The ABC’s of Thriving (during a pandemic or) ANYtime

Karen Anderson enjoying life - photo credit - Pauli-Ann Carriere

Five years ago, I published a piece called, XYZ – an alphabet for life. It focused on how-to thrive, not just survive. It struck a chord with a lot of people.

We are now entering our seventh week of COVID quarantining and some of the people I reach out to are coping better than others. So, here’s a small offering from me.

I’ve revised the original piece to: The ABC’s of Thriving (during a pandemic) or ANYtime. I hope it inspires you or at least provides a little solace.

When I was about three years old I learned my ABC’s. That’s been useful – especially as a writer – but here we are in the middle of a global pandemic so I’ve been thinking about other uses for those 26 letters.

I am borrowing their convenient format to structure a framework to thrive during this COVID quarantining. It’s definitely life beyond A is for apple, B is for boy and C is for cat. I hope there’s some ideas in here that help you cope or best of all, learn how to savour it all. So, are you ready? Here we go.

Skerwink trail

A – Awaken to the precious gift that life is

As I write this on April 27, 2020, COVID-19 has infected over three million people in 185 countries and caused 209,661 deaths. A lot of people are thinking for the first time in their lives, what if death happens to me?

I think this is terrific. Not the part about a pandemic and people dying. But, the part where you’re actually realizing YOU will die someday.

Death is the most democratic thing in the world. It’s going to happen to all of us and – in a universally perverse and dark-humoured way – none of us knows when.

It’s not nice that it took a global pandemic to snap most of us out of our zombie-like way of life. But, for the fact that we are awakening to how short and precious life is, I’m grateful.

Now, no matter what happens, when this pandemic is over, you’ve got to make death your best friend. Don’t let it slip from the forefront. Keep thoughts of it close to you always.

Why? Because it will help you wake up each day grateful to be alive. It will inspire you to search for something that makes your heart sing every day.

How do I know this? When I was in my early 20s I nursed on a cancer ward. About 150 people died there every year. They were of all ages. It was hard. I got very close to my patients. I’m eternally grateful for the pain though because those individuals taught me more about living – while they were dying – than anyone else ever has. They got it. Now, it’s your turn to come alive in the face of death.

Life is not to be slumbered through in a deep trench dug by complaints and apathy. Life is meant to be savoured. Most of all, it’s meant to be LIVED.

This is not lip service from me. I live my credo – No matter what life serves up, savour it all. I’ve lost a child. It made me a better parent. I lost my Father. I treasure my Mother. I lost at love. I knew real love when I found it. My business sucks right now. It’s not forever. I have time to write and new ideas are bubbling up all the time. I used to be hard on my body, now I know you can…

Karen Anderson being active in the Rocky Mountains

B – Be in your body and love it

The mind tells us lies all the time but our bodies always tell the truth. Listen to your body’s wisdom. It knows so much; when it’s full, tired, sore, hungry, sad, joyous, fit, exhausted or exhilarated. Give your body what it needs. Otherwise, set limits to keep your body safe. That’s two metres, literally, during COVID-19 and whatever else it needs – metaphorically or physically – all the time.

Two cookies is a limit. So is a sliver of cake or a finger of cheese. Planning a break to push back from your desk and go for a walk everyday. That’s a safe limit.

Bathe your body. Rub it with lotions and give it a manicure and pedicure. Dress it so that you look and feel your best – even under house arrest during COVID-19 isolation. Be grateful for your body’s availability to house you in this life. Have compassion for your body.

Light at the end of the tunnel

C – Compassion is the key

Compassion is the key to getting along in your life and getting along is important. We learn that in nursery school and it never stops being important. Especially, when you are confined in close quarters with people during COVID-19.

If you don’t understand someone, if you think they are difficult; it likely means you haven’t spent enough time trying to understand them. Abraham Lincoln said, enemies are just friends we haven’t made yet.

How do you make someone your friend? By being friendly – talking, listening and caring. It doesn’t mean you’re still going to like or love everyone. But, compassion does mean that you can at least understand people and judge less.

You can allow for differences. You don’t even have to approve or not approve. Allow that each person has their own purpose in this life and observe what they teach you about your own truth, your own desires. Save your energy for things you need to definitely decide on.

