Zoe Darling
Acupuncturist, Herbalist, and Health Counselor
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An Anchor in Facing the Unknown…part 3: Tune into the Heart

Every day for about a month now, while water is boiling for morning tea, I look at Italy (site updated by John Hopkins). I feel my feet on the ground as I wrote about in part 1. And then I look at numbers in Spain. Iran. China. France. New York. Here in Washington…And then, quite commonly without even thinking about it, I place a hand on my chest center, I rub against the bone and I just stand; breathing aware of healthy lungs, aware of the breath settled in my lower belly, aware of this able body, standing in a safe, joyful home. It is often later I contend with more scattered activity of the mind, noticing and managing the looping patterns, the top 10 as I wrote about in part 2.

In this writing, I’m going to explore that pause, that hand on the chest moment, for how it might serve us as we navigate the uncertainties of this time. Reflect just a moment how, throughout the day, you too, pause to take it all in. This includes if you’ve experienced the death of someone close to you from COVID19 or circumstances completely unrelated and yet amplified by the current state of the world. When and how do you do this? How does it feel in the body? Are there things you do to make it easier? Do you close yourself in your car so you can scream or wail at the top of your lungs in private? Shut yourself in the bathroom, checking the news feed, as you’re one of the millions of parents globally juggling WFH and homeschooling your children…and there is NO other privacy? Dance? Yoga? Air boxing? Brewing a cup of tea or coffee? Having a drink? or ice cream? or taking a walk?

Pause for a minute. Consider how you are currently breathing in the fullness of this time in our world. There is uncertainty for everyone. AND, everyone’s experience, while in some respects similar, is also so very, very different; influenced by positioning, employment, family, health, finances, and so many factors.

Now, without wasting energy on self criticism, consider those moments when you take it all in. How are your recent choices helping or hindering you to:

  1. navigate uncertainties now and on the horizon?
  2. stay healthy and well for yourself ?
  3. stay healthy and well for others dear to you, perhaps who depend on you?
  4. concretely carry out an action that will benefit you or someone else?
  5. work toward a calm mind so you can make good and healthy choices?

My default: I anchor through my feet and notice breath in my lower belly. As many reading know, I have a deep connection to the mountains and earth. I can feel that even with wood, tile, rebar and concrete between me and real soil. Exhaling into my lower belly grounds excess agitation from my upper body and chest. Moving my body is also important, stretching and yoga often. I’ve been running most days as well. I find time outside, safely distanced from those around me, so beneficial to my mental health. Yesterday took a walk, with a mask, and 6’ apart from a friend. I am also very gratefully cognizant of my freedom to do so, to walk outside.  In some areas of our region, our country and the world, there is no such freedom of movement right now.

Consider the disposition of our now exhausted First Responders and Health Care providers. When they arrive on the scene, one of their first jobs is to remain and embody calm so they can carry out whatever is next. Supported by my own practices, I find courage to open my heart to the truth of this time, I invoke my own zen student expression of prayer, and from that place I can discern what’s next.

Having closed my clinic March 18th, some have expressed concern for how I am surviving in this time. At this moment, I’m fine, in the depths of my being. I am gravely concerned for the turmoil, current and looming, for those of our country’s underclass, our undocumented immigrant brothers and sisters, our incarcerated brothers and sisters nationally and locally(many are in dire states of health crisis detailed in this brief video link with George Stephanopoulos), and those facing  systemic oppression and inequities in the face of this pandemic.

As I mentioned in part 2, I’ve been reaching out and contacting current and past patients. In dialogue with someone last week, we spoke about my work at the prison (now completely locked down in deference to flattening the curve). I shared this link of an interview about the prison work. He sent me an email thanking me by quoting me back to myself. Poignant to read as the global trend of slowing down and staying home are being concretely registered on seismographs:

“When I am more aware, I hurt myself and others less, and I believe and have witnessed that goes for all of us. I’d like to contribute peace in this world, this immediate, rather frenzied and constrained, explosively growing urban environment in which I choose to live. I have this vision if we could all – the entire city of Seattle – be quiet together for just five minutes, we could cultivate peace.”
Still Sitting Interview, 2015

Meditation and/or prayer are not alone enough for what lies ahead. And yet, as with First Responders, when we cultivate presence and calm inside that calm informs our interactions with others, our choices and actions. YES, have the melt down. AND, let it move through you: tears, rage, fear, grief, anxiety. And, find the earth again, and connection to your own breath. And then look around. Who needs help? A donation to your local food bank might be a good start. What resources do you have at your disposal to extend mutual aid? In this moment? Looking forward? In this time, we are intimately learning our interdependence. I wash my hands to protect your lung tissues. I keep what feels like utterly unnatural distance, to save another life.  Weaving together healing and recovery will be a whole different chapter examining the relationship between collective and the individual.

I’ll conclude here with an explanation of the photos. I rallied some neighbors to participate in a prayer flag project. Tore up two old sheets in rectangles. One neighbor surged the edges, another sewed the fold over. Another offered counsel on sharing resources with COVID appropriate guidelines I offered them around and they have been floating back onto my porch; decorated with heartfelt invocations of all kinds to be strung up for all to share. There are almost 20 now and in the week ahead, I’ll be stringing these up  for all to enjoy, extending prayer and care out to the world.

“Making language is making prayer. Out utterances, whether silent or voiced, written or thought, distinct or vague, repeated or fleeting, are always essentially prayer, even though we seldom realize it.  To speak, to intone, to form words with mouth and heart and spirit, is to reach out and reach in.  What we’re always reaching out and into, even when we don’t know that we are, is the boundless unknowable, the unnameable.  In the end prayer is not some specialized religious exercise; it is just what comes out of our mouths if we truly pay attention.  Debased as it so often is, language at its core always springs forth from what is fundamental in the human heart.”
~ Zoketsu Norman Fischer (former abbot of San Francisco Zen Center, author and founder of Every Day Zen )

Please stay healthy and robust, honoring all counsel from Public Health and Government officials, the knowledgeable ones. Please open your eyes to those who are suffering and consider concrete gestures you can make in the midst of this shuttered time. Please share this content liberally with others as you feel inspired. I continue to hold the entire world with deep, tender care.


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