by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
I recently felt frustrated by my efforts to practice social distancing and isolation to keep others safe when I looked around to see that many aren’t taking these same precautions.
Our community and country are divided on the issue of wearing face masks as a way to protect others from the risk of getting Covid-19.
There has been a striking difference between those who continue social distancing versus those opting for family holiday gatherings. There are dramatically differing political views and varied approaches to protecting others that stem from completely opposing perspectives. I noticed how this prompted my aggravation and how this could easily lead to becoming angry and stressed.
A friend pointed out that anger toward those who don’t take the pandemic seriously is a righteous kind of anger because it’s about justice and equal care for all. I agree.
But I also sometimes feel my anger toward those with opposing opinions about the pandemic risk treads a fine line toward my becoming disparaging and judgmental. This kind of negative thinking can harm your well-being because it causes stress. Stress causes mental and physical anguish.
As I continue praying about this during my daily Buddhist chanting routine, I’m awakened to the importance of forging respect for the life of every living being regardless of opposing ideologies. I work to steer my thoughts away from a ‘them versus us’ mentality.
As I let go of anything I have no control over, I release negative energy from my heart. I focus instead on what I can do; continue social distancing to protect my elder mother, myself, and others. I focus on how I can positively contribute to the situation. This change of heart helps me cope with my stress.
And it leads me to keep looking for a silver lining in pandemic life.
When I refocus my energy toward the positive within any situation, I become more capable of enduring difficulties with a more cheerful spirit. Doing this inner work is meaningful for me because when I feel better, I treat others better. When I can treat others better, we all feel better.
This long year of social distance and isolation has motivated my practice of gratitude. During this incredibly challenging year, I have learned to develop my sense of appreciation no matter what. I find that actively seeking things, people, and circumstances to appreciate is good for my mood and significantly impacts my day.
If we had gone through this pandemic crisis 20 years ago, the impact of our isolation would have been so much worse. I’m thankful this pandemic didn’t happen until 2020 because now we have the fortune of technology as a way to connect.
Fuel For Deeper Spiritual Practice
Another thing about this quarantine life that I am grateful for is that the stress of this situation has fueled my Buddhist practice of daily chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. I’ve begun using my spiritual practice to go inward for deeper work, reflection, and rejuvenation.
Whether you use prayer, meditation, yoga, exercise, reading, or a combination of these, carving out spiritual time for yourself has a positive impact. Self-care effort is an antidote to the frenzied habit of being constantly busy. It also counters the negative aspects of our excessive social media activities.
Center Yourself On Positivity
Speaking of gratitude, another thing that helps me navigate the challenges of pandemic life is to list three things I appreciate each morning and again each evening. This practice helps me center myself on positivity, regardless of what’s happening around me or in the world. It also raises my life state no matter what my obstacles may be.
Use Restrictions As Creative Fuel
I’m learning to put a favorable twist on social restrictions, too. Limitations push me to look for a new way to do things outside my typical habits or routine. These challenges provide an opportunity to spark innovative thinking, which research proves is good for mind, body, and spirit.
We can’t visit our elders or family members because we don’t want to risk getting or spreading the Covid-19 virus. This constraint has prompted us to find other ways to connect, like visiting elder relatives through the window while using a phone call to speak. When I took Mom to visit my nearly 90-year-old aunt, we stood outside her window singing Merry Christmas via a phone call to my cousin, who was inside with my aunt.
The quarantine has also prompted us to use FaceTime and Zoom for family holiday activities, write holiday cards and letters, and send old-fashioned thank you cards. The calm of writing holiday cards and thank-you letters and the joy we send through these messages bring us a boost in our mood, too.
Transform Old Traditions With A New Approach
These social barriers have provided us with new ways to revisit nostalgic traditions like driving separately to see holiday light decorations while social distancing to protect those at risk. Or parking in front of holiday light displays while chatting with loved ones by phone or FaceTime to share the moment.
Since our family opted for a family Zoom instead of a face-to-face gathering on Christmas, I created videos and photos of my elder Mom’s gift-receiving process. I posted these photos and videos on Google drive for the rest of my family to enjoy. You could do the same or upload the videos and photos onto another cloud service like Amazon, YouTube, or Vimeo! This frees us to focus on heart-to-heart connections during our family Zoom without the distraction of opening holiday gifts.
Online videos and photos can become treasured collections, along with recording legacy stories by your elders for future preservation. Create a digital movie that may be shared online with a simple link (and stored on an external hard drive for use during a future event once the pandemic is behind us).
More Nature Connection
Pandemic 2020 has motivated my nature connection. Nature immersion has become an even more meaningful treasure as well as spiritual and physical replenishment. Plus, it’s free!
My nature walks always inspire my creativity. I often take nature photos and create my products from these, along with positive affirmation statements. I've also written a photo essay series featuring my nature photos here. My nature visits have inspired me to create nature calendars. You can find these and many more of my nature-inspired products here. Nature inspires me to write poetry, blogs, and even dabble in a bit of painting and seasonal projects like leaf art!
Boredom Propels Movement!