D – Decide on things

Procrastination is a sign of self-doubt. It can also be a form of self-deception. It can stem from perfectionism and since perfection does not exist, its pursuit will certainly act as an excuse for putting off everything in your life. Delaying decisions can become a habit.

When you procrastinate you also end up attracting clutter. Clutter clogs and blocks the flow of life. It can be as simple as a pile of laundry that never gets put away, to an email inbox unattended, to bills piling high. It can be cupboards jammed with things you never really use, clothes that don’t fit or books you’ve bought and never read.

It could be as serious as putting off writing your last will and testament – the sort of indecision that would greatly affect your loved ones at their most vulnerable time. COVID-19 is a great time and reason to set this one HUGE thing in order. Take advantage of this opportunity.

Procrastination and clutter block clarity. Undone to-do lists silently suck energy. Deal with your “stuff”. Make a list of projects for each year and scratch something off each week. Spend a part of each day putting stuff away. Clean as you go in the kitchen and bathroom. Keep a family calendar and plan the week together. Each time you deal with something, each time you make a decision – you’ll feel lighter and more able to focus on the here and now. Sure we’re all stuck at home in this here and now, but someday you may make the decision to explore more.

Writer Karen Anderson in India

E – Explore your world

None of us can jet around the globe right now and many of us cannot afford to at the best of times. But, we can certainly get around our own town, city or region as the restrictions are lifted.

And, the world is full of free stuff to enjoy RIGHT NOW. We are bearing witness to some of the most astounding generosity humanity has ever experienced. With the click of a button, you can attend concerts, talks, poetry readings, art galleries filled with interpreters and zoos. You are even invited daily into the homes of some of the world’s most famous people.

As restrictions are lifted, there are bike trails and walking paths to explore. My own city, Calgary, has a thousand kilometres of pathways.

As we conserve our cash, we’ll all be looking for inexpensive ethnic eateries and markets. We can go to libraries. They have comfy chairs and fireplaces now. Coffee shops are modern day piazzas where you can hang out as long as you’d like. Film festivals, movies, theatre, live music, buskers, wildlife – the more you look, the more you’ll see. You’ll want to come out of your shell again little turtle. The world is full of wonder.

COVID-19 may have trapped you inside for now but don’t let it make you agoraphobic. Remember “A” – you’ve promised to awaken to the preciousness of life so you’ll have to get on back out there. If you’re overwhelmed, filtering is a good strategy.

sun rays on mountains

F – Learn to filter

Stop letting things bother you. Be proactive not reactive. You can choose to filter all the stimuli coming at you.

You don’t have to watch television, listen to the radio or read the newspaper. If something big happens in the world, like COVID-19, you’ll find out. Choose what you’d like to read, watch and listen to.

I haven’t watched TV in over 20 years and I only scan headlines in the paper. When I’m out in my car, I listen to one news broadcast each day. I’ve been boycotting most magazines for decades because their advertising is designed to make us feel we’re lacking.

I buy and listen to beautiful music that makes my joy factor skyrocket. Bottom line: use incoming data and technology for your benefit. I’m grateful it exists. I’m even more grateful I’m mindful of its effects.

G – Practice gratitude daily

Make gratitude the first and last thing you think about each day. When you open your eyes, say thank you for the gift of another day. Be grateful for a bed to sleep in and a pillow for you head, your health, and your family and for what you hope will come to you during the day ahead.

At night be grateful for at least five things – no matter how small they may seem. The call of the chickadees that followed you along on your walk, a good cup of coffee, a sunset full of cotton candy pink and blue clouds, the unexpected kiss that lands on your head from a teenage child, or a call from a dear friend. Count your blessings and they’ll multiply. One of my greatest blessings is a sense of humour.

Laughing Bhudda

H – Find humour

Humour in your day makes life better. Look to movies, books, videos, YouTube, TV shows (just because I can’t fit it in, doesn’t mean there isn’t some tasteful stuff on there) and newspaper columns.

Most importantly, look to laugh at your own self, situation and life – even when you’re going through a challenging time. Finding humour often requires perspective.

To have perspective, you have to step back and look at whatever you are going through in a slightly detached way. You have to be able to ask yourself, does this really matter? If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, would this really bother me? Did anyone die because of this? Was anyone mortally wounded? If the answer is no, then the quicker you can laugh at it the better. Laugh and have fun. Joy will follow. And when you are at your most joyous, insight might visit.

