Parents, put your oxygen mask on first
You know those safety instructions you don't pay attention to at the beginning of a flight. We've heard it so often we could all jump in and do it for the flight attendants. They're short and sweet and one can apply them in everyday life as well. Note the emergency exits as well as the tiny lights which show the way. Fasten your seatbelt and leave it loosely fastened throughout the flight: life is full of take-offs and landings as well as occasional turbulence, so it's important to have some security and holding. And then they talk about the oxygen masks for those traveling with children. Put your own mask on first and then the child's. It's no use to your child if you cannot breathe. The exercises I've shared with you are meant to provide you with emergency exits, seat belts, and oxygen masks during heavy turbulence. Well, perhaps not right at that moment but when you've landed again and feel all shaken.
I'm no flight attendant, but I'd say that this new corona virus certainly constitutes heavy turbulence. Whether you're in Switzerland where primary and middle schools have re-opened or in the U.S., where most schools will not re-open this school year, you may have need of a special kind of oxygen mask. Whatever the situation, we continue to be very challenged during these times where the ground is constantly shifting under our feet and the points of steady orientation seem to wobble. I urge you to continue with the exercises I've already shared in this blog and am adding a few here today.
Perhaps you've been hunkered down and feeling reasonably safe, but the steps towards opening things again have sparked a bit of fear. If you notice that you're feeling a bit afraid here is a super simple and surprisingly powerful tip from Lael Keen of Somatic Experiencing, the trauma work I offer. Take a moment to sit, stand, or lie quietly, preferably where you can be alone and undisturbed for about 10 minutes. (Yes, the bathroom is fine for this). Allow yourself to scan your body and feel where the fear "lives". It can be ever so slight - perhaps a tightening in the chest or tummy, tension in the jaw, shoulders, or neck. Perhaps your breath is shallow or uneven, or you feel tight somewhere. Even numbness is a sensation. Once you've located this place, let your attention gently rest there. You may want to place your hand over that spot. Just be with it. With kindness.
Imagine that you can explore this place in you. See what it looks like, feels like, how big it is. Notice if it changes at all with your kind attention on it. Maybe your breathing slows or deepens ever so slightly. Maybe it moves to another place. Do you feel a bit more spaciousness, ease? If you don't, that's also okay. Just as a frightened child or dog simply needs holding and reassurance until they feel more ease, so does this place where fear lives right now in you. Picture yourself breathing into this place and again, notice if anything at all shifts and changes. Nothing dramatic, just a bit.
This next one you can continue on from the previous one or do it separately. It is also from Lael Keen and is inspired by the work from the HeartMath Institute which teaches and fosters coherence with heart rate variability. Picture yourself inhaling your breath into the heart. Allow the exhale to be longer than the inhale. Let the breath slow and feel the pulsation of the heart. As you continue this for a bit, begin to visualize this pulsation as the opening of the petals of a flower. As you deepen this and notice a bit of ease, recall a moment of great joy, beauty, feeling loved. Again, this does not need to be dramatic. It could be that hand-drawn Mother's Day card or the lilac blossom fragrance on yesterday's walk. Allow yourself to recall every little detail you took in through your senses at that moment. Let it come back to you in detail and feel this in your body. Notice the gratitude and appreciation that begins to infuse the image and you. Pay attention as this sensation spreads through your body.
You may believe that this kind of thing is hogwash and doesn't really do anything. In recent years, the science behind it is overwhelming in the confirmation of the impact on our nervous system. You may need a bit of practice but taking the ten minutes or so that each exercise requires is so worth it for your health at all levels. It is your way of putting your mask on first and then helping others.