The lack of structure from quarantine life has brought boredom, but this has sparked a greater interest in getting more exercise. Exercise outdoors in secluded parks and neighborhoods and even online for changing it up on rainy, snowy, cold days has broken up the boredom of seeing the same walls through work and personal life.
The benefits of exercise decrease stress and regulate hormonal balance. Exercise lowers stress hormone production and boosts physical, mental, and creative energy. So, thank you, Pandemic 2020, for the motivation to get up and move!
Games For Staying Sharp & Quality Downtime
Another perk of pandemic life has been finding new things to keep us both social and cognitively sharp. Game playing has become a way for more quality-based social connection for my elder Mom and myself during this shutdown. As an online business owner, games have also forced me to take much-needed technology and social media breaks and get some quality downtime.
Learning new games pushes us to develop our cognitive skills and grow new neurological pathways. Isn't this way better than becoming a useless couch potato?
I hope these ideas have given you something to appreciate in this challenging year. Leave a comment letting me know. Explore and offer your answers to these questions:
What has the pandemic caused you to appreciate?
What advice do you have for someone to see the silver lining in the pandemic?
How can you use the difficulty of pandemic life as fuel for creativity, gratitude, or connection?
What ideas do you have to improve your quarantine brain?
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by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
People think I have a large life. My energy commands a room. But it’s not intentional. In fact, sometimes I think I have two personalities.
And, no, I'm not schizophrenic.
I developed my exterior confidence through my job as a music educator, and my role as a Buddhist facilitator. Directing, leading and teaching large groups of people performing music, and facilitating faith-based activities with diverse groups provided abundant training.
When I’ve had the opportunity to lead, there was no room for ego or attention to myself. There was a task to do. I’ve honed that skill to focus on the task at hand without regard to my personal feelings.
I appreciate this skill.
It enabled me to achieve more as a teacher, chorus conductor, faith leader and performing musician. It allowed me to see beyond myself and do more than I would have otherwise envisioned had I stopped to ponder my capability.
Battling An Attack of Self-Doubt
On the flip side, my alter-ego is debilitatingly shy and constantly fighting doubt. Through sheer life experience and in particular debt to my SGI-USA Buddhist philosophy, I’ve managed to function well—beyond my insecurity.
But it relentlessly attacked me when least expected with insomnia. Even when I thought I’d confronted my inner demons, fear and doubt insidiously assaulted my thoughts until the wee hours of morning.
I’d combat it with my intellect, of course. I spoke to myself with a voice of calmness about reality and fool-proof strategies to turn away my inner demons. I distracted myself with reading, deep breathing and imagery of relaxed, happy visions.
I chanted my Buddhist mantra while attempting to empty the barrage of negativity swirling in my brain. I got out of bed and stretched. I wrote my thoughts in my journal. I fought the battle until 3am, despite exhaustion.
Finally, I’d drift off for about three hours of rest.
In the morning, it would all seem perfectly stupid. In the light of day, my evening struggle seemed like a mirage. Except that I was depleted for two days afterwards.
Making Headway By Forging Inner Strength
This darkness beat at my inner doors all my life. I’ve dramatically lessened the effects of it. It used to cause such stomach-upset agony I couldn’t function beyond bed-rest. It caused me to develop respiratory issues. I had no stamina against this demon.
I continued consistently battling it from the inside out with my determined prayer. I forced myself through the exact experiences that caused me anxiety, repeatedly. I forged directly through anxiety until I incrementally gained strength over it.
I no longer have those anxiety attacks that shook my whole body with nausea or stomach pain. I no longer get respiratory illness or stage fright. I have no qualms about public speaking, performing, or facilitating. I've led hundreds of groups as a music educator and chorus conductor, performed in front of thousands as a vocalist/pianist, and spoken in front of countless audiences from musical to community events, from weddings to funerals and beyond.
I don’t worry about what people think of me anymore. All those battles forged my strength and grew my confidence.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'
Notably, when I’m striving to reach a personal goal, or break through to a new level of success in any aspect of my life, my doubts rear their ugliness to challenge me.
That’s how I know I’m on the right track.
A Strong Opponent Builds Your Spiritual Muscle
My Buddhist practice confirms this is a sign of my inner growth; I’m pushing myself beyond comfort and growing my capacity larger than before. There should be some fear or doubt because...I’m human. I’m tackling new and bold territory.
I’m on to these twin evils (fear and doubt). They appear so I may open the path to my future with my true essence—my inner power fueled by belief in the human heart. My heart.
There’s resistance so I may develop spiritual muscle. These most powerful opponents enable me to forge my full potential. Anything easy would not warrant a victory celebration.
I wage on—with a resolute vow to never give up until I win absolute victory over every new challenge. I know it is always a test of my faith. A chance for me to see how my determined prayer—starting from the inner realm—manifests in tangible, conspicuous external proof, based on the interconnectedness of life.
I just have to do the inner work first.
Take that, doubt and fear. Take THAT.
I'd LOVE to hear from you. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Thank you for liking and sharing this blog with someone who may benefit from the information.
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COMING SOON: Watch this space for new ebooks, products and courses for nurturing creativity and inspiration!
In my INSPIRATION blogs, you’ll find ways to overcome obstacles, reach goals, and experience more joy in the moment with spiritual awareness and inner transformation.