Letter from a Therapist Sheltering in Place during Covid-19
Hardship lives in each one of us, and yet we are sturdy and resilient in ways we might not recognize or acknowledge nearly enough. This can be a time of Self-Reflection about what to do, as a therapist, with this precious life.
What contribution can we be to each other?
I sometimes open workshops with the Kabbalah, a Jewish Creation Story: “When God created the world, there was tremendous light; when people rushed in to capture the light, the light was so strong it broke each vessel into a million pieces; and ever since then people have been trying to pick up the shards of glass.”
This story means many things to me, but mostly it speaks of how we focus on merely the body (symbolized by the vessel) rather than the light that infuses this magical world. We may even feel that we will be annihilated by that light, by its very brightness. We are so easily distracted when life becomes difficult. In this time of worry and hardship, how can we stay focused on what is truly mystical—that which connects us? Knowing life is impermanent, Covid-19 is too.
What is our community asking from us at this time?
How can we get beyond fear and create something vastly better than negativity?
How can we stay in communion at this time of year, embracing the mystery behind what the future might bring and what is unknown?We might at times feel that God is remote.
Or we do not believe in God at all. This is totally okay. Regardless of our individual beliefs, how can we develop a life of increasing gratitude as the natural world reminds us that the universe is miraculous? Buddhism teaches us that each person has basic goodness, no matter what they believe.
As a healer, you absolutely know how to respond to people in crisis. You help people feel better on the spot, even complete strangers. We all know ourselves to be wounded healers, and we keep denying this even as we are each other’s consolation. Our task right now is to honor fear when it does emerge in conversation. We also have another task, the overwhelming need to reach out to each other and transcend the prevailing negativity through a language of acceptance.
One thing we know: If you want to dispel fear of death or dying, talk about it.
Some of us feel a deep sadness as we witness how our country has lost its way. Many people have been in mourning for a while now. We are not rushing in to deny what’s going on, but to hold both sorrow and the mystical element that unites us. A rainy day’s lesson teaches, if you have been ignoring anything, now is the time to do it!
From early on, we have been taught we cannot handle death, and we believe this. But is this really true, or just a decision made long ago that our survival is conditional on this person, place or thing being exactly as we want?
“The bud stands for all things,” the poet Galway Kinnel reminds us. It’s not too late to start loving what is. The earth appreciates that we have slowed down. The rain finally has come after a year of drought.
Tools at Hand When “the Rainy Day” arrives While Working Through Dark Places:
If you have been ignoring anything, now is the time to do it!
Be Grateful to Everyone.
And Start by loving yourself more!
Our life absolutely reflects our beliefs. How the ego loves to judge. If we could realize that we are each other’s beloved, we would improve the quality of our life. Yet, how quickly we rush in to judge ourselves and other people. The Dalai Lama counsels each of us to remember, “Treat everyone you meet as a long lost friend.” We are all interconnected.
Since love can and does mean so many different things to different people, we often speak of conditional love rather than knowing we are lovable and worthwhile simply because we are alive.
Rather than using the word love, today, I choose the word gratitude. When we live from a place of gratitude, not insisting “people places and things need to be a certain way” (an AA maxim), we are indeed liberated.
This concept can be so hard for idealists like me, especially when people in the political arena, or at the grocery store, and myself! do not live up to my idealism for our society. One of my clients in AA told me that whenever he doesn’t get what he wants for the moment, he quietly tells himself, “I guess God doesn’t want me to do this or have this right now.” Therapy is about cultivating happiness despite what is happening or not happening in our life.
“Know that joy is rarer, more difficult, and more beautiful than sadness. Once you make this all-important discovery, you must embrace joy as a moral obligation.”
When we can accept things for what they are, and we don’t need people to be different, we open a different field of noticing how much we are interconnected. Is this a contradiction, a paradox, or not?
