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A Balanced Way: Daoist Tips for the 21st Century – Surviving Self-Isolation

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 266 - November 2020

 

Isolation

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 42, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
 

Abandoned and Excluded

I am writing this at a time when the first wave of the corona virus pandemic has abated and we all feel a sense of relief. Nevertheless we may well have to face a second wave of the virus and one of the most difficult and challenging aspects of the pandemic has been the isolation many of us experienced as a result of the lockdown. If we choose to be isolated we can retreat into solitude and feel empowered as we enjoy taking time out from our usual commitments to find stillness and tranquillity. When solitude is forced upon us we can feel imprisoned, excluded and abandoned and during the 2020 pandemic many people felt that way. Research consistently shows that connecting socially enhances our immunity to disease – we deal with stress better and even live longer as social ties appear to reduce death rates among adults with documented medical conditions.[1]

Brummett and colleagues found that, among adults with coronary artery disease, the socially isolated had a risk of subsequent cardiac death 2.4 times greater than their more socially connected peers.[2] Isolation is challenging for most of us – we humans are tribal creatures and are used to socialising. The recent enforced lock down caused many people who live on their own to experience physical and mental ill health and the longer term effects are no doubt still to be revealed.

If we live busy lives, always on the go, we can find huge benefits by choosing to spend time on our own recharging our batteries but this aloneness is enjoyed precisely because we know we can return to our social support system when we choose to. For those in the throes of the pandemic who suddenly found themselves alone and without their usual support network this was a scary, stressful, disempowering time. With all our modern technology of phones and iPads we may feel connected in some ways but those sessions on Zoom are not the same as actual face-to-face contact. Nonetheless isolation can have a positive side –potentially it is an opportunity to cultivate a deeper connection with our inner selves and also with the outer world.

Daoism tells us that we are all connected and are all part of the web of life – even if living in isolation. The entire universe is governed by the laws of the Dao, and all of this web forms one complete whole. All the ten thousand things, animal, vegetable, mineral and all processes – pandemics and lockdown included, are connected and everything influences everything else in some way or another. In this fluid, changing and incredible web we are all part of each other and thus any sense of aloneness and separation is actually an illusion. Nevertheless it is hard to feel this connection when we are isolated and this sense of separation can lead to feelings of anxiety, sadness and, as research shows, symptoms of ill health. How then can we heal this sense of loss and separation, how can we feel connected even when we are on our own?

 

Learn the Metta Bhavana (Loving-Kindness) Meditation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVJdxv9thkA

 

Connecting with Your Self

If you are alone in isolation and feeling a sense of sadness at the loss of connection this can be an opportunity to fully appreciate and connect with your true self. Daoists tend not to have a fixed idea of the self – the self is actually the Dao -- the fluid, changing web manifesting as the individual “you”. This gives you a world of possibilities as to who you really are. We tend to hold onto a fairly fixed and rigid idea of our ‘self’ and this can result in a blocking of our emotions, our energy, our potential. The spiritual teacher Alan Watts described this limited viewpoint well; “How many things is a person; an individual organism? Well, it depends on what point of view you’re going to take in describing it. In the normal way, we describe one body as a body. And that is a thing. Physiology describes it as many organs. Physics describes it as many molecules, or atoms, or electrons, mesons, protons – what have you. And sociology will look upon you as only a part-thing, because the sociologist likes to have his unit [be] a group, a society.” And so, if you only see yourself through the lens of one or some of these viewpoints you immediately limit who you truly are. The Daoist view that each of us is fluid and changing gives us an enormous freedom to connect with the self in the sense of uncovering whoever we discover ourselves to be.

In order to discover who we really are we need time and our own space –unhurried, not pressured by work or commitments. A time of isolation is thus a great opportunity to explore identity in the Daoist sense. In seclusion we now have the time and the space to go within and make a deep connection – getting in touch with our emotions and listening to our intuition. In this way, free of societal pressures, free of living up to expectations we can discover who we are, how we feel, how we need to live our lives and what it is that is stopping ourselves from doing just that. Instead of distracting ourselves by watching boxed sets endlessly, overeating and drinking too much we can use this time as a gift to be savoured and valued. Start by going within and exploring your feelings...practise this exercise to experience a deeper connection with yourself.

