So, even shut in at home, there is the chance to fulfil responsibilities and contribute constructively, to undertake the work of human love.
But Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon asked her ladies-in-waiting that second question: "What treats are we having?"
I think that is so important! Whether it is a chocolate to enjoy with your cup of coffee after dinner, or a movie, or settling down to enjoy a good book, or phoning a friend — what treats are you having today? Be kind to yourself.
And then, she had ladies-in-waiting, didn't she? How about you? You are the queen mother of your life, but who are your ladies-in-waiting? I would be proud to be one! Your ladies-in-waiting are your support team. You might like to develop one if yours is a bit threadbare. And I would put it to you that imaginary, invented friends can be a great source of support as well as actual human beings. Let them emerge from the hidden recesses of your imagination. Make a vision board of your ladies-in-waiting. Have fun with employing your staff.
Stay strong and peaceful today, dear friends. I have prayed for you. xx