By Melanie-Dawn (Ollenberg) Bessa
The outbreak of COVID-19 can be stressful and overwhelming for both adults and children. According to the Centre for Disease Control, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:
Did you know that elevated levels of cortisol also interfere with our capacity for empathy, learning, and memory retention? Daniel Siegal, psychiatrist and leading world authority in the fascinating field of interpersonal neurobiology, explains:
The release of stress hormones leads to excessive death of neurons in the crucial pathways involving the neo-cortex and limbic system - the areas responsible for emotional regulation (Siegel, 1996: 106).
Left unchecked, millions of brain cells in the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex are destroyed - the areas of the brain responsible for human empathy and impulse control. (Wright, Camden-Pratt, and Hill, 2011). So many of the short-sighted, competitive, violent tendencies prevalent in our society are actually symptoms of a system that teaches fear, shame, and aggression rather than amity and collaboration. Be it the authoritarian, competitive ranking system of our school system, the deluge of "bad" news in the media, or the economic disparities maintained in our societies, it is easy to live in a constant state of self-focused anxiety and shame.
Tips and Solutions to Quelling Fear
Thankfully, we are innately a people of emotion and relationship. Social researchers Miburn & Conrad confirmed that individuals raised under punitive parenting styles tend to prefer harsher law and order policies domestically, and support war as a foreign policy, and oppose pro-environment policies (1996). If we are to take back our own minds and hearts, and create a better future, what can we do?
Sound Healer Valerie Moysey explained to me that the key is coming into coherence: "By introducing / reintroducing a resonant field, we come into coherence". By coherence, in this case, Valerie was referring to the Heart Math Institute's work, which describes coherence as a measure of the pattern in the heart's rhythm, which reflects an orderly and harmonious synchronization among various systems in the body such as the heart, respiratory system, and blood-pressure rhythms (Heart Math Institute, https://www.heartmath.org/support/faqs/research/)
"While a number of techniques can be used (grounding, sound, breathwork, nature, prayer, etc) to come into coherence, the result is an activated parasympathetic nervous system and slowed fight-flight response." explains Valerie.
When we are afraid, anxious, or overwhelmed, we are ungrounded - we lose our sense of center, get swept off our feet, and lose our ability to make decisions clearly.
Grounding is a process of dynamic contact with the earth, with its edges, boundaries, and limitations. It allows us to become solidly real - present in the here and now - and dynamically alive with the vitality that comes from Earth. (Judith, A. in "Wheels of Life", p. 66)
When we are grounded, we can a sense of inter-connection with life, which brings clarity through stillness, and ultimately enhances our ability to make decisions easily, expand our consciousness, and manifest our goals. In this sense, grounding is quite literally "foundational" to all of the practices suggested in this article. But how do we get there? Valerie Moysey shared a number of easy strategies with me which one can do:
Valerie also speaks to the matter of "Entrainment" that happens when you spend time and proximity with a person who is grounded. Entrainment describes the way the body gradually syncs up with either a biological or external rhythm. In this case, when one who is in fear is with somebody who is not in fear, and that person is grounded, the fearful person will eventually become more calm. In this way, it is important to choose your company wisely, and ensure you give yourself the chance to resonate with others who are grounded and not in fear. This could be a friend, a family member, or even a paid practitioner. If you'd like to explore or discuss this further, please don't hesitate to connect with Valerie.
2. Take Heart
For more resources, the Heart Math Institute has some really great tips for managing fear from a heart-based space here: https://www.heartmath.org/calendar-of-events/coronavirus-technique-for-reducing-and-overcoming-fear/
Coincidentally, in the middle of writing this blog, I came across an Instagram post by sculptural fibre artist Marina Dempster, whose craft is a transmutation of materials, thoughts and emotions. Marina's work explores human paradoxes: comfort and discomfort, stillness and action, acceptance and change. Her "Dear Friends // Near Enemies" series of tufted cushions explore the paradox in language and get us thinking more deeply about our unconscious beliefs, urging us to go within for our answers. The cushion that caught my eye was F/EAR, pictured below. I reached out to ask if she could describe for me her take on this piece, and how we move through fear, and her response really resonated with the need for self-compassion, kindness. This is what she said:
At a time when so many are struggling to breathe, it's easy to get caught up in the fear and forget to breathe ourselves. I mean REALLY BREATHE. We are always breathing, but doing so consciously gives us constant access to the sacred, and a tool to shift our attention to what is sustaining us.
4. Vitamin N
While living in a culture that teaches accumulation, it is important to also spend time clearing the physical, mental and emotional debris that we collect. Creating space for the sacred, we bring awareness to the foundation of our being and learn to sift through and release what no longer serves.
