On Connecting To Strangers
The Sidewalk Talk Blog
The last seven days, anxiety crept up on me, by surprise. I was quite haughty, feeling pretty grounded and grateful for the first two weeks of this quarantine. I have space to move and our family life has settled into a collaborative routine/ non routine that seems to be working. And I was working from home long before this thing started.
Our family routine consists of the following:
We all agree to being dressed by 10am.
My boys must exercise for 30 minutes, contribute to the house for 30 minutes, and (while my sons are on Spring Break) read for 30 minutes. Then the rest of the day, while my husband and I work, the boys organize their time in a way that suits them. Yes, even if that means video games or tech devices.
But as time has carried on, I am checking the news more, and my sense of gratitude slips here and there into grief, despair and powerlessness. And the more I pretend I am not having those feelings, anxiety takes their place, whispering to me “Traci pay attention. Listen to me.”
Especially when I see the news in other parts of the world that are not faring as well as I am in Germany. The racial bias in treatment and death rates of non-white communities, folks locked in their homes with little kids and little healthcare, and the long term impacts to people’s livelihood create an existential grief hard to sit still with. When this takes over all of my grand “well what are the opportunities and great lessons from this?” fall by the wayside.
We know survivor guilt and stress of varying kinds is a thing in disasters like the one we are in. What is key is to focus on early intervention to cultivate resilience and to develop the tools for fostering recovery for those more adversely affected.
Here are two resources I highly recommend from the Institute for Disaster Mental Health.
Disaster Mental Health For Healthcare Workers
Disaster Mental Health Support For Personal Use
I am going to pull out a few salient points that I have seen popping up on people’s social media feeds in hopes it helps us support each other as a community.
Best to practice now – not after you already feel awful. Do all the things that work for you. We have varying degrees of stress depending on what we are dealing with. Listen to our podcast interview with Dr. Rick Hanson on how to cultivate resilience here.
The IDMH recommends the following suggestions to cope with COVID19:
Be Non-Judgmental With Yourself and Each Other:
Have you ever wanted to take up a practice of non-judgment? Well, now is your time to practice. Early when this epidemic started, I was curious about my own reactions to people’s strong fear. Good news, I didn’t judge myself nor act out my judgement. Instead I widened my embrace to the different ways we cope.
Some become hypervigilant about germs or germ rules. Others look for connection and community. Others look for someone to blame. And still others are the compassion and kindness police – policing everyone to be nice.
The kindest thing we can do is listen non-judgmentally to others (when we can), even when they are worked up and acting in ways we never would.
If we can hear with whole hearts we can be healing agents during this tough time. And don’t forget to include yourself in that listening.
Bottom line, some of us heeded warnings about Covid19 and others did not. And some of those who did not heed the early warnings are incurring incredible consequences and even death. Negative bystanders are those who finger-wag to seek punishing retribution. “You should have done x, y, z but you didn’t so you don’t deserve my empathy and kindness.”
I had a colleague share she was shamed by a doctor for showing up at the hospital with intense COVID19 symptoms because she was putting other patients at risk. This is someone who did a lot of research of where to go and had severe symptoms that needed medical attention. I know the doctor was scared too. Both were. So let this remind us all, soften, stretch as best you can.
To truly come together in community, we must be willing to support those who are grieving, no matter what choices they did or did not make when this whole thing started.
Cultural differences create very different views of this whole crisis and how to respond. You might believe this is karma, God’s will, mother nature sending a sign, a nice break, or just another natural occurrence we will have to get over. All responses will also differ and we will come out of this better if we can do our best to hear and make room for those differences. Some may feel it important to seek financial restitution. Others may find it important to get active and engage to support the local community. Others may want to go inward into a quiet prayerfulness. Still others may choose to call leaders into account.
To contribute to one another’s wellbeing, we will need to develop the sensitivity to the very personal norms that shape how different people and communities respond to this crisis.
For me, I have made a plan for myself on how to remain resilient and I have made a plan for my SOS moments. Here is an invite for you and your family – make your own plan for cultivating resilience and your SOS moments.
