The garden is my happy place. And it’s been a source of immense joy and happiness throughout this pandemic – offering me a constant space for solace and hope.
But it’s also been a bit of an escape.
Funny how that happens, right? How we can easily turn something healthy and good into just another excuse to do our same old thing. Which for me is avoidance.
This is odd to admit right now – but in almost 8 weeks, I have managed to stay put. As in, I don’t really leave my home. No, really, I mean it. What began as a two-week quarantine somehow turned into a two-month self-imposed isolation – mostly spent in my garden.
Though in my defense, it IS spring …
Seriously though, had I not had a friend come visit and basically drag me out shopping, who knows how much longer I could’ve kept hiding out.
Except, hiding from what? Not the virus. Not people. Certainly not shopping. I honestly had no idea what the heck I was hiding from.
It wasn’t until we were in line at our local co-op, waiting to check out that it hit me.
I couldn’t stop staring at this little boy, standing perfectly on his ‘X’ of red tape, exactly six feet in front of mine. He couldn’t have been more than four-years-old, wearing his own tiny face mask, looking up at the cashier, through the plexiglass barrier.
That’s when I felt it. My eyes swelled with tears:
Oh my God, I’m sad. I’m so horribly sad.
I’m sad that this little boy in front of me has to learn to keep his distance, to be afraid. But it’s even more than that —
I’m sad knowing that if he were a little black or brown boy, there would still be so much more in this country to fear (and mourn) than a virus.
I’m sad that 100k people in the U.S. have now lost their lives – and millions have lost their jobs. And that rather than mourn the loss together, we will divide ourselves over face masks.
I’m sad that nationalism has taken a stronghold over the world; that Donald Trump is our president; and that conspiracy and hate rates higher than truth and compassion.
I’m sad that my son thinks giving me a hug is putting me at risk – and that I have no idea when I will be able to see my daughter next, or visit my aging parents.
So that’s why I stay in my garden. I’m not afraid of the virus. I’m afraid of the grief.sad
1. causing or associated with grief or unhappiness.
2. pathetically inadequate or unfashionable
I can’t believe I missed all the symptoms. The heaviness, the lethargy, a general lack of motivation and purpose, plus headaches and trouble sleeping – it was all there. And I am a trained counselor, for goodness sakes. So I know what depression looks like.
But sad exposes our deepest vulnerability – a heart that can break. And so I hid. Hid in my garden as if sad were something to be ashamed of.
Truth of the matter is, sad makes most of us uncomfortable. It makes us feel broken, weak, and even ungrateful. This is especially so sometimes in the yoga community where we almost shun or shame anything less than more positive emotions like joy, gratitude, happiness, and peace.
And yet, of course my heart is breaking. I imagine yours too. We are going through a historic time of profound loss. So of course, we are grieving. Isn’t that natural? Isn’t that normal?
How about healthy? What if sad is actually good for us?
Easing off the Gas
A depression in mood and energy is part of the body’s physiological response to a crisis situation – following the initial fight-or-flight survival phase.
Remember when the COVID alarm bell first rang out? Countries quickly shut down leaving a frenzy of people trying to get home. There was the panic buying and stay-at-home orders. Then almost overnight, everything went online – all college courses, business meetings, and of course yoga classes, workshops and retreats.
Fighting for toilet paper + fleeing to Zoom; this was fight-or-flight in a nutshell.
Fight-or-flight is the body’s automatic physiological response to danger. In the face of imminent threat, the body releases certain stress hormones to quicken our ability to assess and react. Call it an adrenaline rush. And at the same time, it will suppress the ones that might hold us back – like sleep and appetite.
But fight-or-flight has a lifespan. It cannot go on forever. And at some point, that big burst of energy needs to be recouped. The body needs to rest and recover.
Which is why we feel that ‘let down’ just after a major crisis – an exhaustion that is both physical and emotions. This is the parasympathetic nervous system putting on the break, depressing both our energy and our mood to bring us back in balance.
So if you’re feeling a little more down than usual – kind of like walking through quicksand – it’s actually a very good sign. It means your body’s adrenal response to stress is functioning properly.
Except what happens if the threat doesn’t pass?
When we stay in fight-or-flight too long (like 6 weeks too long), we override the body’s natural let-down phase, rewiring the brain to remain on high alert. So basically, we never feel free of the danger.
This constant and continual stress leads to a paradoxical response of ‘learned helplessness’ where we feel utterly powerless and lose all motivation and hope.
In other words, not just sad. But real and actual despair.
Putting on the Break
The truth of the matter is this: we are living through some incredibly fucked up times, a time of historic loss. And fighting over face masks or fleeing to my garden isn’t going to help us. We cannot continue to operate in fight-or-flight. For it comes at a price.
We need that let-down phase in order to stay healthy. And it’s time and space we will have to create more consciously. We simply cannot wait for all threat to pass. It’s already been too long.
Especially when a little depression is exactly what we need to keep going. And it was what I needed to get going again.
You see, I felt relief in finally admitting how I was feeling – like a weight had been lifted. It didn’t make me sadder to say I was sad. I felt better. And it felt even better to talk about it with Maryl, after we got home. Then later, with Meghan. And to hear them admit – they feel sad too.
“It’s like I’m walking through oatmeal.”
This is how one person in our current online Equanimity course described her current mode of operation – slow, thick, and heavy.
In fact, research cited in a recent article in The Atlantic suggests about half of us are experiencing depressing symptoms right now.
Which doesn’t mean there is no happiness and joy or even gratitude. We can feel all of this and still feel sadness at the same time. We just don’t always let ourselves.
Do you let yourself? For no matter who you are or where you live, there is bound to be some grief you are carrying.
Large or small, it’s important to pause and acknowledge the sadness. To say it out loud, even if just to yourself. Permission to feel whatever is there.
Because the irony is that if we want to feel happier, we then need that space to mourn.
5 Ways to Process the Grief
At least a few days a week, slow down your practice; take longer breaths and more time in postures. And if you’ve been practicing with a teacher on Zoom, perhaps consider taking a break. It’s hard enough to listen to yourself – and even harder with someone else watching.
It’s a practice called Morning Pages, from the book, The Artist’s Way. Every day, you write three continuous pages. It’s a total stream of consciousness with no editing, censoring, or even reading. Don’t be surprised if by page 1.5, you end up uncovering thoughts and feelings you hadn’t realized were there. It’s like being with a friend by just listening, only you are also the friend.
A regular meditation practice is a wonderful way to stay present to all that we are feeling, teaching us to sit with thoughts and emotions we would normally avoid – without reacting. And the more experience we have with those uncomfortable feelings, the less uncomfortable they actually become. If you are new to the practice or perhaps looking for some guidance, Meghan will be offering one-on-one session for those interested. You can set up your session here.
A walk in the woods, a stroll along the beach, or just time spent in the garden (just make sure you don’t spend ALL your time there) – nature has a way of opening us up and making us feel safe and held, at the same time.
Ever notice how much more lush and green the world is after a good solid rain? Same goes for us. Sometimes a good cry is exactly what we need to wash away the sadness. Because those emotional tears release oxytocin and endorphins – the chemicals that alleviate pain and make us feel good. Crying is another way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
Equanimity Through the Storm || A Special Online Series
Next session begins July 10th: