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A Mindfulness Practice for Facing Your Fears - Mindful

This morning, the radio was blaring its usual concoction of miserable news, but one, brief comment on a recent study stood out. Over 75,000 people (about the same number as have died recently from Covid-19) could die from “deaths of despair”: suicide and drug overdoses. These deaths are directly related to the constant drip of trauma induced by reading the daily death counts and the dire predictions of mass death in the future, as well as the isolation of quarantine and job loss leading to poverty and and a sense of hopelessness.

We don’t know enough about the virus, allowing the media to take full advantage of our ignorance. We read about bizarre and horrifying symptoms that happen to a tiny minority of people; we are assaulted by terrible predictions if we leave our house more than “necessary” or visit our friends and family. We are shamed if our behavior seems irresponsible to others, even if we simply hold hands with our partner with whom we live. We don’t know when the virus showed up; we don’t know who has already had it and who is truly negative, because our tests are unreliable; we don’t know what the denominator truly is when talking about deaths from Covid-19, so we don’t know its true mortality rate; and all we THOUGHT we knew was that staying at home would keep us safe. And then, this statistic comes at us like a bomb from New York:

“If you notice, 18% of the people came from nursing homes, less than 1% came from jail or prison, 2% came from the homeless population, 2% from other congregate facilities, but 66% of the people were at home, which is shocking to us,” Cuomo said.

“This is a surprise: Overwhelmingly, the people were at home,” he added. “We thought maybe they were taking public transportation, and we’ve taken special precautions on public transportation, but actually no, because these people were literally at home.”

Cuomo said nearly 84% of the hospitalized cases were people who were not commuting to work through car services, personal cars, public transit or walking. He said a majority of those people were either retired or unemployed. Overall, some 73% of the admissions were people over age 51. 

He said the information shows that those who are hospitalized are predominantly from the downstate area in or around New York City, are not working or traveling and are not essential employees. He also said a majority of the cases in New York City are minorities, with nearly half being African American or Hispanic. 

Cuomo said state health officials had thought a high percentage of people who were hospitalized would be essential employees, like health-care workers or city staff, who are still going to work. 

“Much of this comes down to what you do to protect yourself. Everything is closed down, government has done everything it could, society has done everything it could. Now it’s up to you,” Cuomo said. 

66% of the hospitalizations in New York were people who stayed at home; did not take public transportation; and did not work outside of the home. People who took the precautions and stayed at home are overwhelmingly represented in the hospitalization numbers, and, presumably, the fatality numbers.

What I take from this is that this virus is capricious and unpredictable, infecting people regardless of their stay-at-home status. Cuomo seems to want to make the case that those people probably had family or friends come over and didn’t wear masks or sanitize their hands, but he has no evidence for that at all. In fact, it makes no sense to say that people who stayed home and avoided public transportation weren’t also taking all the precautions recommended–this would be the cohort who WOULD wear the mask and wash their hands. And it didn’t matter, in the end.

If we didn’t already have this disease, then we will, no matter how careful we are. It doesn’t appear that we are making the difference in death numbers by our conduct and precautions. So, if I freak out, refuse to see anyone outside of my tiny household, eat only at home, avoid all gatherings, and disinfect the crap out of everything, I might well still be one of those people who gets it and ends up on oxygen in the hospital. The numbers are telling that story. These facts, in turn, make me want to give up.

But give up what, exactly? I will still wear a mask, but not because I think it’s anything but a public show of solidarity and compliance. Unless I have an active cough or are sneezing a great deal, my mask isn’t going to much, if anything. I wear it because people expect and want me to, and that’s enough reason. I stay six feet away from people not because I think it will afford me some magic protection (if someone coughs near me, the particulates from that cough go beyond 12 feet), but because it makes those around me more comfortable. It makes it look like I’m DOING something, even though it is becoming painfully clear that there is no way to avoid this virus, no matter how much we hide, mask ourselves or stand six feet apart.

If we haven’t had it, we’re going to get it. We could get really, really sick from it. We could die from it. Or, we could get it, not have any clue that we’re sick, and go along our merry way. If I have Covid-19, I do not see strong evidence that my mask or my six-feet away behavior is keeping others safe. Maybe I’m wrong about that; I do not know. I will continue to abide by the guidelines. But the insidious nature of this virus tells me that it will find a way to infect us, seemingly no matter what we do. When the information is contradictory, bizarre, and constantly changing, how are we supposed to live? The answer appears to be: be afraid, all of the time, every minute; if that fear leads you to suicide (and no, I’m not suicidal) or drug abuse, well . . . you’re simply collateral damage, I suppose.

I have reached the point where the threat to my mental health is greater than the threat of illness due to this virus. I have reached the point where I can’t fear my friends and family any more. I am going to see them. Some of them will be OK with hugs; others will not. Some will want me to wear a mask, and some will want to socially distance. However, some won’t care, and in that case, I will not wear the mask or stay far away. In my group of consenting adults, we are going to make decisions about the risks that we are willing to take; we will be smart, but not paranoid every second that we are together. Will that result in tragedy? It is possible; but it is not likely.

