With a global pandemic at our door— and so much fear and chaos in our society, it can be difficult to know how to function on a day-to-day basis. And, we are keenly aware of how this pandemic is compounding the impact on those in our society who are already suffering greatly from racism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia, and gender oppression.
Certainly, we all feel the challenge and strain of all the complex and dynamic factors that our communities are facing. And, yet we know that we each have the capacity to make a difference in our communities—and that we are all being called to step up with courage to be beacons of wellness and sanity.
“Leadership is taking responsibility for what matters to you.” —Julian Weissglass
At PassageWorks, we are committed to following our own practices at this time—practices that we know have supported us and the communities we have worked with for two decades. Of course, we all need accurate information, we need to take precautions, and we need to care for our families and communities at this time when the stakes are so high. We don’t know yet what the impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) will be on our communities, but we do know there will be disruptions, loss, and hardships of all kinds —and that we will have choices about how we respond and where we put our attention and energy.
Our approach is to make decisions from an informed and pro-active place that prioritizes our families’ and our collective health. We are currently all working from home, practicing social distancing and using Zoom and phone for meetings. We have found that bringing in moments of silence and stillness, checking in with each other heart to heart, and acknowledging the complex emotions that arise can be helpful antidotes to fear and anxiety. Humor, lightness and joy are also profoundly important right now—both for our spirits and for our immune systems!
Below are some strategies for navigating times of uncertainty, change, and suffering—that are drawn from “The Five Dimensions of Engaged Teaching”(which could also be called The Five Dimensions of Being Human). We hope these can add to your COVID-19 prevention and sanity kit (along with the hand sanitizers, antivirals, and good chocolate). These strategies are primarily focused on our own practice —and our belief that when we start with ourselves, that the impact ripples out to everyone we touch (virtually of course!).
As for our upcoming courses and events, like many organizations, we are monitoring the situation very closely and are postponing courses and events through 1st week of April. We will continue to make decisions according to school schedules and in line with regional government and health agency guidelines. Health and safety is the priority! Please check our website or call our office for updates.
The 5 Dimensions:
We hope the principles and practices below are useful for you.
Cultivating an Open Heart: Regardless of what is happening right now, how can I cultivate an open heart and not collapse into fear? If my heart is closed, what can I do to open it again? Do I need to check in with a family member, a friend, or therapist, take a hike, take three deep breaths?
Checking in with the state of our heart and getting the emotional support we need can support us to move out of our ‘reptilian’ reactive brain and continue to make human connections, even if it is within constraints of “social distancing”. It is also important to continue to have compassion for ourselves and the full range of our emotional experiences.
It is also critical in times of trauma and stress to be hyper-aware of our own cultural lens—and to create a welcoming, inclusive, and equitable environments for students, families and community members who are already traumatized by inequities and oppression in our society. Schools and communities that welcome and honor the diversity of cultures and identities have greater creativity and capacity to respond to crises, and are therefore more resilient and healthy.
Schools and classrooms that welcome and honor all the cultures and identities in the
community have greater creativity and capacity to respond to crises,
and are therefore more resilient and healthy.
Being Present: How can I be present and respond rather than react to the situation? Being present is especially tricky with the situation around COVID-19 which is changing hourly. It is easy to get lost in the news and worrying about the “future”. Of course, there are precautions to take and planning and preparation that is essential. And yet, our fear can also send us into endless loops of concern about the future that prevents us from being present in the moment. And being present in the “now” is essential for us to make good decisions rather than reacting from a triggered place. How can you help yourself come into presence each day? What supports this? How can you help the students you work with or the communities around you—with a moment of quiet, some reflective writing, some time outdoors?
Establishing Respectful Boundaries: What boundaries are essential now, given this moment? How do I balance caring for myself (and my family) and caring for others and the community? This balance is unique to everyone based on our life circumstances. What can be useful is to engage this question from a place of calm and peace, rather than when we are completely stressed and overloaded. It is also helpful to note where our decisions about boundaries are coming from. For example, an overemphasis on self-preservation boundaries might lead us to hoard and contract inwardly or to other certain groups of people to try to protect ourselves. On the other hand, establishing healthy boundaries may mean we need to take time out for self-care so that we are more resourced and can be useful to our families and communities. Working with our awareness of our boundaries helps us to collectively discover creative possibilities to move through these trying times.
Engaging the Self-Observer: What is going on in my own body, mind, spirit, emotions right now—how am I responding? Am I triggered? What are my biases and blind spots? How do I generally respond in a crisis? How can I take care of myself—putting my oxygen mask on first’ —so that I can better support others? With the news and information blitz, we can forget to check in with ourselves and listen to what we are feeling and sensing. Engaging our self-observer also enables us to see the whole picture—seeing the forest and the trees. Taking pauses, breathing, and practicing mindfulness can support this ‘witness self’ to show up and give us a clearer and more expansive perspective on the whole situation we are facing.
Expanding Emotional Capacity: How do I continue to expand my emotional range and capacity, even when conditions in the world feel overwhelming and frightening? How do I promote feelings of compassion, care, and joy, when there is so much stress, fear, and grief? How do I welcome the whole range of feelings in myself, my students, my community? When a crisis comes, our emotional range can shrink rapidly—as we find ourselves in flight, fight, or freeze responses. Our presence and state of mind also impacts those who we are in relationship with. When we can lean into the difficult as well as the pleasant emotions in ourselves, we are more able to be with others in their range of emotions. This is not about “feeding fear” —as fear is normal and can be acknowledged without propagating it. Sometimes simply naming and normalizing what is present can bring relief and free up our energy. We know that in crisis, humans often show up with their most noble qualities of compassion and love.
We know that in crisis, humans often show up with their most
noble qualities of compassion and love.
Stay well, stay home and stay in touch!