My guest today is Meryl Ann Butler, artist, author, activist and Managing Editor for OpEdNews.
Joan Brunwasser: Welcome, Meryl Ann! There's a lot of fear going around out there with the coronavirus pandemic. I certainly feel it. Yet, I've noticed that you still manage to keep your cool. How do you do that?
Meryl Ann Butler: Well, thanks, Joan! I can't say that I keep my cool all of the time, but over the years I've gotten much better at it. For one thing, I stay pretty spiritually connected most of the time. I do that in several ways. Being an artist means I am in the Zone -- in the throes of creativity -- much of the time. It's been well documented that being creative on a regular basis is good for physical, mental and emotional health. I purposefully practice gratitude and appreciation daily. I also meditate, it is a great way to alleviate stress...I use a variety of meditation styles now, but earlier in my life I practiced Transcendental Meditation for 20 minutes twice a day. I did that for 25 years without missing a single meditation, even on the day I gave birth! That kind of repeated centering definitely changes people, it changed me, for sure -- I became calmer, more centered, more creative, more intuitive.
JB: You've been meditating for quite a long time. So, I'd like to hear more about it. It's such a squishy concept and many of us are simply intimidated by it. Can you break it down for us, please?
MAB: It took me a long time to learn to get to the place where I could just sit down and put myself into a meditative state in a minute or two. I can usually do that now, but when I'm too stressed to ease into it I use a meditation aid. Fortunately there are lots of them online nowadays that make it easy. One of the meditation series I like is the Vortex Meditations by Abraham-Hicks, "General Wellbeing" is a great one:
I also like the Calm app. I have a subscription, and I use it a lot. They just came out with a resource page of free stuff because of the pandemic. And that's something to be grateful for - we see our government taking action that harms people, so seeing companies like Calm.com jumping in to offer a gift to stressed out people is heartwarming. Here's the email I got from them today:
Without a doubt, many of us are feeling anxious as we navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19. We're feeling it too, and we wanted to share some of the tools we're using to take care of our minds and stay grounded.
Their resource page offers soothing meditations, stories and music to enhance sleep, mindfulness resources and even resources for kids!
JB: That sounds fabulous and so useful right now. I can't wait to check it out. But I'm not sure I know what you mean exactly about practicing gratitude and appreciation. For years, I've kept a gratitude journal. Every night, I record what I've collected over the course of the day. And I've found because I do it at night, I spend the day looking for and focusing on those positive things to record that night and it allows me to more easily find them. Is that what you meant? Or did you have something else in mind?
MAB: I think that's great! When I was rearing a family with five kids, our dinnertime ritual was for each person to share a good thing that happened to them during the day. When we first started it, not everyone could think of something to share, but because they had to look for the good things during the day, eventually they had several! So you're right, if we know we have to report on our findings, whether at the dinner table or in a journal, we are more likely to notice the good things. For a while I wrote down the things I was feeling appreciation for, it wasn't quite as organized as keeping a journal - mine were more on loose scraps of paper, ha! Then after a while it sort of just transferred to being a habit in my head. Sometimes it's spontaneous, but more often it's intentional. For instance, on my walk to work I regularly and purposefully find something to be grateful for...and that's pretty easy, because my walk to work is along the Chesapeake Bay!
MAB: I also take inspiration from my kinswoman, Martha Washington, who said:
I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself, for I've learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions, and not on our circumstances.
She was a wise woman. Many people don't know that she experienced plenty of hardships...she accompanied George during the war, living in tents and putting up with harsh weather. His men loved her, she offered a caring ear, she knit socks for them, but she also held the hands of men who were having a limb amputated. Pretty grisly stuff, yet she maintained her attitude not only for herself but for the troops. It was her presence, and presence of mind, that helped alleviate the fears of her husband's ragtag army - and her caring convinced them to continue when they could have given up. I am sure that she was more pivotal in winning that war than we can know.
So, there is a lot to learn from this in our present situation with the pandemic. I think often when people have trouble "keeping their cool" it is because of fear. Fear keeps people in "fight or flight" mode and then the brain doesn't work as effectively at understanding complex choices and solutions. Being in fear also suppresses the immune system, which impacts health. So it's certainly advantageous to develop ways to reduce or alleviate fear and anxiety.
JB: Okay. I think we'd all agree that it's better, on many levels, to be cool, calm and collected. What else can we do to achieve that state of inner peace?
MAB: One way is to choose to feel gratitude -- gratitude is really a form of love. We cannot feel fear and love at the same time, so if we find ways to feel love - by rekindling the vision of a heartwarming memory, or appreciating a loved one, then we can't also be feeling fear in that moment.
JB: Likewise, I've read that it's simply not physiologically possible to breathe deeply and hold onto fear simultaneously. Here's a wonderful deep breathing technique: inhale for four, hold for seven, exhale for eight. After a few minutes of that, you definitely feel calmer and less frazzled. Your thoughts?
MB: Yes! I also do yoga, I started a couple of years ago, and I have learned all kinds of great breathing techniques. I'm going to try yours!
JB: Cool. Be my guest! I think this is a great start to our series, which will include more useful tips. Thanks so much for talking with me, Meryl Ann.
MAB: Thanks Joan, looking forward to chatting about this again!
JB: It was great. Readers, stay tuned for the next installment.