Sit quietly in a space where you know you won’t be interrupted by your phone or anything else. Gently tune into whatever you are feeling. Notice where in your body you are holding onto a strong emotion – is it grief that is constricting your chest, anger knotting up your muscles, anxiety churning your stomach? Feel the feeling and allow it to fully surface – cry, rage , allow your anxiety and fear to bubble up. Be with the pain fully and do not try to distract from it. Once you are fully aware of the feelings of that moment, noticing the thoughts that trigger them and the sensations that arise, allow the feelings to move through you, physically and emotionally. Focus on being present, breathing, letting go of your feelings, centering yourself in the moment. Once you feel you have identified and discharged your emotional load then sit quietly and in silence and affirm to yourself “I am at one with this vast ocean of stillness and silence, I am safe and well always.” Continue your day by living mindfully through your senses – be present – hear the sound of the rain, smell the cooking, taste your food fully, see the colours in the sky, be aware of the changing sensations in your body. Living mindfully like this you make a deep connection with being – feeling truly alive.

Connecting with Intuition

Connecting fully to our inner selves, exploring who we are involves cultivating intuition. Use this time of aloneness to cultivate the inner teacher – and discover what works best for you in your life. Pay attention to your inner guide – listen to those gut feelings and inner promptings that point out to you the direction to follow. Take note of dreams at this time for they are expressions of your deeper self.

Use isolation to listen to the messages your body gives you. Your body knows innately how to repair itself, how to heal and what is best for you, but in this era of high tech we often turn away from listening to the wise murmurs of our bodily intelligence and turn instead to the ‘experts’ to tell us how to get better. Doctors and therapists of all disciplines can help with the healing process but ultimately we all need to take responsibility for our own physical and mental health and we can use this time of lockdown to do just that. Recent discoveries in biophysics show the presence of neuropeptides – intelligent hormone like substances that circulate in the blood. This backs up what Daoists have maintained for thousands of years – that intelligence is circulated throughout the whole body and is not resident solely in the brain. Every cell of our being has the wisdom to guide us towards all that heals us if we listen. The peace and quiet of isolation can provide us with the perfect opportunity to listen to our innate wisdom guide us towards positivity and healing.

Connecting with Others

During lockdown we can connect with others via the internet but a deeper connection with the wider world can also occur if we daily practise Metta Bhavana – a Buddhist meditation. Metta Bhavana practice is one that cultivates loving kindness and will connect us to others even when we are in isolation. The aim of this meditation is to become like a steady fire, a flame of emotional warmth that will embrace all beings even when we are not in physical contact. The practice is in five stages. Sit comfortably and imagine a flame of love in your heart that burns with a soft but clear flame. Extend this out firstly to ….

  • Yourself – feel the warmth expand and fill your body;
  • A good friend – feel the warmth radiate out to him/her;
  • A ‘neutral’ person – someone we don’t have any strong feelings for;
  • A ‘difficult”’person – someone we have conflicts with or feelings of ill will towards;
  • All beings.

Other Ways of Connecting

If during a time of enforced isolation you have feelings of deep distress please remember that there is support and help out there. Samaritans are a good starting point – they provide a non-judgemental listening ear – their phone number for the UK is listed below.[3] Also there are so many wise and compassionate voices online – teachers such as Eckhart Tolle and Pema Chodron to name just two.

Use the time of isolation to explore your emotions and to connect with your inner guidance. And you can use this time to extend love and care out to the wider world through Metta Bhavana meditation. This is also as an opportunity to connect with your body by taking care to eat healthily, get enough sleep, take exercise. Connect with nature by taking walks in the garden or in a park. Even looking out of the window at a starry night sky can help us to feel part of the larger world. Recognise that the purpose of your isolation, of your solitude is to feel fully connected with your self and with all life.

References

1.www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921311/

2.Brummett BH, Barefoot JC, Siegler IC, Clapp-Channing NE, Lytle BL, Bosworth HB, Williams RB Jr, Mark DB, Characteristics of Socially Isolated Patients With Coronary Artery Disease Who Are at Elevated Risk for Mortality, Psychosom Med 63:267-72. Mar-Apr 2001.

3. Samaritans UK phone line 116123.

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About Vicki McKenna

Vicki McKenna BA Lic Ac trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining her Lic Ac. in 1984 and has been practising acupuncture in Scotland since then. Her book A Balanced Way Of Living is an ‘inside out’ way of thinking about and managing Post Polio Syndrome (PPS). Her practical strategies and holistic approach encourages even Type A polio survivors to slow down and listen to what their bodies, hearts - and even souls - are telling them: "Do for yourself as you have been doing for others." A Balanced Way Of Living is unusual because it includes dietary, natural and alternative therapies for PPS plus a unique Eastern view that outlines meditation, breathing and yoga as PPS treatments. The book is clearly and sympathetically written by a polio survivor who is also a acupuncture therapist and includes many case studies. By following McKenna's strategies, polio survivors cannot help but feel better, inside and out. To purchase A Balanced Way Of Living please visit  www.postpolioinfo.com/balanced_way.php  Vicki may be contacted via vickimckenna51@hotmail.co.uk    www.balancedway.simplesite.com/

 

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