I can’t live my life in fear of the possible but not likely. To do so is to create health risks for myself that ARE likely: increased panic attacks, heightened anxiety and depression, withdrawal; high blood pressure, heart problems, digestive issues, insomnia, greater susceptibility to colds, flues, or to Covid-19 itself. Ongoing, overwhelming stress kills people. That is well documented. So why, you might ask, can’t you just drop your stress and stay away from everyone? Because my mental health–as well as perhaps yours–cannot thrive in long-term isolation and is not alleviated by Zoom meetings or FaceTime. Instagram doesn’t connect me to my loved ones. Facebook cannot take the place of my mother’s hug. Nothing can heal my broken heart like seeing my dear friends in person, in front of me, and comforting me when I cry.

I’m a good person who follows the rules and takes public health seriously. But I’ve had enough. I’m breaking. My friends and I are going to see each other today. I will hug them. I will spend hours with them. I won’t touch my face, and I’ll sanitize my hands, but I have to let go of the fear. The fear is ripping me apart more effectively than anything else I have ever experienced.

–Kirsten A. Thorne

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Medium-Eva-Carriere-1912.jpg
The medium Marthe Béraud with an ectoplasmatic structure (materialization) on her head. Marthe Béraud also performed under the names Eva C. and Eva Carrière. Photograph taken in 1912 by German parapsychological researcher Albert von Schrenck-Notzing M.D.(1862 – 1929).

When my mother informed me that my cousin had passed away, I knew immediately what had happened. She had no information that day, but after we hung up, I struggled to contain the flood of images surrounding his death. I found a quiet place, asked for permission to contact him, and then I spoke to him. What happened during the 30 minutes that we spoke, and the images and knowledge that were shared with me, is something I cannot share publicly; however, I can say that it was very difficult to manage the emotions that my connection with him produced in me. I prayed for him, I spoke to him about God, and I tried to guide him to something familiar, someone who might lead the way. After it was over, I ‘heard’ a deep, resounding voice say, “thank you.”

I was not raised to have such experiences. My father was an academic and a skeptic, and although my mother was freer in her world view, she saw me as someone with a big imagination and prone to fantasy. She did not take my paranormal knowledge seriously and refused to allow me to take it seriously, either. Anything that might inflate my ego she was sure to shoot down, and communicating with the dead, in her opinion, was a way of drawing attention to myself. So, I learned to disappear as much as possible and not say or do things that others might find odd, weird, or incomprehensible. I gagged myself and throttled my natural instincts. But one’s true nature has a way of breaking through all resistance.

When I was walking home after contacting my cousin, the skeptic’s voice cropped up; was I making this up? Was what had just happened a delusional, wish-fulfillment fantasy? I decided that, if my details were wrong, if my cousin had NOT died the way I saw that he did, I would give up on the idea that I could talk to the deceased, or receive any information from them. I would, in other words, give into the world’s low opinion of mediums and psychics and continue the not-so-venerable tradition of self hatred.

I recorded everything that came through to me on my phone, so that later I could check my accuracy. When I arrived at home, I cried to my husband. What I had seen and experienced was hard; it had broken my heart. If I had ‘make it up’, there is no explanation for why I would choose something so terrible to invent. The next day, there was more information about my cousin. Everything that my family told me had transpired was exactly what I had seen. I had not been wrong in any of the details save for one, and the one I ‘missed’ had been an auto-correction of previous information that had been true. Of course, some of what came through could not be verified, as it was information that only my cousin could have had. I had seen and sensed what had happened to him; now, the question was, had I helped in any way?

I set up an appointment with a psychic medium that I had met once, long ago, who struck me as compassionate and gifted. Although her student, who did most of the reading, missed many pieces of information and was wrong more often that she was right, the professional medium honed in immediately on what I needed to know. “Yes, you did help him. He thanked you. He has crossed over; he is not here anymore”. There had been no leading questions up to that point. She simply knew. She confirmed what I had seen and sensed, and added a couple of details that explained what I had experienced during meditation that didn’t make sense to me at the time. Some of the ‘hits’ were so specific, not even a super-skeptic could possibly be left unmoved. It was a reading that went on a long time, much longer than planned, because family members kept coming forward. In the end, though, everyone who wanted to say something was able to do so. And although I recognized when one or both of them was filling time or bridging gaps with generic information, there was enough there to convince me that indeed, I was able to reach someone who needed help, and in some way, I was able to guide him.

Does that mean I can call myself a medium? I don’t feel comfortable with that word, but I suppose so. I do what mediums do, and I’ve done it for decades, even when ridiculed or marginalized for it. I have never taken money for my time, although I respect the fact that you can’t work at this for free, once you are open to sharing what you can do with others. I think many people, if not all people, could develop these gifts for themselves; and yet, most people are afraid of this kind of contact, feeling it to be somehow outside the bounds of acceptability. Our culture is fascinated by death and destruction and terrified by the prospect of life as a never-ending reality that changes form, but not essence.