6. Sounding Through Fear
When the vagus nerve in our bodies is overstimulated (eg., due to stress or fear) or inactive; the right frequencies can bring it back to normal working order.
7. Prayer / Intention
The coronavirus pandemic is indiscriminate, affecting lives across races and religions. This global angst has simultaneously inspired interfaith unity and solidarity. There are examples around the world of leaders coming together across faith groups as well. On April 22nd, in fact, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze religious leaders in Israel were set to hold an interfaith virtual prayer Wednesday afternoon amid the coronavirus pandemic (The Times of Israel). In a Statement from the Parliament of World Religions, it invokes in us the need to "find new ways to bring comfort to one another, to cooperate with one another, and to overcome the ravages of disease and death." Meanwhile, the The Canadian Interfaith Conversation was pleased to participate in the development of the statement, "Hope, Gratitude and Solidarity: A Message to Canadians from Religious Leaders in Canada in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic," released March 30, 2020. They also offered an interfaith message for spiritual and religious leaders to be beacons of support during these difficult times. "Together with over 80 leaders of religious communities, we pledged to "witness hope to each other and so become beacons of light during these uncertain times."
While we witness this outpouring of support and solidarity from spiritual and religious leaders around the world, many of us are also turning to prayer more and more in our own daily practices, to ask for support in with our fear. When we bow our heads, bring our hands to our hearts, or kneel on the ground in prayer, we open up to the invisible world and the intangible presence of our heart, mind, and soul. When we listen with all of our senses from this place, we connect, participate with, and witness the Divine and attune to the sacred.
Valerie also strongly recommended prayer: "Set a strong focus / intention for help, ask what is it that you need to move through this time, and listen to what comes through". It reminded me of this quote by Rumi, which seems to thread all of these tips and strategies together.
Make everything in you an ear, each atom of your being, and you will hear at every moment what the Source is whispering to you, just to you and for you, without any need for my words or anyone else's. You are - we all are - the beloved of the Beloved, and in every moment, in every event of your life, the Beloved is whispering to you exactly what you need to hear and know. Who can ever explain this miracle? It simply is. Listen and you will discover it in every passing moment. (Rumi)
This quote really touches me, and the words can carry all of us through each of the practices recommended throughout this article.
May you be blessed by these medicines as you listen to, navigate, and learn from your fear, into a place of beloved expansion, compassion, and hope. And through all of this, please know that you do not need to navigate this alone. You are supported and loved.
By Melanie-Dawn (Ollenberg) Bessa
The shift from winter can now be felt as the streams thaw, life reawakens, and the buds emerge. Since the Spring Equinox in March, when the day and night were of equal time, the light has been gaining momentum. We can feel the effect in our own restlessness as the seeds and buds make their way to the surface.
Historically, there are many myths and archetypes of reawakened life. Here are a few examples:
The return to life has so many qualities that we experience in our own lives when we live seasonally. Renewal takes strength, endurance, and eagerness in order to amount to an abundant harvest. Just look at how hard yet how calm that seed has to work to reach up through the mud to the surface. Like those seeds, we need to root around in the dark, make mistakes, and clarify our boundaries. With the heightened energies abounding, fears and doubts also emerge as a barometer for change, exposing opportunities and processes to bring you us closer to peace, or expose an area in our journey that is being called to grow. Renewal also requires discernment around what to keep and what to release, to make room for the new - it's the perfect time for Spring cleaning, both inside and out.
5 Personal Reflections for Spring
Developing confidence in your innate ability to shed and rise up will both strengthen your connection to yourself as well as your ability to trust and surrender to your soul's yearnings. To help you on this road this season here are some personal reflections to consider:
Blessings of Growth, Healing and Renewal,
by Melanie-Dawn (Ollenberg) Bessa
Imagery of the Earth's seasons and cycles surround us every day, poking and prodding us to pay attention to the messages that each season has to offer. Seasonal Living is about listening to those messages. But with all that's going on in life, it's easy to pass these messages by, and it gets harder and harder to even see why listening to the signs of the seasons and living seasonally is so important.
Why should I live seasonally?
Each season has it's own unique attributes, purpose, mythos and medicine. When we shift our inner world so that it aligns with the natural world, we open up to a power that is deep, real, and empowering. As a divination arts practitioner, reading the signs and symbols in the world around me has become a very natural part of each day. But I remember when I didn't have this connection - it was a lonely, overwhelming, and confusing time. If we open up to listening to the messages in the seasons and cycles of nature, we will find some real gems to help us cope with our human experiences. Here are a few that come to mind:
1. We are not and never will be, truly alone. When we open up to the life that surrounds us in all things, we see how interconnected we are with it. Like trees sharing a communication system beneath a forest floor, we are not separate from nature but a part of it. Separation is illusion.