For cultivating resilience, I have kept it simple. I keep one promise to myself every day. I pick one: to meditate for twenty minutes, to run in the trees, or to cry. I have also built in regular connection every day. I just need it. For SOS moments I ask myself “in what ways is my thinking distorted?” and “What are 5 things I have control over in this present moment?”
I know myself and so many others would be so helped by your own sharing below. How do you maintain your resilience and handle your own SOS moments? Put them in the comments. And if you need connection, we have lots of online listening available to you here at Sidewalk Talk. Sign Up Here. And if you are a health worker in the front lines, there is low fee and no fee mental health support available to you here.
Head and heart are often in a tug of war inside of me. Especially right now. You too? So is fear and love. So is knowledge and wisdom. And so is aloneness and togetherness.
My heart, when I am living from it fully, is filled with birdsong, spring flowers, love, deep sorrow, righteous outrage, and unrequited longing. Inside heart-space is a nondual richness of all things that anchor me to meaning and community and from which my wisest decisions are made. And, truth be told, I inhabit this heart space twenty percent of my day. Still a victory from just a few years ago.
Today, as the world has slowed to a halt and everyone is advised to remain in their homes, the radical shift in what I see out there on city streets has spread me inside in many directions. I am cast about by my nerves, my hopes, my fears, and my faith. More than anything, I can observe, more concretely the faulty lense I knew was there but is now so visible it is like the dust on the bookshelves I cannot unsee once the full light hits them. This new awareness teaches me to quiet my chattering mind and return to my heart over and over again.
My heart is beaming with possibility for massive spiritual and communal awakening and it asks my ego to sit this one out, and go deeper.
Remaining full-hearted takes great care, I have learned. In fact, great GREAT care. To not get swayed by my own neuroses or the world’s neuroses require me to pace myself and ask with heart ‘what is my deepest intention right now?’ For that question always leads me back to the resilience of love rather than hatred and fear.
What I have learned most is self-care is not for soothing, comfort, and avoiding. Self-care is for remaining in my heart and facing.
Last week, I had a 40-minute conversation with Mark Nepo. Mark, for me, lives longer in these spaces of full-heartedness - where wisdom, knowledge, poetry, and longing collide. He is a prolific writer and people with large platforms like Oprah Winfrey (wisely I might ad) have invited him to share his heart with the world. My favorite thing about Mark is his poetry, humility, and equality in how he writes. He invites in the wisdom of indigenous cultures white colonizing history has devalued. He roots spiritual teachings in history so we have a context that prevents feel-good spiritual bypassing.
The conversation Mark and I had for the Sidewalk Talk Podcast did not record. I was sad, at first, but then oddly grateful. There were a couple sweet moments of our dialogue where “audience” dropped away and our conversation was private. Mark advised me about my first book and how to write it. He talked to me about pacing myself and living my pace, not the world’s pace.
My hope is we get another chance to come together but for now, what I want to invite us all to do over this time of “staying inside” is to go buy and read Mark’s book, More Together Than Alone. For every single listener at Sidewalk Talk and any other connection project, take this time to immerse yourself in what it means to be in community, for real. Even if you can’t get out of doors, you can get the book digitally. This book is a life work and took Mark longer to write than any of his other books. He covers history, politics, gun violence, love, hope and most of all, community. But more than anything it offers us something for this moment in time.
As we are immersed in avoiding a spreading contagion, called Covid19, what contagion we really need to heal from is how we, as Mark says, make anyone different an enemy.
How a lack of empathy and hearing one another’s lived stories leads us to consume each other, like shoes to wear and throw away when we are done with them. It is not time for one power to demand we follow a specific set of rules for how to be a person so we might live together. It is time for us to listen so deeply to our differences that we create a way to live together that honors who we all are. Bottom-up, rather than top-down community.
And it is happening. As I see Italian neighborhoods singing on their balconies, doctors and nurses working overtime, musicians offering free concerts, workplaces honoring workers in new ways, and even how we organize here at Sidewalk Talk, perhaps some of this will stick.
Perhaps our contagion of othering and usury will be replaced by heart, empathy, community, and inclusion.
That is my hope anyway. For now, I will start with me and cultivating this awareness here, with me first.
I would love to hear your favorite quotes from More Together Than Alone in the comments or what you hope will be a lasting positive impact from this time of global inwardness.