Most people seem to prefer the idea that we die and do nothing but rest for all eternity in some kind of oblivion. I believe that American culture is profoundly fearful of life and mistrustful of its continuation in a new form. We hide and protect ourselves from the grandeur of existence, the riotous explosion of forms radiating energy and consciousness. We distract ourselves, we make ourselves small and unobtrusive, and we hide from our most powerful connections to Spirit. Sometimes, however, Spirit itself doesn’t allow you to hide, to deny, to ridicule or to pretend. Sometimes, Spirit simply refuses to allow you to be anyone else but who you actually are.

And who I am is someone who has allowed herself to speak to and for those who have moved on. I hope to be able to share that talent with others who are open to it and take it seriously. This is not an ego project, something to brag about, or an ability that makes me feel special or superior; quite the opposite. I am terrified and humbled by it, and I work very, very hard not to misinterpret what I pick up. I would appreciate support and genuine interest; my only purpose is to help and to educate, if anyone is willing to listen. My support system is very weak within my family; my husband is always there for me, however, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I am planning to start my own, small business doing readings for donations. If anyone is interested in taking these first, few steps with me, simply send me a message. I can be reached through this site or at kirstenthorne@gmail.com.

May you have a blessed day in the midst of so much uncertainty and chaos.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

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Enlightenment - WOHASU

There is a Cooper’s Hawk nesting in our pine tree. His plaintive cries ring out at various times during the day, like an avian alarm clock. Yesterday, we found a new bird sitting on the railing of the front patio: I think he was some kind of tufted nuthatch, but honestly, I can’t remember his name. I can see his bird body, firm and round, and the spectacle of him catching an insect in his beak as he sat on the railing. My husband and I played in mud puddles a few days back, because there were fairy shrimp in them, an endangered species brought to life by the copious rains of the last several weeks. Those rains are long gone, though, replaced by a heat wave that will bring up the temperature to near 100 degrees today. The fairy shrimp won’t make it, but by now, they have deposited their eggs in the mud for next year’s generation. Right now, the tadpoles and fairy shrimp are drying up in the intense sun, as they do every year. They will come around again in several months’ time, when the conditions are right for their reappearance.

The bees are almost finished with the blooming rosemary and have moved on to heartier flowers. The cabbage rose in the side yard has sent out new shoots, suckers and stems, drinking in the heat and creating more roses out of nothing, it seems. My husband has found several deer mice in his garage, and he feeds them leftover burritos until we liberate them from an old, metal bucket into the State Park, where humans cannot yet go, but mice can. My walks around the hills have become more focused, and now I see tiny flowers and withering mushrooms that would have escaped me before. I see the circling of hawks on the updrafts; sometimes, they appear not to move at all, suspended in the air like living kites, and I wonder if they are searching for food or simply enjoying the sensation of floating over the world.

Right now, a train is passing through the valley, and the sound of the horn reverberates and warps as it tunnels through the hills. The rotating fan clicks as it hits one extreme of its trajectory and heads toward the other. I feel the breeze for a moment, and then I don’t, and then I do. A dog is barking down the street, and the birds in the oak tree are singing and calling to each other. I don’t know which birds they are: goldfinch, sparrows, titmice, wren, or something else, but I do know that they sound ecstatic to my ears, as if they had been waiting for this morning forever, and it’s finally here.

There is one reality, and you are experiencing it right now. How you experience will vary tremendously. Perhaps, if you were here with me in my room, your description of reality would be totally different from mine. It is very tempting to try to experience others’ realities, but in truth, we cannot do so. We can empathize, work to improve the lives of others, strive to create a better world for us all; but we cannot inhabit someone else’s perception or know what life feels like for them. There are habits that we have developed that make us believe a lie: that we can fully understand someone else’s reality; that we can predict or control the future; and that more information will confer a sense of peace and knowledge that will fix the fear and desperation we so often feel.

Social media feeds the idea that what people post is somehow connected to a reality that affects us; the vast majority of the time, there is no connection. We think that we can ‘stay connected’ via posts that we view on a screen, but there are multiple levels of distancing happening: the written word, the technology itself, the communication gaps that naturally exist between people, and the odd, snapshot-like glimpses we absorb that lack context. News, of course, fulfills the need for information, and the using of that information as a self-soothing mechanism. However, there will never be enough information to make us feel better. Contradictory claims about Covid-19, lack of testing, lack of information, the great medical unknowns, and many other examples of our ignorance and unpreparedness guarantee that more reading on the issue will only produce a kind of vertigo that leads to depression. The news cycle seems to promise that if we keep reading, we will find that nugget of truth that will eradicate our fear and insecurity; in reality, the news cycle utterly depends on our fear and insecurity, and it will stoke these emotions with shocking headlines designed to keep you clicking and reading.

The news cycle is created to keep the reader psychologically and spiritually off balance. You believe that more reading will restore that balance, but that is not the point. The point is to keep you endlessly worried about an uncertain future and questioning what you think you know now. Social media and the news are the enemy of living in the present moment, of quiet observation, of grounding yourself in the reality of now. Peaceful existence in the present moment is the enemy of capitalism and materialism. If you are not worried about the future or uncomfortable in the present moment, why would you rush out to buy stuff, or continue consuming the news? So much of what we purchase is an attempt to soothe ourselves, to distract ourselves, so that we don’t have to make deep dives into the nature of our selves and our immediate reality.

