Reflections on the past year; reality check from Krista Tippett in conversation with clinical psychologist Christine Runyard; and imagining a future based on cooperation and care
Happy Vernal Equinox, 2021 everyone. In my culture, this is actually New Years Day, called Navroz. Traditionally, it’s a time for communal feasting, dancing and letting go of all the unnecessary and dark while calling in light, peace and prosperity for the new year. And Dancing...did I mention dancing? This year’s Navroz has gone slightly differently than in the past. All the feasting, dancing, letting go and calling in has been more contained, more personal “bubble” sized. Such is our current reality.
The other day I was reflecting on the past year and the pandemic situation, with my friend and artist, Norma Jean McCallan. One of her observations was that this year has felt like tiptoeing around an abusive relationship. In such a situation, we are in fight or flight and survival mode, rolling from one crisis to another until such time as we have a moment of relief to process, and make choices as to how we want to proceed.
One of those moments came for me in January of this year. While my head recognized that “normal” is not something I can (or want to) return to, the rest of me needed some time to catch up. I disappeared into a bit of Cave Time to deal with the depression feelings that seemed to overtake me after the holiday season. My physical energy was low, I slept a lot and tried to focus on facing the fears with some heart tools - like appreciation, grounding breath work and visualization.
It was more challenging than I thought it would be. Then last week I came across an interview with clinical psychologist Christine Runyan on Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast. Here’s the blurb that introduces the interview.
“The light at the end of the COVID tunnel is tenuously appearing — yet many of us feel as exhausted as at any time in the past year. Memory problems; short fuses; fractured productivity; sudden drops into despair. We’re at once excited and unnerved by the prospect of life opening up again. Clinical psychologist Christine Runyan explains the physiological effects of a year of pandemic and social isolation — what’s happened at the level of stress response and nervous system, the literal mind-body connection. And she offers simple strategies to regain our fullest capacities for the world ahead.”
Christine Runyan put words to what many of us around the globe have been feeling this past year. Her coping strategies are simple yet effective. It was a valuable hour spent. I realized that I use many of these strategies already, but it was really necessary for me to have them confirmed and validated. Equally important was the confirmation that I’m not crazy or alone in this experience. Naming it, talking about it and doing the work to come back to a grounded, balanced center, are crucial to moving forward.
It all comes down to the story we tell (meaning believe) about ourselves, each other, our world and our place in it. When I was at school, Science taught us a story about the earth and the relationships between all living beings. It was essentially that the earth is based on competition, the survival of the fittest, a win-lose story. If you think about it, this is the story upon which our world, our economies and our lifestyles have been crafted in the past few millennia. But we are seeing that story crumble around us as our impact on the Earth has exacerbated the climate; as our economies are slowly failing, as the nation state system created by conflict slowly falls apart.
Science is revising its approach. It is now saying that the earth and the relationships between all living things is cooperative. In this model, one that aboriginal peoples all over the world have known for millennia, we all survive, thrive and evolve when we cooperate and work together. Its a part of Nature, right down to our very cells. According to evolutionary biologists, without cooperation we wouldn’t be here.
It's easy to see how we might flourish in such an environment. The stresses we experience of survival and isolation just wouldn't be a thing. Within a cooperation model of human organization, our individual talents and gifts would have more chances to be expressed and flourish. See it as a group of intersecting circles, as in the Flower of Life design, as opposed to a pyramid scheme model. In the pyramid model, there is only one peak, one “best” of anything. But in the intersecting circles model, there would be more opportunities for sharing and collaborating. Every circle, or community, would have a possible place for your specific talents and gifts and many places and opportunities to be your best self in what you do.
Imagine a human world in which cooperation and care of self and others was the governing principle. Oh but wait! We’ve had glimpses of what that world could be this past year. Health professionals pulling together in crisis situations to help others, often at personal cost; entire cities of people following masking, distancing and other protocols to help flatten the virus curve; many people sharing their skills online to help others in various areas of self-care and personal growth--from online courses to exercise programs to Arts experiences; the growth of online communities that transcend borders; governments releasing funds to its citizens and cooperating on vaccination acquisition; communities of people doing the very difficult work of naming points of trauma that need healing in our society so that we can do the repair work needed to come together; the continued commitment of so many of us to repair the damage we have done to the Earth; and the Earth herself showing us it wouldn't take much time for her to repair, if we would only stop our destructive behaviours. There will always be those who have difficulty cooperating. As oceanographer Danny Grunbaum says, “Cooperation never means the absence of conflict of interest. It means a set of rules for negotiating conflicts of interest in a way that resolves them.” I would add, “for the highest good of everyone involved.”
