Mind Matters — A Diary in Covid Time

June 9, 2020
Last week we had an outing to a New England beach where the water was stinging cold. It was our first adventure into stationary social distancing—that is, sitting on a beach for hours with other people albeit a good distance away. It was almost a normal event with granddaughters playing in the sand and the water and with us enjoying a picnic.

After our delightful day on our way back to the car, I observed my daughter carrying her baby in a sling as she also lugged other beach and baby accoutrements. Although we were all carrying stuff, it was her trudging through the thick soft sand, babe in arms, that left me wondering how any refugee or migrant manages to get anywhere. After our fifteen minute walk, we could enter our parked car with its AC and comfortable seats.

How do migrants, how do refuges, manage to keep going through heat, and thirst, and hunger, with crying babies and tired and whiny children? It has to be drastic circumstances to push a family to take such an arduous journey. I cannot imagine the courage and fortitude it takes to keep going.

June 12, 2020
Several years ago, I attended a mental health practitioner conference on Cape Cod. Given by Tara Brach, a psychologist and meditation trainer, the meeting focused on bringing mindfulness and loving kindness to our work with ourselves and our clients. I was staying alone at a friend’s summer home while they remained in the city during the week. It was a beautiful old Victorian set apart from other houses by several acres. I was enjoying the solitude it promised.

Toward the end of the week and before my friends would return, I was going to stay overnight at a relative’s home further away on the Cape. Before setting out for their place, I went to a nearby kettle pond for a long swim. I did go back to my friend’s house to shower and gather my things. It wasn’t until I was well on my way to my cousin’s that I looked in my rearview mirror to see a large cling-on transparency attached to my rear window—so that I could read it clearly and anyone else driving could also. The sign appeared to be a hate message to my bumper sticker that read, “God Bless the Whole World—No Exceptions.” The hateful response on my car was to the effect of “F… you and your f… blah, blah, blah.” My reveling was shattered.

Being alone in a strange house in a strange place compounded my fear. When did this person put this on my car? Was it at the kettle pond? Was it at the conference? Or, worse, my friend’s driveway? This was happening in Massachusetts, the so-called bastion of liberal thought and inclusiveness (not and not).

What got me to thinking about this is that today, now living in Massachusetts, I have hung a Rainbow flag and a Black Lives Matter sign in prominent places in our yard. Will the hate monster reappear?

June 21, 2020
So far the sign remains—the monster has not struck—yet. Between Covid-19 and the many moments of truth about racism, these are indeed tumultuous times. We all need a respite and fortunately my daughter and I did take a break—albeit bringing along a ten-month old and a four-year-old with us. (They needed a break too!) After a long drive through traffic, we found ourselves forest bathing amongst a large preserve on the south shore of Boston. There were twenty minute stretches of walking allées and carriage paths with views of ocean and skyline where we saw no one and could pull down our masks. It was luxurious despite the heat.

Researcher Qing Li has written Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, which is about the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, the “art and science of how trees can promote health and happiness.” I can attest to the effectiveness of forest therapy for the lowering of blood pressure and the easing of stress. Walking through that harbor forest, I did indeed feel renewed. Of course, an hour’s drive to a place where parking reservations must be made in advance cannot be a daily routine. However, my almost daily routine does entail walking in an historic garden cemetery near me (Mount Auburn). It has become my sole replacement for Longwood, Winterthur, and the Brandywine Conservancy. The Brandywine Valley has a plethora of “forest bathing” sites which I dearly miss. Yet I count my blessings for what Mount Auburn does for my mental and physical well-being.

“Forest bathing” may be one way to foster resilience. If ever there were a time to build resilience it is now. Linda Graham, a family therapist, spells out an exercise in her book, Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster. In this exercise, she suggests mindful ways to approach a natural landscape either with a friend or alone. She reminds us to notice the calming of the nervous system, notice the sensations of walking on the earth, the sounds of trees rustling, the smells. Shinrin-yoku!

See where you can find your own shinrin-yoku place. We don’t all have the luxury of large landscapes, but even touching the earth in a postage stamp yard, or looking at leaves rustling against blue sky on a city street, can bring a moment of peace in turbulent times.