Right now, you are reading this from somewhere. Where are you? What do you hear? What is happening around you? How does the chair or the bed feel underneath you? Can you smell the dusky coat of your cat or dog, can you hear the sounds of your partner rustling around the house, do you have a bird that makes little noises while perched on her cage? Is the air conditioner whirring, or the overhead fan spinning, moving the air around your room? Come back to yourself, to what is actually happening around you; it is then, and only then, can you take meaningful action to help others. If you come from a place of chaos, you will radiate that chaos into your environment; if you come from a solid sense of peace and grounding, you can change far more than your world.

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Solitude

This morning was much like other mornings; I read my digital newspaper, emails, weather reports, and checked my work messages. I looked up the deaths from Covid-19 in Ventura County: 10 fatalities, 309 confirmed cases, 9 people currently in the ICU. There are so many statistics, models, curves, interpretations of data, opinions; and all of it layered with fear, anger, outrage, confusion and insecurity.

I find myself caught in a loop of uncertainty. As more information emerges, it seems more and more likely that vast numbers of us were infected and didn’t know it; were infected and thought it was a generic cold or flu; were infected and continued on our merry way, spreading the virus everywhere because we had no idea that we were sick. The true mortality rate of this virus is far lower than what we were told before, a fact that does little to comfort the families of those who died. But the real horror seems to be that something new killed our loved one–we’re prepared for accidents, cancers, heart attacks, regular flues, any number of other ways to die; but this caught us by surprise. Not that it should have–but that’s beyond the scope of what I want to say.

In the end, it seems, this will become yet another way for us to become sick and for some, to die. At the heart of this truth is fear–that awful, gnawing fear that you won’t survive something invisible and unpredictable, that colonizes you without you knowing it and affects you in such completely mysterious ways–maybe you will not even be aware of this virus, or maybe, just maybe, it will suffocate you. As such, it strikes to the very core of our biggest anxieties: it’s unknown, unpredictable, and uncontrollable.

My husband coughed today. Once. He said, “that’s what a dry cough sounds like”. Immediately, I thought of my parents. If my spouse is sick, then they might be. If my husband is sick, then I most assuredly am, too. Will he die? Is it already in his chest? I take a mental inventory of his past battles with bronchitis, and my past struggles with asthma, which has sent me to the ER when I had ‘just’ a cold. I think about the people we might have to notify, the fact that we haven’t updated our estate plan . . . I wonder what will happen to our daughter, and suddenly I am on the floor in a trembling heap of despair, believing that our life is over; that we’re murderers because I hugged my mother a few days ago, even though I was wearing a mask. Even though I washed and sanitized my hands until my skin peeled. I couldn’t help it. I hadn’t hugged her in over a month, and I couldn’t take it anymore. As it turned out, my husband never coughed again, and he has no fever or any other symptom of anything whatsoever. And yet. Asymptomatic people can kills others, as we’ve been told over and over again.

Nothing that we do is safe. Nothing. One trip to the grocery store, one hug, one unauthorized visit, one neighbor without a mask who comes up the driveway, one take out meal (with the attendant shame that I killed my family because I didn’t cook that night), one careless contact with some random surface that I didn’t know was infected, and *boom*, the lethal, little, coronavirus is in me and soon to be in everyone with whom I come into contact. Is this any way to live?

No. We can’t live this way forever, and everybody knows that. At some point, we have to make friends with this new enemy and allow risk to re-enter our calculations when we go out, go back to work, go shopping, and see loved ones. We can’t allow a galloping paranoia to overtake everything we do; we can’t shame every person who doesn’t follow the rule of the week, or we risk giving up all personal freedom in the name of increasing our odds of survival even by a tiny fraction of a percent. The legacy of Covid-19 can’t be an insidious fear that distances us from each other for months, years, forever; it can’t become the new cultural norm to avoid other people, to eye them with suspicion, to call them out for a sneeze or a cough. And yet, that’s what I see happening. Even after there is a vaccine or an effective treatment, the mental and emotional toll of this virus will exact a far greater price than the illnesses it originally caused. We run the risk of becoming mentally ill as a community, as a culture; a mental illness that will further separate and isolate us from each other, solving none of the problems that this virus brought to light.

We’ve had a long descent into our country’s worst sins: poverty, homelessness, racial and social injustices all revealed in the harsh light of day. This is still Lent around the world, for those who find meaning in Christianity. We are still in the tunnel, still wandering the desert, still deep in reflection and pain. It will end, at some point; and when it does, will we care more for those who died in the largest numbers? Will we find better ways to care for our senior citizens? Will we really have the courage to face the fact that racism and inequality have allowed Covid-19 to disproportionately ravage black communities? Will we finally do something about our ailing planet? I don’t know. The experiment continues.

