by Caitlin Brune, MPH, Senior Fellow, Northern California Grantmakers
I’ve had a front-row seat to the theatrics of my mind and heart these past days. Scenes mirror the chaotic spin of the news cycle. My body absorbs the anxious energy of uncertainty.
The anxiety and fear I swim in are my body’s biological impulses, aiming to keep me safe. My fear is not purely personal, given my privileges of age, ability, proximity to resources, what science tells me. It is fear for my beloveds and all who do and will suffer: my elder parents, 3,000+ miles away; family members working in healthcare; loved ones who live with respiratory illnesses, diabetes, and immune-compromising conditions; neighbors and colleagues, laborers in the service industry and gig economy; and the countless numbers of us, known and unknown, who cannot access quality healthcare.
Untold many will suffer. As always, those who have perennially suffered the greatest will suffer more acutely. The harsh consequences of systemic inequities foretell this.
When I attend to this moment, however, and my new work-from-home reality, I see an azure sky and a clear glint of sunlight bless rain-kissed orange calendula. The hen screams her birth shriek and delivers another egg. A green-throated hummingbird hovers, sipping exuberantly from yellow tunnels of bee balm. I choose to pause. I fill my healthy lungs with this fresh garden air, an exquisite gift. This miracle of breath holds deeper significance daily. We are, quite literally, all breathing the same breath. Fear and anxiety recede.
Counterintuitively, when sheer survival feels at stake, occasionally it is best to be still. Preferable, too, to spend moments in nature, connect with human and non-human loved ones, yield to creativity. Resilience research teaches that free and widely accessible supports - our natural world, the creatures that inhabit it, and our powers of imagination and creativity – can both restore equilibrium and carry us more gracefully across unpredictable, ragged terrain. Walking in the woods or near the sea; snuggling with your dog or kitty; singing to your favorite tune as you wash your hands; dancing with your five year-old . . . They help us to:
- Shift us from our animal instinct to fight, flee, freeze, appease, or dissociate; and
- Feel and integrate the intensity of our experience, in part by discovering that emotions’ glorious urgency is as changeable as the pandemic phenomenon that evokes them.
Making use of these resources, like engaging in reflective practices, support wellbeing and cultivate empathy. By honoring what’s alive for me with kindness and gentleness, knowing I am not alone, I paradoxically wake from self-preoccupied distress. I can then sincerely inquire, “How can I help?” When it comes, my response flows from a more embodied understanding and desire to relieve suffering, both now and in ways that foster justice and healing over the long term.
Even as we take pragmatic steps to respond to this dynamic global human health, economic, and ecological crisis, we can also address the underlying crises of belonging, connection, and meaning that shake our foundations. By attending to ourselves, we can glean wisdom and compassion that support us to manifest the best and most generous within us – for ourselves, each other, the widest “we,” and this Earth we share.
Join me and members of the philanthropic and nonprofit community for an online series over the next several weeks that explores, “How do I respond creatively in crisis?” How can feeling and seeing more clearly and understanding myself more fully help me take appropriate perspective and re-gain freedom and choice? How can I move to compassion-driven principled action to support those suffering, now and well beyond this urgent onset of a pandemic?
Howard Thurman, looking out during a dark day in the struggle for civil rights, observed: “In the stillness of the quiet, if we listen, we can hear the whisper of the heart giving strength to weakness, courage to fear, hope to despair.” Make some space for stillness and quiet. Then, shine whatever light you can into the obfuscating darkness. If you’d like to harvest wisdom from peers in the sector and co-create learning and action, please reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org or 831-345-1901.
I hope you’ll join me on take the next promising step to alleviate suffering, right now.
Caitlin Brune, MPH
P.S. - As perilous as all seems, Clarissa Pinkola Estes counseled us in 2016, ‘We were made for these times.’ My role as senior fellow at NCG is supporting NCG and its members to probe the very big question of how to be, whether in times of chaos or calm. Through speakers series, Fireside Chats, skill- building workshops, arts- and culture-based experiences, and humble accompaniment I hope to support us to learn and live into wise responses that fortify us to meet the day with unshakable love-with-justice. I will be a co-creator, wayfinder, and thought-and-action partner.
Caitlin Brune, MPH serves as Senior Fellow at NCG. A writer and gardener, she also draws upon 25+ years of nonprofit and grantmaking experience in both international and U.S.-based nonprofits, in roles spanning development, finance/operations, program, and executive management. Most recently, Caitlin served as CEO of the Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust, a health-focused foundation based in Watsonville serving the primarily agricultural community of the Central Coast. With NCG, Caitlin will be illuminating the connection between our inner well-being and our social change efforts, working with NCG staff and its member community to fortify both of these.