Standing by your Beloved’s side
Reaching out …
With your cup of solace
Drawn from your vast Reservoir …
The earth (still)… needs you
COvid-19 and Us
Mindfulness and Buddhism reminds us: Be present! Don’t miss out.
When our clients often imply: “This shouldn’t be happening!” we can agree with them, what should we do? The present is here. It is what we have, what we must work with and learn to live in.
Spring is a good time to forgive yourself again and again, and learn to be more compassionate to yourself. We are each other’s consolation. Nature is generous, and we need to honor her with utmost appreciation. Like the earth, we do not have infinite resources, so please don’t squander your energy on unimportant things. Joy is paramount.
We can luxuriate in this time- not rushing off to work as usual. Again: after a long year of drought, it recently started to rain. We have been given a gift: to slow down, to take refuge during the sheltering in place that this rainy day allows. Maybe we can do those things that we have been avoiding for a long time, to return to ruined places or things long forgotten . . .
This can be a time of sifting through what is important and discarding what no longer works. This can be a time of immense gratitude. Although our practice might be way down, many of us are somehow able to work, when so many people cannot.
Many MFTs have been under-earning for such a long time, this puts our lives in precarious balance. I realize people are very concerned about their income right now, and I wish I had answers for you.
What we do know:
“If you are well, stay home. If you are sick, stay home and don’t give it to others.” ~ Deepak Chopra
Yes, we need to take the necessary precautions. Wash Hands. Social Distancing. Repeat.
For years, many of our clients have come into therapy proclaiming, “This isn’t supposed to be happening!” The “This” changes from day to day. Life does not match our ideals. And yes! life does not live up to our idealism. What else can is possible and what else can we create with each day?
What does therapy ask of us and our clients? Can we be happy despite everything that goes wrong in a day? Many of us are feeling scared, maybe facing our mortality for the first time. We hear, “The virus is contracted through air, so merely breathing can leave me exposed to this.”
If we are exposed, be assured that most of us, if not all of us in this community, most likely will survive. Close adult friends of mine have had it, and survived. Elderly vulnerable people and parents of friends have had it, and all survived.
But still…we cannot know for sure.
Now we mostly might be saying, “I am not supposed to die.”
Our lives are bound by this universal truth that we all anxiously seem to do whatever possible to avoid facing. Each of us will face death one day. A lot of comedy is relies on that we cannot hide from this fact. The problem is not necessarily in the dying, but often stems from not accepting what is. At times, we might feel that the task is too hard, but each of us is up to it in a myriad of ways, as unwelcome and scary as it might be.
How can we help our family and each other, enjoying what love we can along the way? To quote my client this week, “Crazy that we waste so much time hating ourselves or other people.”
Can we as therapists endure “the light” and what is uncomfortable and maybe even unwelcome in the clinical hour? Can we create a new narrative when it comes to death? How we choose to live will be a reflection of this.
One thing we know: If you want to dispel fear of death or dying, talk about it.
We are in the month of April as I write this. Every Spring in Honor of Passover, we can learn to ask questions and ultimately recognize where we are stuck in our lives. We can discover where we need to be liberated.
Facing fear can help liberate us. We might need to make an attitude adjustment. What else can we create beyond the prevailing dialogue of fear right now? What can we discover about the light that cannot be contained, the inner lightness—as many of us enter a holy month?
For those who celebrate Easter, Jesus comes back resurrected. What parts of our lives can we retrieve and reclaim? How can we extend beyond normal feelings of separation? Our task is to be more open with ourselves and to each other, but do we know how to do it?
Our neighbors, our friends, our family, our young people are scared. As we practice, we are asked nothing less than to heal ourselves, the earth and each other.
With the rain comes a renewed sense of aliveness. This may be time to feel more connected, more inspired to do what needs doing, to plant the right seeds, and remember the oneness we have with all of humanity as we face a common theme: our mortality and this Corona virus together.
Some of us will face death many times. When it does come, how can we recognize that death is not a failure?