Can an awareness of eternity and continuation of consciousness do anything to help us navigate this crisis? I think so; but it requires that we drop the separation–artificial to begin with–between spirituality and the material world. Spirituality is not about meditating, or engaging in spiritual ‘practices’; it’s really about how we manage the turmoil and the terrors of this world, right here, right now. There is one thing that we can do, whether or not we are in crisis: focus on what is real, what is actually happening, and what we can directly experience. Notice that focusing on the current moment eradicates the fear of what might, or could, happen. Notice that if you can stay intimately connected to right now, right here, you don’t fall into the abyss of possible outcomes.

Life itself is mysterious, uncontrollable, and unpredictable. That can either be cause for retracting into our agonized shells, or it can be cause for celebration; not knowing what comes next frees us from the responsibility of trying to peer into crystal balls in order to soothe ourselves. Take the measures to keep yourself and others safe in the HERE and NOW; take action in the present, the only real aspect of our lives. Do something to alleviate someone’s pain or fear, right now, not for what will result from your actions (you can’t know), but because your life is only happening now; it cannot happen in any other space or time.

The one, dry, cough could signify a million possible outcomes, from absolutely nothing to the deaths of one’s entire circle of family and friends; and as morbidly entertaining as these scenarios are for the overly stressed mind, nothing good comes from spinning out scenarios. Your next trip to the grocery store could result in a collision with multiple vehicles because you hit a pothole, your tire exploded, you lost control of the car, and mass death ensued. Your walk around the hills could result in a twisted ankle, a fatal fall, a snake bite, or a slightly sore foot. THIS IS NOT A FUN GAME. You do not have to play. You do not have to engage in the fearful fantasies that our media encourage us dive into. Stick to now, to reality; do what needs to be done based on the reliable information that you have. Don’t play around with narratives, with fiction, unless you like to write and create stories. But don’t sell those stories as fact that results in mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish for others.

Spirituality in its truest sense is realism. Look around, take stock of what is and not what could be, and take compassionate action. For there are many, many, monsters under the bed. Only fight the ones that grab your foot. The others will fade into the mists of oblivion from whence they came.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

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I’m actually afraid to write this post, even though I know very few people will see it. I fear misrepresentation of my words, or the mislabeling of me as some right-wing conspiracy nut, which is the exact opposite of who I am for anyone that knows me. Before you read this, please know that I have taken the pandemic very seriously; I follow the rules of my state (California) and don’t leave my house for non-essential business. I don’t congregate in groups. I wash my hands until they bleed. I have the “alerts” set up on my phone for both Los Angeles and Ventura counties, so that I know what the new rules are as soon as they are sent out to the public.

This morning, I read some headlines: “Facing a Month of Sickness and Death” is but one example, but there are so many I could quote, with words such as “global catastrophe”, “tsunami of death”, “unimaginable human tragedy”, “fatal epidemic”, “existential threat” and more. Then there are articles showing the sickly lungs of a Covid-19 sufferer, articles lamenting the deaths of our cherished elders, and photos of those who have lost their lives. Are these illnesses and deaths tragic? Of course they are. The fact that in Madrid a rest home was filled with abandoned, gravely ill people and corpses were left on beds is horrifying. Do I believe, back here in the States, that suddenly the media and the government care deeply about our elders and the most vulnerable members of our population? No. I do not believe that we have miraculously developed compassion for the people living in the shadows. In fact, I believe that the media and state governments are using fear and hysteria for their own ends. It is the most hypocritical display I have ever seen.

Allow me to back up a little. The fear level has been so high that some friends and family members have become physically ill from stress and worry. I have been sick to my stomach for weeks, reading the horror that daily floods the news, social media, texts from well-meaning friends and family, email, and any other form of media you can imagine. It’s always the worst-case scenario; the numbers are always panic-inspiring. For weeks now, we have been unable to purchase hand sanitizer, gloves, bleach, or anything else that might actually disinfect surfaces. People have hoarded rice and pasta, and only now are canned soups showing up again. Everyone is wary of everyone else; social distancing has become social distrust and wariness. The levels of fear have been stoked to such a level that I doubt people will easily return to ‘normal’ after we have been give the green light to socialize. This crisis has permanently altered the way we view each other and our behavior. If we were an ‘every man for himself’ culture before, we are going to be far more so afterwards. And yes, I acknowledge that there have been many instances of generosity of spirit and neighbors taking care of neighbors; but I wonder if that will become the new norm, or if fear and isolation will win out in the end.

Are we going to care as much when people who were already in poverty fall off the map into homelessness after months of unemployment? Are we going to breathlessly catalog each death that results from lost income and lack of access to quality health care? Will the media lament the deaths of our elders who pass away abandoned and alone, in miserable conditions because staff is too afraid to work there anymore or touch anyone? One could argue that all the draconian measures were necessary to prevent mass death; and perhaps that will ultimately be the conclusion to all of this. And, of course, if California ends up with far fewer fatalities from Covid-19 than was anticipated, this will be attributed to the stay-at-home orders–perhaps rightfully so.

