Are We Experiencing a “World Heart Attack?”

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Doctor Neha: Hi everybody, it feels like it’s been a while. It almost feels like I should start with “Hi—I’m back!”

2020 has been quite a year. I had videos and newsletters in queue to launch for you, but when COVID hit, we all transformed to living in the moment and anything that was pre-scheduled or pre-planned became irrelevant. And just like everything else in our world, I shut down—quarantined—and my newsletters and communication did as well. I did what I do best in the doctor world: I shifted into crisis care. I was in Boston for three-and-a-half-months. Now I’m in Aspen, and decided it was time to reconnect. During quarantine crisis care, I switched to giving webinars on how to navigate stress, anxiety, and chronic uncertainty. I created healing circles for various groups. Parents began texting and calling me about their kids who were home from school and university—who were feeling hopeless, powerless, and felt as though they couldn’t make a difference.

So, we got together to create a virtual conference titled Next Gen Are The New World. The purpose was to educate them on how to handle their anxiety and loss, as well as connect them to their passions (saving the planet, anxiety and all things health, etc). Then we connected them to other youth interested in the same topics and created a shared experience to transform their despair into hope and action. It was one of the most meaningful things that I’ve done during this time.

Since it’s been a little while I guess I should start with, “How are you?” Our world has changed so radically over the last few months, that I experience that simple question differently than I did before. “How are you?” was a pleasantry. It was a question I expected you to answer “Fine.” Except, “Fine,” is not what we’re feeling right now. Right now, I’m not “fine,” we are not “fine,” and the world is not “fine”—yet.

In fact, on a recent webinar during a Q&A a woman asked how she could have spent several decades of her life thinking of herself as steady and stable. She began, “I’m steady. I’m clear. That’s how I’ve always thought of myself and known myself. Except now I can be in tears, or can be absolutely elated in a moment’s notice just by seeing a text or a headline from the news. I don’t like this, what’s wrong with me?”

I assured her that she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be, because nearly all of us are buckled into this emotional rollercoaster that’s created one of the most intense experiences of our lives. This is due to the unparalleled amount and pace of change that has now resulted in anxiety, stress, uncertainty, and the inability to control what’s happening to us.

We used to say, “If you can’t see it or measure it, it doesn’t exist.” How many times in business have you heard that? But now, our world is different, because even though you can’t see a virus, it exists. The virus doesn’t need a passport to get in and it’s not stopped by a wall.

Regarding emotions, we used to say, “keep home at home and work at work.” Well now home = work, and on this emotional roller coaster that we’re on, even though they’re invisible, have you discovered that emotions matter? I’d argue that they are driving everything in our world right now.

It’s definitely a telling time, and one that has revealed how people respond when they’re in chaos and the unknown for a prolonged period of time. Now you might notice that different people are handling this differently. You might notice some people blame other people. Others make up stories to make sense of the uncertainty and gain some sense of control. And yet others hope that if they just endure this—one day we will emerge on the other side of this pandemic, economic disruption, social, political and racial unrest—everything will return to our normal once again. And maybe, just maybe, they can once again say, “I’m fine.”

But if you think about it, the old rules, societal norms, and institutions that no longer serve us are crumbling. Some people are busier than ever—going into overdrive to attempt to hold up those crumbling pieces. They’re trying to push all the pieces back together. But nothing is the way we thought it was.

Another example of how things are changing is—before the pandemic, if you wanted to be safe, you would go inside and lock the doors. But now, if you want to feel safe in the midst of a respiratory borne illness, you say, “I’ll meet you outside—just to be safe—so the air can circulate. There’s less of a chance of transmission.”

Who knew that loving someone would mean not seeing them, not hugging them or not attending their funeral? Yet today, that is our reality.

There was another webinar where someone asked, “Don’t you think it’s horrible that the President is saying something different than the governors, who are saying something different than the mayors?”

The short answer is yes, I would prefer that we had some clear, unified central leadership and direction. But when the leaders in our world provide clear structure and communication, we often revert to autopilot and just allow other people to be in charge of what’s happening. So, I do wish it was different. But do I think it’s horrible that everybody’s pointing in different directions? No, because it just means that we’re going to learn a different lesson than we thought. I do think chaos creates delays in our healing, but there are some benefits to this alternate path that we’re taking.

What if, for the first time in a really long time, each of us is being asked not to default to what we’re told to do—but to look within ourselves and discover what we truly value and in what order we value them? Let’s say you value health, freedom, money, and security. Now you have to decide in what order you value them. We also need to figure out as a global community how we value them and how we are going to coordinate this in order to stay connected. It takes a lot more effort to do it this way, but it looks like this is the path we’re taking. It must be necessary for us to learn this lesson.

The best way that I know how to describe what we’re all going through right now is “a world heart attack.” To relate this to my world with patients, I’d say that a heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, cancer, or really any medical diagnosis was one of the fastest tracks to spirituality. An individual went from thinking, “I am not spiritual or religious. I do not want the chaplain coming in,” to their palms together praying for hope and talking about faith and recovery. When their world turned upside down with an unexpected event, they felt shocked. Once they made it through that period, their primary focus shifted to heal themselves physically. That’s important for our world as well. We have to heal on a physical level. Whether you have COVID or have been lucky enough not to, you have the opportunity for a sacred moment. I would tap into this sacred moment with my patients once they were stabilized physically. I would ask them some questions about what mattered to them, and together we got to ponder some of life’s biggest questions. What they prioritized and what mattered to them became crystal clear. That was the gift of their diagnosis.

As our world is in this parallel sacred moment, this collective “heart attack,” this global event has suddenly illuminated countless blind spots—one of which is that we think we’re so different from each other. Now, we have seen that no matter how far apart we are geographically, how different we are physically or politically—no matter how many ways we divide ourselves: the truth is—we’ve got a lot in common and we are one connected system.