May we have health.
May we know our hearts.
May we know others’ hearts.
May we create a society that honors all hearts living together.
We are all susceptible to blind spots. Happily, I am the kind of person who likes to share mine, so you can have a good laugh, feel like you aren’t alone, and be more willing to look at your own human foibles. I am told this is my secret sauce. Yay for imperfection. We are rockin’ it out together!
This week I was reflecting with Nevada Sidewalk Talk Chapter Leader, Michael Tedesco (thanks Michael). We were both challenging each other and empathizing with each other on different aspects of leadership we both struggle with so that we could support one another in growing. It is so nice when folks can just be bold with you. The leaders crew here are some of my favorite because there is an earnestness to keep on growing through self-reflection, self-responsibility, and dialogue.
Being an earnest human who wants to look at their flaws takes one large sense of humor.
Doing flaws well also takes the ability to take an inventory without shame. I like to make lists of my mistakes and then think through what I can change and what I am just going to have to say “Um that is me and probably will be a flaw I go to the dirt with” so people can feel empowered to choose if I am their cup of tea and I don’t spin my wheels trying to please everyone.
Here is my list of mess ups around connection from the last few weeks. Have a laugh and then make your own. It is really good practice.
1. Believing that people, life, and the world should be a certain way.
When someone uses a tone of voice we don’t like, doesn’t call us back, or is unfair we may want to “should” all over the situation. They should NOT have done x, y, and z. In the podcast with Dr. Christian Conte, he talked about cartoon world and real world.
The more we deny the hard truth of the real world the less likely we are to respond in any sort of connective fashion.
I am not saying not to set limits. Actually, the opposite. But, I notice I have no problem setting a limit when I don’t expect every person to just follow my own inner set of standards. If I get caught up in a “They should have x, y, z” I may be too damn righteous to bother dialoguing. You see how this works?
By assuming, I cut off dialogue. Not great for connection and intimacy.
2. Be clear and up front about what you need in the moment. You might wonder, “But Traci, isn’t that selfish? How does that have to do with connection?”
I will throw it back to you with a question. Have you ever not been clear with someone that they should ‘please take your shoes off before coming into my house’ only to later find mud tracks all over your white carpet?
How did you feel about that person when they didn’t notice they had left a trail of mud in your house? More connected? More intimate? I didn’t think so.
Ok, maybe it is a bad metaphor but usually, when we aren’t clear about what we need, we are not protecting our connections with others, we are jeopardizing them. See how that works?
I had a tech job that I liked but I got so pissed because I was in a new territory that wasn’t making any money. I tried to quit but in a lengthy dialogue with the CEO he confronted me. He said “Traci, you have a right to be paid what you are worth. Rather than getting mad, you could shared what you needed to be financially whole. I support you demanding a raise.”
I left his office with a massive life lesson and a 20% - YES TWENTY- percent raise.
3. Not setting limits and not receiving limits.
First, I must attribute my use of the word limits to Michael Tedesco. For ages, the word boundaries, for whatever reason, conjures images of walls – static, unchanging, rigid, and cold. Limits, however, feels flexible and contextual.
Here is the rub. After the person from above has walked on your carpet with muddy shoes, if you still do not ask them to take off their shoes, again you jeopardize intimacy and connection with them and, frankly, with yourself. Only bad feelings can emerge.
And I get it. We don’t set limits because some folks react to them and we want to avoid their reaction. But their reaction lets you know you have been heard, as Randi Buckley often says (she is the boundaries master and will be coming on the podcast soon).
Reacting to limits and even judging folks as unreasonable for setting limits is so disruptive to connection.
Magic wand wish? This whole “You are unreasonable for needing what you need and having the limits that you have” is the one thing I would swap for “We all get to have needs and limits and communicating them IS connection".
Am I good at setting limits in clear, kind ways?
Am I good at receiving limits in clear, kind ways?
What assumptions do I make about the other person in that whole giving and receiving limits process?
My hope is we can all do better at this connection stuff. That our hearts can stretch wide with love in these hard spaces and keep trying.
I am a woman, therapist, wife, mom, friend, listener, and founder/leader of Sidewalk Talk. You can subscribe to my couples therapy list here.