There are, however, some facts that disturb me. After reading the March 28th edition of the Los Angeles Times–specifically, the article “Hospitals Facing a Cruel April” (and they undoubtedly are, in many cases–not disputing that our health care system is woefully and unethically unprepared for any major health care crisis–more on that below), I noticed that if you read the entire article, there are some predictions for California’s Covid-19 fatality rate near the end. Computer simulations are placing the death tolls anywhere from a low of 898 to a high of 13,650, with a likely number of 6,109 deaths from this illness. This IS TRAGIC. Let’s also take a look at the number of flu deaths in 2017-18: “only” 329 deaths, which appears to validate the strikingly higher fatality rate of Covid-19. However, if you look at californiahealthline.org, the number does not even COUNT people who died from the flu who are over 65. The state does not track flu deaths of people over 65, who account for the majority of fatalities.

Why do we not ‘count’ the deaths of those over 65 in the flu statistics? Where is the breathless death count for the ‘regular’ flues? Where is the coverage, the outrage, the sadness, the horror, the call for reform when flu deaths in those over 65 far outstrip the numbers for those that are younger? The state figure of 329 flu deaths, in reality, represents only 1 in 10 of the state’s mortality rate. That means that Covid-19 could be twice as deadly, but if you take into account that we have not tested but a tiny fraction of our population, and that this new illness has been circulating in the state for MONTHS now, the mortality rate for Covid-19 could be far lower than it is for seasonal flu. The fact that our health care system is overwhelmed by this new threat means that we have not prepared or prioritized health care for all in this country. That is no shock to anyone.

We do NOT care about the elderly, the low-income, the homeless, the addicted, the immigrant, or those challenged with chronic and disabling mental and physical conditions. We PRETEND we care now, because suddenly, it’s going to look bad when nurses are dressed in trash bags, wearing bandannas, and trying to figure out who to save and who to let die. There was a massive crisis in our health care system long before Covid-19 showed up, and that’s what we are truly, and finally freaking out about: one new virus, one that isn’t nearly as fatal as it might have been, as others surely will be, and all the ugly cracks in our national facade are blown wide open.

Does our government and our media really care so much about deaths due to Covid-19 that we all need to hide out in our homes, wracked with despair and terror? Do we suddenly and magically care about preexisting conditions and our senior citizens? I don’t think so; I think what terrifies the leaders of our states and nations are the ‘optics’ of hospitals leaking photos and videos of an overwhelmed system. It’s so much easier to blame the illness for all the chaos and sadness in our hospitals instead of the system itself; we wring our hands in despair over the effects of the new illness in the homeless camps or in immigrant communities, when the real problem are the homeless camps and detention centers themselves. We mourn the deaths of the old and vulnerable in the nursing homes, forgetting that the real shame is that they are there in the first place.

We were always on the edge of disaster in our health care system, and we didn’t collectively give a damn about the most vulnerable populations to pandemics, until suddenly “those people” might infect us or make us look uncaring and callous. Once we have vaccines and treatments, we will be able to hide our national shame behind closed doors again. One day, the poor, the crazy, the destitute immigrants, the junkies, and the elderly can go back to dying of ‘acceptable’ causes, causes which we can once again ignore or pretend not to see.

Fear sells; fear makes money. The stock market will recover, and some people will have made their fortunes from our misfortunes. “Normal” will resume; but for those whose lives suddenly mattered so much, we will turn a blind eye to all the deaths to come that were not related to a new and exotic disease. If opioids killed you, or you died from neglect in a ‘rest home’, or the desert sun brought you to your knees while trying to save your children from gangs in Honduras, or you simply died alone and forgotten in your home from a disease that should never have killed you, you might get a paragraph at the end of a newspaper article or you might be included in some database somewhere. But probably not.

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I don’t need to talk about viruses, the Stock Market, the mortality rates, our general unpreparedness, the global recession, or the statistics regarding who is more likely to get infected, get sick, or die. You have all been inundated by virus news for days, and it will continue for weeks. I want to talk about something else: reality and our fear of the truth.

From the day we are born, the day we are conceived, we sign a contract with death. Everything that takes material form will die. We will all die, and all of our loved ones will die; it’s not a matter of if, but when, and how. When I choose to get up in the morning and drive on Los Angeles freeways, I take the risk that I may not make it to my destination or back home. After three car accidents in six months (one was my responsibility; the other two happened when the driver behind me was distracted by their phone and slammed into my stopped car), I am very aware–hyper aware–that every trip out might be my last.

I have survived multiple surgeries, countless infections, accidents, and random ‘conditions’. I am aware that I might not survive the Corona virus, and my parents might not, either. I understand that if we all survive this virus, another might come along that is far worse. Or, my father could be hit by a car while riding his bicycle down Edwards Hill. My mother might fall again, and this time not miss the curb by millimeters. Your life, your existence, is under threat every second of every day of your life.