I – Introspection and insight 

Introspection and insight are different than meditation. This is about examining if you’re living well, if you’re thriving.

If you get up everyday with the intent of being your best and if you bring that attitude into your day, chances are you’ll be well and (it follows) do well most days. If something goes awry and you feel uncomfortable, sad or angry about the way things went, then ask what would it take to get back on track?

You are meant to live with ease and joy. When you are not feeling this, you’ve strayed from what you are meant to do, you’ve let things get complicated or you’ve not been true to yourself. If you look inward, the light you need to guide you back to your truth will come to you much more quickly. But all the same, life is not always fair.

Lifeguard chair on beach

J – Justice and jurisprudence

I grew up with three siblings. We had very fair-minded parents but still things weren’t always fair between us, at school and in life. Turns out that was good. It bugged me. And, that created a desire deep within me for people to be treated with dignity, respect and equality.

I’ve had the benefit of years of assertiveness and communications training that a long career and a Master’s Degree in Nursing afforded me. I’ve done the work I needed to do to realize my worthiness as a human being.

Believe in your own worthiness. Do what you have to do to feel it in your bones. The more whole people there are in the world, the more we’ll realize we are all worthy of human rights, dignity, respect and equality. The very fact that we are here reveals our worthiness. Believe it and it will be so. Kindness to all is a great way to treat everyone and everything.

Kindness

K – Be kind always

It’s never right to be mean. Don’t kid yourself. You choose how you act. If you’re being mean, stop it and get help. Let go of the shame you feel. What does that serve? Find your way back to the light.

Be kind to yourself first. Forgive and let go of the hurt.

Forgiveness is about releasing yourself from someone’s psychic bondage. It’s not about condoning their hurtful ways.

Treat yourself and everyone around you like the sweetest little baby deserving of your complete and utter tenderness. Practice kindness until you are very good at it and then practice some more. You can even be kind to the earth by practicing less is more.

L – Less is more

Think about what you could do with less of. COVID-19 is likely giving you a daily exercise in this.

Buy less. Give away what you don’t need. You’ll have more room in your life for what you do want to come to you. Move on this thought while you’ve got this time at home.

Hikers on a trail near Banff

M – Move it, move it, and move it some more

A body in motion stays in motion. Think – NO PAIN ALL GAIN. Take it nice and slow so you never injure yourself. Trust that your body will guide you back to health and give it a chance with a gentle journey back to fitness or a strong course of staying fit if you already are.

Take advantage of all the free offerings from some of the world’s leading fitness experts during this pandemic. Tune into free offerings from your local gym or yoga studio. Enlist your family in a challenge. Get up off the couch. Nourish your body outside and inside.

Nourishing foods

N – Nourish yourself

Energy comes from eating beautifully prepared whole foods and the convivial enjoyment of good drink – of which a limited amount is alcohol. Learn to cook for yourself and your family and view it as the joyful practice of nourishing the ones you love.

When a baby cries, it’s usually because they are hungry or tired. When an adult gets grouchy, it’s usually for the same reasons – only we call it hangry. How well nourished we are greatly affects our mood too and especially our ability to opt for optimism.

prism of beige and blue

O – Opt for realistic optimism

A full 50 per cent of people are not born with an ability to be optimistic. Half the world are born with a sad affect and they’re more prone to struggle with depression and pessimism. That doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy life. Everyone can find great meaning and happiness in life. Some people have to work harder at cultivating it, that’s all.

I count my positive outlook on life as one of my greatest blessings. I don’t take it for granted. I support my optimistic nature by surrounding myself with positive people, beautiful things, time in nature and little contact with depressing news stories.

I’m not a Pollyanna. I strive to see the world the way it really is. I’m aware of what’s going on. I hope for peace, health and prosperity for all. I share my wealth. I volunteer. I visit. I cook for others. I listen and I take action when and where I can. I trust in a universal balance. Each tragedy teaches me how much better the world could be and I envision that day coming for humanity.

The key is to have limitless compassion (see above) while doing whatever you can to help improve the situation in the world within your limited capabilities. If that’s one of your priorities, maybe optimism isn’t even necessary?

P – Priorities 

Self, family, friends and faith in the creator of the universe. Oh, and fun! I know my priorities at this point in life. Do you know and live yours? What are they? Maybe you need some quiet in your life to figure them out. What better time than now?

