Who among us can escape the emotions that flood our daily lives: anxiety, depression, loneliness, sadness, and anger. On the one hand, any of these emotions can possess an individual and necessitate clinical interventions. But on the other hand, these emotions can be helpful in the sense that they alert us to the realistic "mess" we are in, and also that we can do something about it. We may not be able to eliminate the forces at work in the mess that threatens us, but we can act to take care of ourselves spiritually and psychologically if we allow ourselves to feel the negative emotions and act quickly to apply "first aid."
What do I mean by first aid applied to treat the overwhelming stress we are experiencing? I mean this: We are not helpless to respond to emotions that may seem at first to just be "the way things are," taking command of us, leaving us helpless as we sink in the dark pit of helplessness, negativity, and fear. As you read further, remember this, you are not helpless in dealing with your negative emotions. The question is whether you have the emotions or rather you let the emotions have you. And our "first aid" is a first step toward regaining stability and a state of centeredness in our lives. So let us begin.
PSYCHOLOGICAL FIRST AID
I am indebted to the World Health Organization for the list that follows as well as for that organization's very positive affirmations reminding us of the possibility of even thinking of psychological first aid. This is their list:
Address basic bodily needs. What are the needs? What you would expect: food
of the right kind (not just sweet snacks!), exercise, sleep, rest. Some of these
you may already be practicing; but if not, the pandemic actually works in your
behalf perhaps to allow for time and opportunities in establishing a routine
that will serve you long after the pandemic fades.
Avoid further harm. This takes two basic forms. The first is physical safety.
Look at your living space and consider how you can make changes that protect
you physically and also lift up your spirits. Sometimes even a rearrangement
of furniture or hanging a poster or a loved one's photograph and/or artwork
will do wonders. Secondly, consider your mind and what you are "letting" into
your head. Not all music and talk shows are helpful. Consider a revaluation of
what you are looking at and listening to. You have freedom to make changes in
terms of both content and amount of time spent on news sources.
Keep calm and carry on. Check in with yourself. Observe your breath which is
a great regulator of how you feel. Press your pause button and take three
slow, deep intakes. Try breathing with a ratio of 1:2, for example, breathe
in with a count of two, and exhale with a count of 4.
Set priorities. This is a matter of intentionality. How do you fill up your day
and night? When we determine (1) what we must do, (b) what we would like
to do, and (c) what we can do, then we can become intentional in our time
management with schedules that will likely surprise you with all you can do.
Just be sure to allow for free time and things you know you enjoy.
Connect with others. Yes, we need to observe the basics: wash our hands,
wear masks, and maintain a safe distance while also not congregating within
closed environments. But these are things we can do: arrange a meeting in
outside spaces (our yards, driveways, parks, etc.); phone, ZOOM, and
even consider writing a letter to an old friend or family member.
SPIRITUAL FIRST AID
To the World Health Organization's list of approaches to psychological first aid, I am adding my additional thoughts about what we could call "spiritual" first aid. Our "spirits" are most vulnerable at this time. Already, more than 200,000 of our people in the United States have died within the first eight months of the pandemic. In other words, we are brought face to face with our mortality, our vulnerability, how quickly our lives can be taken from us, threatening us with despair and hopelessness. But, again, we are not helpless or hopeless in dealing with these most fundamental of emotions. Consider these resources:
The reservoir of the world's great library of sacred scriptures. After all,
humanity has gone through catastrophes through the centuries. All of these
threats to life and meaning have prompted deep treasures of aspiration,
transcendence, and ultimate hope. Not all texts strike us with the same
grandeur of meaning, but there are records of wisdom woven within the
annals of human suffering.
Meditation. Do not close the door on this possibility for enriching your life.
There are so many ways to meditate: We may sit, we may move, we may
"lose ourselves" in something that calls out to us, we may reflect quietly upon
a sacred text, we may watch a sun set or rise, we may walk in the woods, go
diving, make love, attend a concert, go fishing, etc. This is not to say that
everything we do is meditation, but that meditation may be anything we do --
provided -- that we are guided by the Spirit within each of us.
Participation in a community that recognizes and empowers our spirit. These
may be churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, or some other traditionally
recognized religious community. However, it may be some non-traditional
gathering of seekers like ourselves. Also, as we are having to learn in our
present circumstances, our gatherings need not be in person. We are having
to learn how we connect with others by the many technological media. Sure,
we lose something when we connect remotely, but we may gain something
else. Sometimes I detect a depth in the privacy of these remote gatherings
that seems to allow for the inner life of each of us to be present with that of
Dreams. It may well be that you already know the value and wisdom of our
dreams. If not, you may let this time of limited physical gathering become
one of listening to your dreams. There are many sources online that can
help a person get started. Then, gradually, you discover the language of
dreams, their archetypal symbolism gathered through the centuries, the
patterns of meaningfulness, and the characters within yourself that you did
not know were there: the wise old man, the priestess, the trickster, the inner
female, the inner male, the spiritual guide, and more.
So there we are, some thoughts about possible sources of psychological and spiritual first aid. When this time has passed and a new world is born, we may look back upon these foreboding days as yet another move forward in claiming the great potential of our humanity and the possibilities for new life in a new world.