It is our nature as human beings to do everything possible to stay alive. It is our imperative as species. I will take all the Coronovirus precautions, just as I wear my seat belt, drive the speed limit, and go to the doctor when my breathing is labored or a cut looks like it’s becoming infected. I walk on the side of the road and carry an electrified walking stick to ward off packs of coyotes and mountain lions in the hills by my house. I don’t climb trees anymore, and I always wash my hands. I don’t wear slippery shoes in the rain or climb rocks in sandals. When I saw a rattlesnake right in front of me a few weeks ago, I slowly backed away instead of trying to pick it up. And yet, for all these precautions, for all the ways in which I try to maximize my survival in the world, I know that the rattlesnake might strike; the car might be crumpled into a metal ball in spite of my seat belt and law-abiding speed; the mountain lion that crossed the road in front of me could decide, the next time, to grab my throat; the next infection might kill me if my body doesn’t react to the strongest of antibiotics; the fall could happen, even wearing my hiking boots. And, I might pick up Coronavirus and be one of the unlucky few whose respiratory system can’t fight it off. I might die on a respirator in a foreign hospital.

We don’t like to think about these basic truths, so we cover them up with distractions: social media, Internet browsing and information hoarding, shopping for things we don’t need, preparing for the Apocalypse, eating, searching out soulmates or sex partners, drinking, taking pills, or watching hours of mindless television. There are as many ways to distract ourselves as there are ways to die. Counting ways to die or calculating our personal risk of death from the latest virus is another distraction.

Our time on Earth is limited. Some of us have only hours or moments to live; others, many decades. The final destination is always the same, however, and most of us will not be ready for it. For all the focus on how we could die in this latest crisis–from the illness itself, or as a result of the economic collapse that is just as horrifyingly spectacular–we don’t talk about how we are supposed to live. And oh, how I wish that I could tell you how to live. But I cannot. I can only tell you how I try to live.

A professional in the mental health field noticed that I was someone out of place in terms of my culture, and that I have a rather interesting ability to forecast coming events of large, social significance. I have certain psychic abilities that are a direct result of a high level of sensitivity. My ‘problems’ might stem from seeing things differently and sensing realities that are not clear and obvious to others. The result is, I tend to live in places we call the ‘past’ and the ‘future’ even more than the average soul. And, there is precious little cultural or social support for someone like me, who lives with the anxiety of what is to come. I am either ridiculed or ignored when I attempt to share how I perceive reality. But I have learned a couple of things along the way that might be useful to others.

Even if you sense the future, you cannot live there. The more that you try to predict exactly what is going to happen, the worse you will feel. You can make informed decisions in the present moment; but the present moment is the only absolute reality. We can make predictions based on the best available information, and we can adjust our behavior accordingly. However: the essential fact is, we cannot live anywhere but where we are right now. The present moment is always, by its very nature, easier to manage than attempting to live in the future and control outcomes. Living in the present moment means accepting what you do not know and what you cannot control.

If that upsets you because you need to know now, you need to control the outcome now, and you must understand all the consequences of all possible actions right now, you will suffer.

That suffering is the enemy of health. It is unnecessary. Tracking daily deaths from the Coronavirus or any other pathogen lurking out there is pointless on an individual level; if you work at the CDC or are an infectious disease specialist, then yes, you need to know. For the rest of us, counting bodies and serious illnesses and watching the Dow Jones Industrial Average as it rises and falls (and falls, and falls) is a recipe for severe anxiety. Decisions that we make while under the influence of severe anxiety are not likely to be wise or caring.

Let me repeat that: decisions that you make while panicking will not be considered, wise, or compassionate. Knee-jerk reactions to fear will place a greater burden on your friends, family, and community. Worst case scenarios are fictions until they actually play out. Yes, go ahead, plan for the worst-case scenario, but don’t live there. Don’t behave as if we are there already. When the media started talking about a 500 year drought in California, I was sick over that possibility for months. That was a worst case scenario that did not happen. This time, of course, there is wisdom in preparing for the worst; however, watch out for your mental health if you act as if a hypothetical future were already here, happening to you right now.

Our minds can destroy us if we allow it; our sensitivities, whether they manifest as a ‘disorder’ or as an ability to see clearly what is coming, or to peer into other worlds or dimensions, can either be a gift or a curse. No matter what you think you know about the future of humanity, trust me, you can’t know everything. You can’t know what you can’t see or understand. Everyone has blind spots; I can often see the emotional fallout of a future event, but I don’t know how that event is going to unfold.

Our lives are marked and defined by uncertainty, chaos, unpredictability, and a lack of control. Effective action for ourselves and others depends on whether we see that as a curse or as offering us the limitless potential of absolute freedom. Freedom requires we lose the fear of death. Prepare to live, but do not fear death. This is where your beliefs, your understandings, will determine your mental health. Do you know that your material life is only part of the equation? Do you know that life continues in a different form? Or do you believe that this material existence, filled with dread and fear, is the best that we can hope for? Your answer to this will depend on your experiences. Or, perhaps your answer comes from faith.

One way or the other, make friends with Death. For that is the only doorway to another life, another understanding, another opportunity for renewal and redemption.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

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Death popped into my inbox recently and into my life. Someone wrote to me about losing his father to Alzheimer’s, wondering how–if the brain does not produce consciousness–his loved one could have been so completely lost to the world. Around the same time, I lost my cat Nod. Nod was family. She helped me raise my daughter. We had her for 12.5 years, and she was the soul of the house. My husband stayed with her while the vet injected her with a lethal cocktail. I ran away and cried hysterically in the parking lot. What do Nod’s death and the loss of my reader’s father have in common? One, fundamental, question: where is my loved one now?