Sky reflected in a lake

Q – Quiet

Q stands for more than quarantine. It stands for the source of life. Yes, before that Big Bang, there was silence, nada, zip – all was QUIET!

Now, to return to the source, the most important thing you’ve got to quiet is your mind. The mind is a bit of a bully. It wants all of your attention. If it’s allowed to constantly run the show, the source of life within you will never have its turn in the light.

Practice quieting your mind and ignoring it. Please don’t believe everything it tries to tell you. It makes stuff up. Don’t believe me? What else is worrying but an overactive mind? Worrying is not based in reality. Correct your mind and teach it to use its creative powers in a more constructive fashion. It’s supposed to be a tool for you to use, not the other way around.

Catastrophes of the scale and magnitude of a global pandemic can set off tremendous bouts of worry and the subsequent powerlessness, fatigue, anxiety and loss of the ability to thrive that comes with it. If you suffer this way, it may be hard for you to believe you could quiet your mind.

I’ve practiced meditation daily for a few years now. I’ve seen the progress this practice of focusing and being aware can bring. It’s important to note that it is not called meditation perfect. It’s called meditation practice. For a reason.

There are many kinds and types of meditation. I’ve been to India many times and am involved with Isha Foundation as a volunteer facilitator for their beginning meditation practices. Check out this post on the gentle guided meditaion, Isha Kriya, as a place to start. Undoubtedly, you will find it restful if nothing else.

path through the dunes

R – Rest

Rest is not the same as sleep. Sleep is important. Get about six to seven hours a night. Less and you’ll end up eating too much because you won’t produce enough of the satiety hormone leptin (unless you are a yogi, yogis don’t need much sleep). You’ll also go around cranky and overtired and nobody will want to be around you. More sleep than eight hours per night and you’ll just plain be missing out on over a third of your life. Rest is important in its own right and there are many ways to rest.

There’s physical rest. If you’ve really exerted yourself physically, your body will feel tired. It’s asking you for a rest day.

There’s emotional rest. Sometimes we need time out from emotional demands. Usually a little time alone – a walk, a movie, time to read a book – will do the trick. Sometimes we need the spiritual rest that meditation or prayer can bring us.

Mentally, our brains are set up like information processors. They store data each day and need a nap or sleep to process information. Our brains need a change of scenery, activity or exercise to focus and perform optimally. A change really is as good as a rest but in this case – have a rest for a change. It’s that simple.

Seashell

S – Simplicity

Simplicity is a great core value. Whenever you feel life has derailed, it’s usually because things got complex. Nature exemplifies this principle. Grass grows, rain falls, water flows and there is zero effort. These things are all ease and simplicity by the beauty of nature’s designs. When in doubt, go with the simple plan. Let nature teach you.

T – Life is full of teachers

Our teachers are not always who we think they are. You probably don’t like most of yours. They are the people you call difficult.

The sooner you can learn to note them as your teachers, observe what it is they are here to teach you and then let go of the emotions they bring out in you – the sooner you’ll be able to move past the discomfort they may cause you. Someday soon, you may even be grateful as soon as you recognize one popping up in your life. You can use them to grow.

U – Use it up; use it now

Let’s circle back through a few ideas. Life is a gift. We don’t know how long we’ve got. We are in the worst pandemic since 1918. This is the time to savour every morsel of life.

So….use your good stuff – your best china, jewellery, clothes, car, books, pen – today. Use it whenever you want to use it. Use your best ingredients first. Value the money you have. Count it and appreciate it. Save with a plan for your retirement and your children’s education. Save money to pay your bills. Save for a dream vacation a bit at a time. If you’ve already got wealth, use your wealth to be generous to others. Use all the rest to make your life more joyous. For someday soon, we’ll venture forth again, oh yes we will.

Pathway lit by sun and golden trees

V – Venture forth

Take some risks in life. The greatest risks I’ve taken have yielded my greatest joy. I’m not saying it was instantaneous. Sometimes it took quite a while. But, with that acute vision that hindsight supplies, I can tell you that without a doubt, the more scared I was, the bigger the leap; the greater my reward has been.

I’m a great believer in baby steps towards dreams. Even baby steps get you where you are going. Babies fall lots, but they pay no heed. They just get up and keep on going.

