In our global Coronavirus epidemic, we are learning the art and practices of social distancing.
Six feet apart is the standard. Masks being worn and re-worn (probably laden with micro bacterium from re-use and touch) adorn our faces. Furtive eyes try to hide their guilt when blaming eyes look their way. Is it my skin, my ethnic appearance, the sniffle my nose just whistled, or the cough that I just buried in my sleeve, or didn’t? Damn nose. Damn allergies. Damn cough. Damned me.
Is it that everyone is simply afraid? No-one wants to be contaminated. No one wants to die. No one wants to catch what I have and what I don’t have.
Raising two sons who were — still are — chronically ill, gave me decades of practice with social distancing. When they were babies, I distanced them — and by association, myself — from others. I lived in fear of the coughs, fevers, and respiratory distress that would haunt their bodies within 24 hours of the wrong touch, the wrong exposure. And back then, I perceived everyone’s touch to be the wrong touch, the wrong exposure for baby one, and then baby two. How would I know to differentiate anyway, one person’s touch from another? How would I know without a diagnosis what and who to avoid to keep my babies safe and somewhat healthy? How could I know that an unnamed disease in their genetic makeup would cement isolation when others went free? How would I know that that disease would marry them to absences of touch, inclusion, belonging, and even love? How would I know?
Fast forward to today. I see a world, racked with isolation and pain, engaged in large-scale mimicking of the lives of those for whom social distancing has long been and continues to be the norm if they are to live. It’s not just a matter of living physically is it though? We cannot thrive mentally and emotionally without touch. And being healthy, mentally, and emotionally IS part of living well.
So how do we get enough touch six feet apart?
- Share laughter: We need to laugh. In times of crisis, this need increases. In the immediate and short-term, laughter diffuses tension and lightens our loads. Laughter also reduces blood pressure, the intensity of pain, and fosters social bonding.
However, what we laugh about matters. Making fun of others and pulling them down in any way, causing division, segregation, and passing blame do not offer the same benefits.
- Read to cultivate an optimistic spirit: Read, read, read. Not the news to panic more. Please. Read what will uplift and encourage your soul. Digest the wealth of knowledge of those who have gone before us and who have insights that we do not yet have. My simple recommendations to put on repeat include anything by Brene Brown, Jim Rohn, and Napoleon Hill. I also suggest The Untethered Soul, by Michael Springer, and Coming Out of the Ice, by Victor Herman. We can and will come out of our current ice.
- Breathe and release the stress constantly: This practice is the only way to keep oneself open enough for connection when so many are experiencing discomfort, isolation, fear, paranoia, and the virus itself. This is the only way to be able to be patient to actively listen to the hearts that are riddled and weighed down, and need to spit out, cleanse, and lighten their loads. Yes. On you.
- Wash the hands of our hearts: Yes, we need to wash our hands frequently to reduce the spread of the virus.
More importantly, we need to wash our hands of the germs and residues of discontent, hate, anger, resentment, and the like. These germs and residues are the bigger evils, aren’t they? Hatred, anger, and resentment poison us internally and destroy our relationships far greater and far longer than a passing virus can.
As we wash our hands to prevent Covid-19, let’s see what other poisons we can wash off. Then, with clean hands, let’s work towards mending those relationships. After all, many of us now have the time and space to look inward, be honest with ourselves, and to do a thorough cleaning of the hands of our hearts.
- Keep a running list of people to whom you should reach out, then do so: As people pop into your minds, write down their names. Use all the time we now have indoors and distant, to refer to that list and make calls or video chats. Check-in with them and find out how they are doing. Pry a little if necessary — as much as you are comfortable with doing — to understand what is truly consuming their thoughts at present. You don’t have to be able to fix things for them. Still, in reaching out, listening attentively, and trying to understand, you are giving them the invaluable gift of connection.
- Look at photos: We have a lot of these, don’t we? In our media-centered existences, we live with photographic libraries on our phones and computers. Look back and laugh. Let the photos remind you that this season is passing, and interaction and touch will return without today’s Covid-19-imposed restrictions. Share these photos, along with positive messages telling others that this is passing now, and what you and they can look forward to.
- Write notes: Long gone is the practice of writing letters by hand. We have too many electronic means, are too busy, or don’t even realize that this is an art form and a precious gift to give others. Handwritten notes tell the receiver that they are important, that they are worthy of the deliberate, mindful action to write, versus the everyday quickness and commonness of a text or email. A handwritten note communicates sincerity, strengthens relationships, becomes a reminder and a keepsake to treasure. Please write a letter, take a picture of it and send it to someone today. Later, when this epidemic is over, you can deliver the original.
- Wear a pop of color: Color therapy and color psychology are real things. Have you ever woken up a bit sullen and needed to put on something colorful to brighten your mood? In this time of fear, heads down, and retreat, a pop of color can make a difference. Yellow communicates the warmth and energy of the sun and may convey its healing properties. Orange signals attention and enthusiasm, while pinks and reds indicate romance, kindness, and love. Amid the grays and blacks around a lot these days, a little yellow, orange, pink, or red might be enough to lift a spirit — yours and others.
- Smile: Like laughter, smiling releases cortisol and endorphins that help to reduce blood pressure, reduce pain and stress, boost our immune systems, and increase endurance. Right now, we can all benefit from improved immune systems and endurance. A simple smile across a street or a room greets the other, shakes his hand, and says, how are you. A smile indicates, “We’re in this together. We are going to be fine.”