I had no idea I would be hunkering down in my retirement home, in the spring of 2020, in the midst of a pandemic. My kids are always saying they are going to put me in one, if I don’t stop bugging them, but really, this early????
I have been going north for 52 years, and it’s more a feeling of home for me than Toronto. However, I have never spent much time here, in early spring or late fall, as I found in the past the environs not to my liking.
The brown dead grass emerging after the snowmelt, so that there was no pristine white snow left to play in; the lake not being stable enough to skate or walk upon, and the weather generally too cool and rainy to be enjoying the out of doors. I am pleased to report my attitude has shifted, and I am better for it. Times have changed!
I have never been here, able to get up every morning and take my decaf coffee down to the dock, sit on my Muskoka chair, which I hauled out of the shed the earliest it has ever been reacquainted with my rear end, and watch with undivided attention the ice receeding. In one week, it has steadily done its thing, moving away from the dock, out into the lake, now about 50 metres. Each day I look toward the middle of my part of the lake, and see a steady movement of a far-away river tributary slowly, mindfully pushing the ice away, getting its ‘steady as she goes’ direction from Mother Nature, who knows exactly what to do, whether Covid 19 is ravaging the world and rocking our sense of security and life as we knew it, or not.
There is something so reassuring watching the many signs of spring unfold, and realizing that there is routine and structure and consistency still in our world. We all have to do our part and change our routines and find very creative ways to undertake to live our lives in the new norm, without driving ourselves and others crazy, following the rules to keep us well and not risk infecting others, while we wait for the pandemic to subside. We will never be the same again, and frankly, this might turn out to be a good thing.
As I mentioned in my first blog, crisis always brings change, sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse, but change nonetheless. Hopefully out of all this we can live a more mindful life, individually and collectively in common humanity, and as positively connected stewards of this wonderful planet. We can breathe better and live better in the present moment, with way less regret about the past, which we can do absolutely nothing about except perhaps learn valuable lessons, and stop our preoccupation with the future, trying to control the future, which we cannot. The present moment is all we have and it is a wonderful thing to get up close and personal with it, which brings me to my story of my new best friend.
I am going on a long walk every day accompanied only by nature, while I social distance and do my part. I had set a goal for this winter to ski 30 days and finish my book. Since the mountain had to be closed, I am trying very hard to stay on a fitness routine, so that I can stay strong and happy, even though I am unable this year to meet my goal of giving Nancy Greene Raine a run for her money. For those of you who don’t know her she won us gold in the 1968 Olympics in the giant slalom, and was voted as Canada’s female athlete of the 20thcentury. I met her a few years ago at her mountain where she leads meet up groups, and you can ski with her and hang out and she gives you tips (no pun intended, get it, ski tips!) She is a no nonsense kind of gal, and I was telling her that I was anxious about skiing hard anymore, because of a concussion I got a few years prior, caused by an overly entitled adolescent snowboarder who rammed into me, and then just kept on going. Nancy said, “Nonsense, that was the past, forget about it, you have today and it’s a beautiful day, just focus on your skis now, forget about your head injury and the anxiety and get down the hill. Focus”. With her voice ringing in my ear, off I went and had the best run of that week. Nancy is a very mindful person. Forget about the past and the hold it has on you and live for the moment, releasing yourself from those insecurities and anxieties.
Yesterday’s walk saw me initially bundled up in my coat, hat and mitts, which I started shedding along the way as I realized how beautiful and warm the sun was on my face and body. It was a bluebird day here. A bluebird day is an old hippie term that describes the incredible blue sky over the mountains in B.C., and a perfect ski day in the sun with no clouds.
I cut across the field behind my retirement home, or the Covid Cabin as I have begun to think of it, heading to a little used country lane way. When I reached it, and started walking along the road I looked down and saw a huge, fuzzy, black and brown caterpillar meandering along. I decided to stop and watch his progress, quite a radical act of mindfulness for me who still tries to do as much as possibly can be squeezed into any given day, and remembered a story I have told many times in my therapy practice.
When mindfulness meditation came into my life many years ago, it changed my world. I was a harried professional, mother and community activist, doing as much as I could possibly do to ostensibly help others, but creating chaos in my world. Over the years, when I listen to mothers of younger kids saying how frustrating it is when they have to hurry their little ones along, to get them to daycare or school, when all the kids just want to do is stop and look at a caterpillar cross the road, I smile and sometimes say that I personally, with the wrinkled wisdom of age and now a mother of adult children, would give anything for just one more uninterrupted day of being with each of my kids, around age 3, where we could sit together and just be in the moment, just be in their world of caterpillars or blocks, little car games or snuggles on the couch.
Children are naturally mindful and it is we adults who take it away from them. I was thinking about that as I bent down to study this fuzzy little thing, just being with the caterpillar and not feeling any sense of urgency to be anywhere else. After admiring him and looking up the road and wondering how long he had been hiking, I left and continued on my walk. A strange thing started to happen. I noticed myself becoming increasingly anxious and agitated, even-though moments before I couldn’t have been more at ease. My brain started slipping out of the present and future-tripping into a spiralling monkey brain of ruminations and rapid thoughts, about how that little pillar of strength and resolve was going to be able to walk down the rest of the lane and survive being squished by large tires on cars or tractors, that would surely come and murder him. I quickly turned back and decided I could control the future and the fate of my new little friend and save his life. The Compassion Junkie to the rescue!!!
I found a feather and gently used it to move him from the middle of the road, in order to control the future and my thoughts that a sure death was imminent. It turned out he was not amused. He immediately curled into a little ball, having previously been strutting his stuff, long and fuzzy and purposeful and looked dead. I thought I had killed him. Not really an expert on the ins and outs of a caterpillar’s psyche, but knowing a thing or two about trauma, I re-evaluated my actions and thought perhaps he had curled into a little ball in a naturally ingrained act of self-protection and that I was not a caterpillar murderess after all.
I moved away and slowly but surely he uncurled from his freeze response, at least I think that is what it was from the Fight, Flight or Freeze evolutionary options, responses to protect ourselves from danger in our environment. He stretched and was ready to march on, seemingly quite forgiving of the human who scared him half to death, when I had another momentary lapse of sanity and decided I must have done it improperly, so took the feather and tried again, to move him to the perceived safety of the field beside the roadway. Wasn’t it Einstein who said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? I ain’t no Einstein, and I might be a bit whacky, but after the second time of seeing the little guy curl into a very tight ball, so that his previous length and powerful determined disposition was all but gone, I ‘came to’ and realized I must cease and desist.
I stopped, grounded with my breath, in and out for a count of 4 and placed the potential murder weapon the grass and left my buddy.
I couldn’t help but look back, from twenty feet down the road and there was my little fuzzy friend uncurled again, making a hard right off the road, into the safety of the grass beside him.
We will come through this crisis – stay mindful, keep your distance, don’t infect your friends by steering them away from their own journey to health in this time and get out in nature and find your own hopeful signs of spring. Take the time to notice the beginning blossoms on the trees; see the Robins, and the Cardinals and the Blue Jays returning home (we won’t be able to see our baseball teams for a while, so look for the real McCoy) Stay present in the moment, take control in a good way of what you can do to manage through this time, and know we will get through it together.