For so long, many of us have been saying that we want change. That we need change. Wanting change and embracing the discomfort of change are two very different experiences. I’m convinced that lots of people want change, but they also want to control what change happens and the pace at which it happens. And that’s not possible in today’s world.

Right now, we have to value having control as much as we value surrendering and letting go. So, how good are you at wanting to control things? And, when you can’t, how good are you at letting go?

Left unchecked, we were this world on an ever-quickening treadmill to do more with less time—acting as if we could defy our own biological rhythms. But while technology has connected us to each other, we have increasingly become more isolated, anxious, depressed, and suicidal. As those numbers have risen it became clear that we had forgotten about our deep connections to ourselves, to each other, to the planet, to the world, and most importantly—to what matters most to us.

It feels like Mother Nature has placed us in a global timeout.

When I think about a timeout—I’m reminded of my little nephew and this sweatshirt that he has that says, “Straight Outta Timeout.” Now, he does some mischievous things to get placed in timeout. It seems like the bigger question here is, what will we do with this timeout? What you do during this timeout determines whether it’s useful or not. If my nephew just says mad at his parents and doesn’t think about what he just did, how useful is that?

So, will you merely endure this global timeout? Will you use it as sacred time to reflect on who you are and who you want to be with others? Will you use this opportunity to get clear and be the change that you’ve been waiting for? Or will you decide it’s just too much work and revert back to the old, familiar ways that might have even been dysfunctional—and that you didn’t like and said no longer served you?

For some of you, maybe the slowing down has been a welcome relief and a much more manageable pace. Perhaps, you’ve gotten to connect to family.

For those who thrive on activity and accomplishing, slowing down and being confined to your home and feeling uncomfortable may have been hard. If you’re hearing that no one’s going back to work until sometime in 2021, you know how you’re feeling inside. For those of you that are big doers, the reason you’re feeling uncomfortable is because now instead of doing and thinking, this slower pace has allowed emotions to arise that you might have to feel. If you’re not comfortable with the uncomfortable sensations, it’s likely because they leave you feeling vulnerable. This comes back to the idea of balancing your ability to be in control while also knowing when to allow yourself to let go and experience whatever is happening. You have a choice. You can either kick into high gear and work really hard and attempt to push back up all these crumbling norms and societal rules and institutions, or you can surrender to the upgraded version of our world and begin collaborating to build what’s next.

The problem isn’t that we’re slowing down; we’ve needed that for a while. Our nervous systems are loving it. Our meals are digesting better. We’re sleeping better. We aren’t travelling as much, having as many meetings or sitting in as much traffic. Our bodies are thanking us. The much bigger problem is that when we move at this slower pace, we begin to notice what comes up for us. We used to be able to ignore the things that were bothering us because we stayed busy. When we slow down, those things are going to pop up. The real problem with slowing down is not having any idea what to do with what surfaces in this new space.

If you’re wondering what I mean, here are a few examples.

In half a century that couples have been married, they’ve never spent this much consecutive time together. Other people are telling me, “I realized that I’m in a J.O.B. instead of pursuing what really matters.” Some people are actually grateful to have a job. So, it depends on where you are, but many people feel like they’ve lost their life, their routines, their coping mechanisms, and now they’re permanently disrupted and they don’t know the path forward. I like to think of this as if we’re in the middle of a complete renovation—not of our kitchens—but of our lives as we know it. Are we merely going to endure this traumatic time by binge watching Netflix, eating and drinking our way through it (It’s 5 o’clock somewhere!), and hoping that life will be fine on the other side? Or are we going to use this to slow down and reflect to get clear on a few questions.

  • How happy am I with how I’m living?
  • How aligned am I?
  • How am I loving?
  • Do I feel like I am loved?
  • Do I feel like I love other people well?
  • Am I in a J.O.B.? Or is my work my life’s work?
  • If you’ve lost your job, are you ready to get another one?
  • Is it time for me to reflect on how I can not only live my life’s purpose, but also make a living?

There are lots of questions coming up. What can I do to make things “sane?” I just remember that visual of my little nephew’s sweatshirt: “Straight Outta Timeout.” As I do it warms my heart and I smile—because just seeing his smile took me out of my daze and got me thinking about how to shift into healing ME, to serve the collective WE and create a better WORLD for him!

In the chaos of the pandemic, a dear friend Alise Cortez and I have decided to serve the community in a new way. We decided that we didn’t want to pretend to be just “fine” anymore. We wanted to feel truly alive and live in a new and excited way for the future. We wanted to use this crisis to heal ourselves and help each other.

If you’re ready to reimagine, re-engineer, and reinvent this “world heart attack” into something powerful, you’re in the right place. Let’s use this precious time as an opportunity to educate yourself, expand your perspective, and create an authentic community—so that together—we can elevate the world!

Join us at the virtual Conscious Community Cafe. It’s a free monthly online interactive group experience that’s designed to be an authentic exchange. We want to meet you exactly where you are and help you by listening, providing a space of trust and safety, giving you powerful tools to expand and elevate your consciousness— then empower you to take action in your life!

Please join us and just answer these questions before you get there:

  • What’s on your heart and mind?
  • How can we support you?
  • Will you react or respond during this uncertainty?
  • What will you do in the sacred moment we’ve been given?

Awareness Prescription for the Pandemic

If you’re ready to go from feeling powerless to feeling empowered, grab something to write with and answer these five questions:

  1. Why this? (current upheaval / physical symptom / crisis)

  2. Why now? (what message did you need to get in this moment)

  3. Since hindsight is 20/20, what signals might you have missed?

  4. What else in your life needs to be healed?

  5. If you spoke from the heart, what would you say?

Doctor Neha

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