When it comes to taking risks, you might be going for a huge change but give yourself permission to do it in baby steps. Life will still reward you for it loves the fact you took that first step towards something new, no matter what. Turns out risky business can be rewarding business. And what is the greatest reward? What is true wealth?

W – True wealth

Is true wealth a state of mind or your bank account? Is it a reflection of your educational status, how hard you’ve worked or how much you’ve saved? How much is enough?

Truly, some of the most miserable people I’ve ever met have millions of dollars. Education, hard work and all their money could not buy them happiness. Happiness is something all humans pursue. It is likely the truest measure of wealth.

And wealth and happiness are nothing without health. So health is important to wealth as well.

An attitude of gratitude for what you have instead of dwelling on what you lack gently shifts one’s focus to the abundance in the universe. It allows the universe to exercise its infinite power to supply your every need and desire.

Prosperity is the state of flourishing, thriving and being of good fortune. It encompasses wealth but can exist independent of it where there is health and happiness.

Be grateful for what you have. Be open to prosperity. True wealth will follow to your “X marks the spot.”

Woman on a beach

X – Marks the spot

This spot, right here and now is all that really exists. Be. Here. Now. The Beatles went to Rishikesh to learn that. I’ll save you the airfare.

Take only warm and joyful memories from your past and compost the rest. Let all the garbage of the past rot and return to earth. It’ll make good fertilizer, as it is probably a bunch of manure anyway.

Plan fun and meaningful things for your future, as you can enjoy the planning right now. Don’t worry about the future, it always takes care of itself. An absolute 99 per cent of things worried about never happen. If you have the mental energy to worry, imagine what positive things you could do with that energy instead. Refuse to worry about anything. If you catch your mind even being tempted to worry, stop it right then and there and replace those thoughts with creative and appreciative ones.

This is something you can teach yourself to do. You can control your mind. It does not control you. Yoga can help.

Sadhguru
Sadhguru – courtesy of Isha Foundation

Y – Do yoga; it will help you

I started yoga when I was 40 years old. I worked up to three or four practices a week by my mid-forties. I was fit, firm, and flexible. Then, when I started my own business – along with working part-time for my husband, raising our son, caring for extended family and friends and managing our home, pets and exciting life – my yoga practice suffered. It was intermittent but persistent at best. But, I never gave it up completely.

I am blessed to have been to India many times. On my first trip in 2012, I was discussing life with a friend when she said to me, “Do yoga Karen, it will help you.”

India has given me, far more than I’ve been able to give it. The greatest gift has been my guru, Sadhguru. A guru is the light that guides the way on your spiritual path.

Yoga translates as union. It’s about joining the mind and body through breath. With this, you can find the source of creation that lies within all of us. Yoga is not calisthenics. It’s not about power or how hot a room is.

My practice has evolved greatly under the guidance of my guru. It’s my daily rock. I do it and, my friend was right; it is helping me!

I think it will help anyone who will seeks it. Perhaps, even in times of global crisis it can bring you some Zen.

Monk in golden robe

Z – is for Zen time

Even if you don’t think you could get into yoga, could you allow yourself the space and time to focus solely on sitting to breathe in and out? Five or ten minutes out of your day will do. That’s all you need for now.

A great way to begin is to sit by a plant. Breathe in and visualize the oxygen it is giving you. Breathe out and visualize the carbon dioxide you are giving it. It’s pretty hard to see yourself as a separate entity once you’ve done this for awhile. This is a much more small and positive reminder of our interconnectedness than the giant hazard to humanity that is COVID-19. Just breathe and appreciate each breath.


That is my alphabet for coping with COVID-19. Let me know if any of this helps or if you’ve got an alphabet or a credo that you live by. I’d love to learn from you. Confucius said, the only way is to have many ways. We humans all have infinite potential to savour it all.

Carpe Diem sign
Seize the day

9 Comments

  1. Bonnie Wyse

    Karen, you always teach me something at a time I need to look at things. from a new perspective. Thank you! Your writing is as beautiful as as you are inside and out!
    Take care of your self, and keep teaching.
    Bonnie

  2. Penny

    Ah, what a lovely read on Mother’s Day Karen – thanks for sharing your wisdom from your well-lived life, your words and your beautiful images!

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