The pain lies in our unwillingness to let go. While depression focuses on the past, anxiety focuses on an anticipated future. Fear is always asking, “What if…” This can be the very time to start evaluating everything that doesn’t work in our life at a time when everyone is experiencing a great degree of suffering and feeling life can be so fragile. It’s time to Create Rituals that affirm life.
We each have unique gifts to share. Yet we spend so much time accumulating money, chasing experiences and acquiring material possessions that we should ask ourselves: do they matter?
The Earth appreciates us conserving and living a simple life. Our Ancestors knew how to do this. Pollution is clearing over China & India. The earth is responding is such great ways, because we are slowing down and taking solace.
Difficult conversations are generative and present an opportunity to overcome fear. They say when we face death there will be two lights over us, one overwhelmingly bright and one dim. The Kabbalah Creation Story teaches us: We fear annihilation by the bright light, but our task is to tolerate the light and welcome the gaze of people who want to love us. Do not turn away, but receive the light both in this world and when it is time to die. Each day we can practice in little ways to accept the things that scare us. We can receive love. We are so daunted by this task.
The Howling at Night
What is your medicine? Loving more fiercely- especially yourself.
We are more connected than we realize. We can stay grounded by rituals that create spiritual togetherness in times of social distancing.
I live in a rural area just outside San Francisco. A local realtor complained about “all the howling at night!!” She was not referring to the coyotes who can be heard miles away from the mountains. Every night at 8 p.m., the ritual begins. Loud drumming, dancing, boisterous singing, chanting and howling echoes through this valley. Everyone goes outside their isolated home to feel a sense of aliveness, to be less alone and to remind us we are all connected. This ritual has spread worldwide. Locally, some say this ritual started in Mill Valley to honor medical workers of all kinds who risk their lives every day during the pandemic.
What is Very reassuring: I am still alive. The world breaks. Everyone wails sooner or later.
When we face our fear of dying, we can tend to the earth, our small world and our relationships—whether with strangers or people we have lost track of—we can step out to celebrate the ordinary.
In this month of Early Spring Rituals, We Celebrate the Earth.
We can Heal the Planet one day at a time, such as on Earth Day, April 22, 2020!
I grew up 1960s and ‘70s, and I remember celebrating the first Earth Day. My eleven-year-old friends and I created a parade where we marched up and down Main Street banging on pots and pans. It was fun for all!
Our task: Accept the world exactly as it is. The sounds, sights, Our Collective Karma, culture’s Dark Night of the Soul—they all need to be recognized. Our country’s role on the world stage is in dire need of repair. Can I count on you to join in and help repair this broken world we love?
Celebrate when you can and know most people who do contract the virus will survive. This is not a death sentence. I have known many, even elderly who have weakened immune systems, who have survived.
So now what?
“There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”
“How to be a Poet”
By Wendell Berry
(to remind myself)
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
Therapy asks each of us, “can we dare be happy despite how (fill in the blank)”
As idealists, we mostly say no, but therapy is about considering a radical idea that can include ourselves in the equation.
Our clients ask for this, our kids ask for this, and perhaps the earth is asking this of us too.
Every day as therapists we set out to make the world a better place, especially when we decide to be happy and joyful—despite the prevailing turmoil and chaos. When I am sick, I hope people will remember to be joyful around me. When I die, I hope the people who love me will remember to be happy that I graced this earth.
Lastly, I realize most of us are ashamed of our country and President Trump right now.
But there is one thing you can do because California needs you right now. If you haven’t completed your Census, please do so now, it is urgent. Here’s the link: 2020census.gov
The federal government grants California $1800 per person each year for 10 years; we Californians will need this aid in the coming months to quell mounting concerns due to a history of wildfires and also to address ongoing concerns as we take up the good fight to house the homeless.
Blessings to you and everything in you that scares you,
Ilene Wolf, LMFT
This letter was posted in the San Francisco California Marriage and Family May/June 2020 Newsletter