Practicing Presence during a Pandemic


It has been over a year since I wrote in this blog. My reasons included: 1) feeling relatively healthy and thus not having any new thoughts on overcoming binge-eating disorder; 2) feeling called to read more than write; and 3) pride. That’s a big one. Pride has been a stumbling block for many years of my life. (For those who know or are interested in the Enneagram, I am a “TWO” and the vice of TWOs is pride.) Pride has said to me, “Don’t admit if you’ve had a setback. People think you’re recovered.” Pride has also said, “If you can’t say something new and engaging, why write anything at all?” And, worst of all, pride says, “You have better, more important things to do.”

To my surprise (and initial annoyance!), a therapist friend sent me a text last week asking if I still have my blog; she wanted to share it with a client. As I read her text, I felt my jaw clench. I noticed my irritation and resistance to even the thought of “starting up that old blog”. I told her the blog existed, but I hadn’t updated it for over a year. I gave her the link and promised her (and myself) that I would explore my resistance. And then I promptly forgot about it for the weekend. (Haha…resistance at its best!)

This morning, a line from Father Richard Rohr’s blog post caught my attention: “If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it in some form.” Transforming pain requires first being present with it. I suddenly remembered the promise I made myself to explore my resistance, so here I am. (I might add that after convincing myself to start exploring my resistance by writing this post, I suddenly had an urge to do five other “important” things first!)

So, here I am. And here you are. Reading a post that promised to be about “practicing presence during a pandemic”. So, here we go:

During the past three weeks, I’ve been working from home, practicing social distancing, and taking only absolutely necessary trips to the store. My feelings during the first two weeks of this were basic: 1) fear about the virus and 2) stress about getting myself set up to work remotely. As my body was awash in those fear and stress chemicals (adrenaline and cortisol), I regularly found myself standing with the refrigerator or pantry doors open, mindlessly searching for food, eating in larger volume than usual, eating past feeling full, and drinking more alcohol than usual. I didn’t want to sit and be present with my fear and anxiety. I just wanted it gone. Food and alcohol are quick fixes.

However, I’ve come far enough in my recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder and in my daily mindfulness practice to recognize when I am using maladaptive coping strategies such as these. So, I took note of this and started to journal about it. This allowed me to recognize what was happening, normalize the fear, explore it with curiosity, and find other ways to tend to my feelings (e.g., coloring, solo walks around my neighborhood, keeping the TV off, listening to instrumental music, playing with my cats, etc.). Being present with my feelings (fear, stress, resistance) reduced their power over me and gave me back some control over how I respond to those feelings, so I don’t transmit them, hurting myself or others.

Therapist and mindfulness meditation teacher, Tara Brach, offers us the acronym “RAIN” to give us a step by step guide to being present with feelings, thoughts, and sensations that we prefer to turn away from (or worse, transmit onto ourselves or others). She writes that we can:

Recognize what is happening;

Allow life to be just as it is;

Investigate with gentle attention; and

Nurture ourselves.

She shares many guided meditations on her website, but this one about facing our fear of this pandemic is especially helpful: Bringing RAIN to Fear. She encourages us to be present with and “hold” our fear with mindfulness and compassion.

I invite you to be present with your feelings today. Perhaps you begin with this guided meditation or you simply sit still and recognize what feelings, thoughts, and sensations are present in you at this moment. Be gentle with yourself and be kind to yourself. And, to borrow the closing words from Bishop Daniel Gutierrez’s sermon live-streamed from the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral yesterday, “You are beautiful. Your lives have meaning. And I love you.”

Peace, joy, and health,