The Unnerving Unknown

Sometimes yoga teachers will cue students to step one foot back behind the other. For instance, students may be standing with both feet together in Mountain Pose and then asked to step the left foot three feet back to Warrior One.

As a young(ish) student, hearing Karl say ‘step your foot back’ filled me with unnerving dread. How was I to know what was behind me? What if an errant yoga block was precisely where I wanted to blindly place my foot? What if the floor had moved? It didn’t take much for me to imagine black, empty space where once there were solid planks of maple worn to a soft, golden patina by decades of practicing yogis. It seems silly now, but stepping my foot back without being able to see where it was going was too much like flinging myself into the unknown.

The unknown can be a scary place. And here we are, flung into the middle of it.  

This is a collective unknown. We are all experiencing the pandemic together, in real time. Some – like the residents of New York City – are closer to it than others. But we are, as the talking heads keep repeating, in this together.

Does that make it any less unnerving? It depends. We’ve all seen images of spring break revelers partying like it’s 1999, and we may have read the story of the B-list starlet who values her freedom more than her health. At the same time an enterprising man, upon hearing the news of the coronavirus, purchased every bottle of hand sanitizer he could find in order to sell them on Amazon for a healthy profit. After a few weeks of relying on people’s fears to make him a wealthy man Amazon got whiff of the scam and busted him. In the end he donated the remainder of his sanitized stash. And we’ve all stared in disbelief at the empty store shelves where once the Charmin Ultra Soft family of bears smiled down upon us. 

The cavalier youth, the freedom loving starlet, the enterprising man and those of us who believe toilet paper will save our heinies if not our lives – we have something in common. If we dig deep I bet even the man behind the sanitizer scam will admit to feeling uneasy about tomorrow.

But aren’t we always standing in the middle of the unknown? We can plan – and boy do I love to plan – but we really don’t know what will happen in the next moment let alone in the next year. 

It’s just that this unknown is too big, isn’t it? Maybe size doesn’t matter. No matter the unknown, our choices for how we handle the stress and anxiety are pretty much the same the same. 

  1. Know the unknown. What is a virus? What’s the best way to wash my hands? What else can I do to keep myself and my family safe and healthy?
  2. Break it down into sizable chunks. What do I need to do today? What can I do tomorrow?
  3. Prepare. Last week I channeled my inner Boy Scout and without being too excessive (except for the vanilla soy creamer I need for my morning tea) bought the foods Ben and I need for a few weeks. And then I made soup. A lot of soup.
  4. Breathe. When I feel the ‘winding up’ I do something my acupuncturist taught me to do years ago. She told me to breathe into my feet. It works. Visualizing the inhalation moving to the souls of the feet roots me to the earth. It re-establishes my equilibrium in a way I didn’t know was possible. Another technique I love is the ‘candle breath’.  Breathe in through the nose and then exhale through the mouth with pursed lips, as if blowing out a candle. Extend the out-breath until it’s a little longer than the in-breath. Your shoulders will drop away from your ears and whatever you anxiety you were holding on to will melt away.
  5. Move. I take mental health walks. When I walk there is a noticeable difference in my outlook and attitude. This week I learned that one walk every other day isn’t enough and so I’m beginning to take two walks – one in the morning and one after lunch. They keep me sane.
  6. Distract. I’m a sucker for sit-com bloopers. Or the cowbell sketch from Saturday Night Live. I’m trying to watch less news and to read more books. The kind with pages. Or I get myself wrapped up in ‘contemplative crafts’ – for this pandemic I’ve taken up making tiny baskets. They take more hours than I can count but their repetitive nature is meditative.
  7. Speaking of things that are meditative: meditate. I have the Headspace App but if you’re not into apps then just set a timer for five minutes, find a comfortable seat and watch your breath. When thoughts come up – and they will – without judgement notice that’s what has happened and then gently redirect your attention back to your breath.
  8. Speaking of the breath, tonglen breath is a beautiful practice that forces me to acknowledge the pain that the whole wide world is feeling now but it’s a practice that also offers me a technique to lighten the pain. Read Pema Chodron’s instructions for tonglen breath here.
  9. Support. I’ve found that it’s possible to keep my distance and still be helpful. Ben’s and my neighbor can’t drive and so yesterday he wrote us a list, gave us a debit card (that Ben sanitized) and I shopped. On my way I dropped off some soup at a friend’s house. Compassion and care for others is a reminder that it isn’t all about me.
  10. Ask for support. We are physically separated but not socially separated. Use your phone. FaceTime. Set up a Zoom Happy Hour. Find out if your favorite yoga teacher is running online classes. I’m so happy I took the plunge and set up my own classes. Staying in touch with my community has been a huge blessing. We know that we’re there for one another. Knowing that is all the support I need.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s