At the start of this Solar Year, we are on the cusp of huge changes, which can be both exciting and scary. How we meet them will depend greatly on how we change the story we believe about ourselves, our relationship with the planet and with all living things. I, for one, hope we continue to choose the win-win options.
GALENTINE'S DAY: SELF-LOVE AND WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT
I've been looking up the roots of Valentines Day. There are a lot of stories, but I'm sharing the one that spoke to me.
Apparently (actually no surprise here) Valentine's Day may have its roots in pagan cultures. At the beginning of February, halfway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, the Celts would celebrate Imbolc to mark the beginnings of spring and the stirrings of life in the ground in the Northern hemisphere. This was also a day to clean out your home and invite in Brigid, goddess of creation, sustenance and wisdom into your home to ensure fecundity and prosperity in the land, the animals and yes, people too.
This was also a time when the worst of the winter had passed and women no longer needed to rely on a man as a source of life saving body heat at night. Mothers and daughters would gather their boyfriends’ animal pelts, set them on fire, and feast on winter squashes and root vegetables until the fires burned out. Then they would go on a little road trip together, grieve and release the death of old relationships followed by rituals of spiritual renewal and growth.
Enter the Roman church and its habit of co-opting pagan rituals for its own purposes--mainly expanding its power over the lives of its followers. Due to the high death tolls in the wake of its many wars, purgings and plague, the church needed to do something to compel procreation. So they thumbed through the Saint Files and extracted the traumatic, crisis filled story of St. Valentine and his beloved to overlay on an existing women’s ritual based on independence and the right to choose one’s own mate. Another moment in history when religion has actively gone out of its way to control women’s freedom and their bodies.
Here’s Valentine’s story: It came to pass that Emperor Claudius II banned marriage for his soldiers because he thought their attachments to wives and family would distract them from ”bringing it” in warfare. Valentine felt this was unfair, so he broke the rules and arranged marriages in secret. It’s said he wore a ring embossed with a cupid by which couples seeking him out could identify him.
When Claudius found out, he had Valentine thrown in jail, tortured and eventually sentenced to death. While awaiting death, he befriended a guard who’s daughter was ill and needed some healing. Valentine provided this, and she got better but, you guessed it, one thing led to another and they fell in love. When he was taken to the chopping block on the 14 February he sent her a love letter signed "from your Valentine".
At the same time as pushing this co-opted story of Valentine, the church also declared it heresy for any woman to leave her boyfriend or husband, thereby systemically tightening the noose on love and a woman’s freedom to have an active choice in it. A culture of men conquering passive women through courtship was created, shot through with Cupid’ arrows, and laden with sweets. The flowers that women once lay on the symbolic graves of relationships they chose to end were now laid in their laps, symbolic of the death of their pro-active right to choose.
A woman’s role was now to sit and wait. This is cross-cultural by the way, which means that it is a program of patriarchy in general, not just the patriarchy of the Roman church. My parents’ marriage was arranged. This is a transaction in which love is not a thing. It’s about class, caste, education, religion, shade of skin and any other thing that could divide, conquer and control, right down to a woman’s weight or eye colour. My aunt used to quote a Bollywood movie (or was it Merchant Ivory and Ruth Prawar Jhabvala?) line to me when I was a little girl. “When we were young, we put flowers in our hair. Then we would sit by a window and say, Has he come? Has he come?” This, in essence, was my education in dating. I would love to say that this message was eradicated, culture and society-wide, in the Free Love of the 60’s and women’s rights movement in subsequent decades. But, sadly, I can’t. It’s still there. Just have a look at V-Day advertising and the countless Bollywood and Hollywood movies (made mostly by men) that continue to valourize men and objectify women.
But what if we took some Ancient women’s wisdom and put it back into Valentine's Day? That means reclaiming this time of the year for self-love and self-care. There has been a movement for such a reclamation, popularized through a 2010 episode of the US sitcom, Parks and Recreation. Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler explains its meaning while throwing an annual Galentine's Day bash for her friends, but it's still tainted with patriarchal ideas of womanhood. There are elements of poking fun at women's gifts to each other and the event ends with her mom's hook up story. I imagine that on that ancient women's road trip, such stories might be shared also, along with stories about relationships ending.
Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks Galentine's Day is a good idea. Google Galentine's Day and you'll get a lot of links to many things self care. In addition to listings of multiple events for a girl's night out, I also found a self-love song playlist from The Tempest. And I just got an email from my local bra shop inviting me to a Galentine's event at their store.
I love the idea of this time of year being about self-love and self-care. It's the first step to being able to claim your own power and effect the change you want to see in the world. Evaluating aspects of your life that work (and don't) is very much a part of self-care and nurturing.
To have a period of time set aside in the quite winter months to consider your relationships and decide which ones support your life's journey makes complete energetic sense. You can take the time to evaluate and decide which ones you'll keep and nourish and which ones are toxic and need to go. Or you could choose which ones need work and look at what you’re willing to do to breath new life into them, come spring. This means that any relationship could be up for review, not just intimate ones. Also, I love the idea of going on a little road trip with your girlfriends to grieve, let go and have your process witnessed as you do the same for others.
Imagine how much healthier our psyches might be if we actually took the time to consider our own needs, the needs of our loved ones and nourish these relationships the way we might nourish the soil in our spring gardens, before planting? And imagine if this was something both genders did on a regular basis, clearing out the old, revitalizing what remains and making room for the new?
And what if we took this time to plant some seeds of self-empowerment and positive dreaming for our lives, instead of just waiting? Ooh, I’m getting goosebumps!
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion Team
READY. SET. SPRING! CLEAR CLUTTER, SET GOALS, PLANT SEEDS
Spring is a time of New Beginnings. Historically it was a time for celebrating sowing seeds, fertility, renewal and hope. But what does marking this season-change look like in the 21st Century, when our lives are not as driven by agriculture and planting cycles? Spring is a great time to examine the year just passed, to clean out the old, then re-evaluate, plan, and germinate the new.
Last year I read Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I was utterly impressed that the author was able to turn her OCD into a business and a best selling book! Of her entire de-cluttering methodology, the part that stayed with me is keep only that which gives you joy. De-cluttering is seriously underway in our house right now, using the “Joy Method”. When you clear out physical junk and mental clutter, you make room for new stuff and, more importantly, new ideas and new experiences.
RECOGNIZE, REVIEW, REPLACE
Spring Cleaning also extends to your inner world. Your thought patterns directly impact how you feel. In my self-evaluation, I realize I have a lot of thoughts that come up out of fears based on past negative experiences. I feel anxious when these thoughts overtake me. I do not feel joy or a sense of peaceful well being. When it comes to my thoughts, I have a choice. I can keep on in the same fear pattern and expect the same result. Or I can Recognize it, Review it and Replace it.
To do this, I Recognize my feelings and the thoughts that led to them. I give it a rest and Review, shut down that negativity, and review why I'm thinking these thoughts. What's the limiting belief that is giving rise to them? And then its Replace time. I use a variation of Byron Katie’s questions to help me shift perspective. About the fearful thoughts, I ask myself:
SET GOALS AND INTENTIONS FOR THE YEAR
Okay, so now you’ve cleaned out your junk in your space and in your spirit. It's time to germinate the new, some new ideas, new plans. My life partner Thom and I do this individually first and then as a team. We look at what went right and spend some time being seriously grateful and celebrating! Then we look at what was lousy and problem solve. We try to look at our lives holistically, at all the areas we need to pay attention to in order to experience a healthy, balanced, joyful life.
Then we make a dream board, a way to put on paper our intentions for the year. There are many ways to do this. You can Photoshop collage it, scrapbook it, cut out images from magazines, create Pinterest boards or (what we do) just write it out on a large sheet of paper, flow chart style. Our map hangs on the wall, as reminder, inspiration and compass for the year. We consciously shape our decisions and choices throughout the course of each year to make us more joyful, fulfilled and satisfied.
PLANT A GARDEN, MAKE SOMETHING
This is how I concretize my intentions to create. It helps me connect with the Creative Flow in the earth and within myself. Both can be meditative experiences that give space for that “aha” moment, or for the Muse to speak to or for the imagination to fly. I’ve had some of my best ideas in these moments.
So take some time this spring to celebrate the new life that surrounds you in nature, and to celebrate the wonder that is YOU. Dream your dream and take steps to germinate it into being. Life is a work in progress. It’s not about perfection; it’s about finding joyful balance.