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Finding equanimity in a pandemic: Ego, sourdough and mindfulness

Finding equanimity in a pandemic: Ego, sourdough and mindfulness

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Sourdough

A recent sourdough loaf. Photo and bread by the author

I am up late, fighting with strangers on the internet. The feelings of my seemingly justifiable rage wash over me in an adrenaline-fueled mission to find the most accurate words to prove my point. The message has to be just so, my tone both biting and funny. My aim is true: I must prove to myself that I am smarter than my unknown nemesis. Or at least feel that way.

What causes otherwise rational, thinking people to lose their sensible selves, even if temporarily? My anxiety and malaise have morphed into unexpected bouts of anger. Most recently, my anger was fueled by the White House initiative to help those of us who have lost our jobs during the pandemic. “Find something new,” Ivanka Trump urged us, smiling at the cameras in her elegant white suit. While the intentions of this campaign may be good and helpful, it struck me as tone-deaf and detached from the state of our country. But I digress.

When these bouts of anger flare like some unexpected stomach ulcer releasing bile, I must talk myself off the ledge and acknowledge that the energy expended on my anger is wasted. Strangers on the internet and politicians who never listen to their constituents don’t deserve my time or energy. Intellectually, I know this, but emotionally, I want to find individual people to be angry at and to blame. I, too, tire of following the rules. I, too, want to go to dinner with my friends. However, I cannot control the virus or the actions of others. Now when I feel anger well in the pit of my stomach, I try to calm myself before anything erupts. The most effective way for me to do this is to take a few deep breaths.

Although I have a daily meditation practice, I’m not the kind of gal who sits on a mat and oms for 45 minutes. Shutting my eyes and acknowledging the chaos of my brain at least once a day is usually all it takes to remind me that I need to focus on myself rather than expend my energy outward. And not focus on myself because I’m so interesting and great—far from it. My ongoing challenge is to find equanimity—calm in the midst of chaotic thoughts and situations.

Under normal circumstances, acknowledging and sustaining equanimity can be a challenge. Before the pandemic, everyday aggravations like waiting in line, or wishing I had said something differently in a meeting, seem heightened now. Although I wish all of us would band together and perform the same actions in order to eradicate this virus, part of finding equanimity now is reminding myself that it’s my responsibility to care for myself and to ensure that I am moving about in the world with as little impact as possible. What does that look like? For me, mostly staying home and wearing a mask when I’m at the grocery store.

The key here is for me. The anger that I feel comes from an irrational sense that everyone needs to believe as I do and to behave the same way. When I went through teacher training a few years ago, my understanding of student behavior changed. At first, it was easy to think that student behaviors were centered around their like or dislike of me. Part of maintaining equanimity as a teacher was letting go of my ego. I was not the most important aspect of my students’ lives, nor was my class. Students may not have done their homework because they truly forgot. Or they were too embarrassed to tell me that they didn’t understand the prompt, or they were dealing with an emotional family situation. Working in a classroom also reminded me every day to assume the best of students. Showing compassion, listening and asking questions helped students feel comfortable talking with me and eventually find their way back to their assignments.   

My test during this pandemic is the same: to let go of my ego and to assume the best of others. Reconfiguring my thinking from assuming others are willfully ignorant and harmful will take some time because the messaging around us says that one side is good and the other, bad. One side is right, the other wrong. In general, we all want the same things—our health and the restoration of what we think of as a normal way of life. In many ways, my reactions to the pandemic remind me of a group project where each of us feels like we’re carrying the workload alone. It’s more like we’re all contributing to the project, but because we can’t point to a specific piece and say, “I wore a mask, I saved us!” it feels as though we are alone and that our efforts are not recognized. Here’s my ego creeping in. Thinking well of others is easier for me right now. Letting go of my ego—that sense that I know better or more than others—feels like letting go of some of my intelligence and self-worth. But I must be mindful every day that this is the work ahead of me now. My mantra is something like: Deep breaths. Think well of others. Make more sourdough bread.

Although we are not alone, each of us needs to find our own path through this time. The best I hope for is that others will share their wisdom with me and that I will discover ways to balance my own thoughts during the chaos and tumult. I wish the same for you. Recently, I packed away my desire to fight with strangers on the internet, but I do still feel a phantom twitch in my typing fingers. It helps to remember that I’m not alone on this journey. Deep breaths. Think well of others. Make more sourdough bread.

Stacy Murison is a Flagstaff-based writer. Her work has appeared in Assay, Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog, Flash Fiction Magazine, Hobart, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and The Rumpus among others. 

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