Personal reflections on living seasonally
Looking for other ways to enjoy the season?
Our Members are offering opportunities to tune in, nourish your soul, and keep connected to yourself and the world around you. All within the comfort of your home, while we work through this time of social distancing.
March 20th marks the beginning of Spring here in the northern hemisphere, and even though I still wore my winter parka today, my heart is starting to believe that gentler weather and green life will soon appear.I’m not a winter person, and by March I am sick of the sight of dirty snow, brown scrubby plants, feeling cold and hunched and restricted. So when Ostara and the Equinox arrive, I’m ready to burst free, to let everything that hid and percolated within me during the winter months reveal itself, and then grow and thrive.
I think of Persephone, winding her way up through the darkness, emerging into the world of light and life, and I welcome her back to us. I ask my soul to take that same journey.
I feel the Spring Equinox as a pause, an inward held breath, a time when I have the opportunity to bring myself into perfect balance, before the scales tip and the fullness of Spring arrives. It is a time when we become acutely aware of the light and the dark within ourselves, the joyful and the heart-wrenching events in our lives, when it is clear that both sides of the coin are necessary and should be honored.
Of course, this is a great time to consult the Tarot, to take that pause, to ask the cards to tap into the energy of this potent day, and to see what the universe has to say to you.
I created this Spring Equinox Tarot spread to get a clearer picture of where I may be out of balance in my own life, how to come into greater alignment, and what may emerge as a result. I hope it speaks strongly to you as well.
19 years ago was a turning point in my life. I had completed my MA in adult education and had worked several years as a frontline crisis counselor. I was a change maker and was getting burned out fast. I was in a relationship which caused me great internal conflict and I wanted to make changes on many levels but was unsure of my direction. As well, I was having anxiety attacks. Finally, I made a decision to go to Vancouver for a break and a change of scenery. Before I left, I spoke with the man I was with about my anxiety. I was quite shaken and he gave me tobacco wrapped in a red cloth and told me to offer it in a natural place (Tobacco is one of the sacred medicines in many First Nation traditions across North America). He told me I would know the moment. So with tobacco in my pocket I left for Vancouver hoping that I would know the moment.
After three days of walking on the beach by the mountains, being with good friends and writing down my thoughts and feelings, I began to come back to myself and all of the anxiety subsided. On the third day, my walk along kitsalano beach was met by the most beautiful sight of a Bald Eagle perched on top of the totem pole outside the Marina museum. I was overcome by emotion and I felt an intense gratitude. I knew this was the moment. I reached for the red bundle in my pocket, which I opened and offered to the earth. I sat and was with the Eagle for a long time. It seemed that nobody even noticed that she was there. I didn’t understand what the significance was of this experience but I knew it was sacred, healing and important. I also felt that somehow life had sent me a message. I had been exposed to Native spiritual teachings through my work at a Native Women’s organization in Toronto and was aware that the Eagle was a powerful symbol as a messenger of the Great Spirit. What that meant for me was not clear except that I felt an urgency to discover more about the Eagle and its message. So I began my search about Eagles, beginning with searching in the new age bookstore for any clues.
It is the relationship between the hills and the rivers that speaks volumes, reminding us that the hidden aspects of the moon are as important as the visible, like this quote by Max Heindel:
We have so much to learn from nature, and from seeing ourselves not as disconnected from it, but another aspect or embodiment of it, adhering to the same laws and principles, the same resources and processes to pull us through times of change and transformation. If you're interested in learning how to apply palmistry into your assessment process with clients over time, you may be interested in attending my upcoming workshop, scheduled for May 27th from 1:30-4:30pm at the Inner Arts Collective: "The Landscape of the Hand":
Registration Required. Please email Melanie at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the link provided here:
Melanie has been reading hands for over 20 years, with appearances on the Discovery Channel, Much Music, the Steve and Chris Show, and Talk3600. She has a degree in Health Science, is a Reiki Master, and Kundalini and Hatha Yoga practitioner. Melanie has tried her hand in a range of positions in the health, education, and psycho-spiritual sectors, and after 25 years of counselling, community development, program design and system improvement work, she realized how deeply her work was rooted in a passion for the healing arts.
Now a mother of 2, Melanie is committed to creating communities of resilience, learning, and transformation through her family, work, and neighbourhood. She believes in bringing worlds of resources, knowledge, and experience together to make communities stronger, aware, and sustainable - particularly through her journey as Co-Founder of the Inner Arts Collective, and through her palmistry and reiki instruction at Kore Changes.
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