Here was my response to his question:

“First of all, my sincere condolences on your loss. Our family lost someone recently, so I understand the tremendous pain and confusion. 
My grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and I have had multiple surgeries where my consciousness was altered by anesthesia. So, I understand how vital this question is. My grandmother had moments where a different level of awareness would operate, even in the worst of her disease. Suddenly, the light would go on, and she was ‘back’—of course, nothing about her diseased brain had changed; yet, she would go ‘online’, as if plugged in to an entirely different level of consciousness. There were no medical explanations for this. In my own case, of course anesthesia would knock out my everyday, operating consciousness. However, on more than one occasion, I became aware of myself on the operating table and was able to ‘see’ what the surgeons were doing to me. Once, I saw myself with my eyes closed and a mask on my face, even though I had made the anesthesiologist promise me that no mask would be used during surgery (the very idea terrified me). I remember confronting the shocked doctors about that fact. There was no way that I could have known what they were doing via ‘ordinary’ consciousness.
So, there are different mediators for consciousness. This higher awareness is like the generator kicking in when the electricity fails. Another common metaphor is the television set or the radio—if the machine is damaged, the signal is scrambled or lost, but the signal does not cease to exist. The brain interprets, filters, and modulates consciousness, but it does not create it. There are many (countless, really) examples of the brain being “offline” and conscious awareness finding another way to make sense of one’s surroundings and circumstances. The lucidity in one’s dying moments that so many nurses and family members report (and I have witnessed) is not due to a sudden recovery of the brain, but to a higher consciousness going online, a switching over to another system.
Another example are people with traumatic brain injury who are still able to execute functions that biology would tell you are impossible. I had a friend who had half of her brain removed and lost no significant function—nobody could explain her complete lack of disability given the catastrophic injury she had sustained. There were experiments with mice where so much brain was removed that they should have been utterly non functional, and yet they ran mazes based on memory that should not have been there at all if memory was stored in the brain.
So, your father is still conscious, but at a far greater level than he was before. Exactly how this works or what form we take is still part of the great mystery; but everything points to the same conclusion: consciousness is not dependent on or created by our brain. I hope that is of some comfort to you during this difficult time.”

Even if one fully accepts that consciousness continues on, there is nothing that erases the physical pain of losing your loved one. After deaths in my own family, I would feel the loss as actual pain in my body. It would affect my stomach, my back muscles, my energy levels, my ability to sleep, my concentration, and show up as depression and fear. Loss of the physical presence of your loved one is brutal. There is nothing that erases that, not even knowing that their consciousness continues, because we don’t know HOW their consciousness continues; my kitty can’t sleep on my chest anymore, and my reader can’t talk to his father anymore.

Sometimes, the signs that our loved ones leave for us can create even more pain and confusion. Nod has appeared in many, many, ways; she has jumped up on the bed and walked up to me; but when I reach for her, there is nothing but air. She can’t appear in her physical form. It’s as if she were both here and not here; exists and doesn’t, in equal measure. In that sense, she is like Schrodinger’s cat, both alive and dead at the same time. I have felt that acutely since her passing, as I did when my grandmother passed away and when my two friends from Wisconsin killed themselves. They, too, left tantalizing evidence that their energy was still active in the world, but I could not talk to them or reach out to them. If they decided to come to me, they did; but when they decided not to, the loss and emptiness was overwhelming.

A few things are clear from my experiences with the ‘transitioned’ states of my loved ones: I cannot force contact, I cannot predict it, and I cannot control the form that it will take. Contact does not respond to or respect my fantasies, desires, and needs. It happens when it happens, and each time someone makes the effort to reach out to me, I try to respond with gratitude and grace. Lately, however, I’ve been stuck in depression over the magnitude of the losses. Like my reader, I wonder how it is that it is possible for consciousness to continue in the way that I have observed. It feels like energy and memory, sparking reactions and effects in the physical world. And yet, it also serves to remind me that so much of what makes this life meaningful is the sheer physicality of it, the warmth of a hug, the sensation of petting your kitty as she sleeps on your chest, the electricity of a kiss, the joy of shared laughter. I want to use all my five senses to reconnect with my grandmother, my cat, my friends–and yet, I am asked by the Universe to redefine my senses in order to make contact. I am asked to connect on a far more subtle level, one that requires energy, concentration, meditation, and an intense ability to observe and tune in.

This refinement of the senses in order to contact one’s loved ones is not simple, because it can be clouded by grief and depression. It is hard to focus on the signals when you are wracked by sadness and overwhelmed by loss. For all of you who know exactly what I am talking about, let me make one thing very clear: the essence of who our loved ones are, their essential pattern of energy, their personality, does not disappear. However, in order to appreciate it, we can’t be in a state of denial, deep despair, anger, or resentment. We have to accept the physical losses and the radical change in the nature of the relationship. Once we have accepted the loss and let go of the need to hang onto to form, we can clear a channel for communication.

I feel for all of you who have endured a loss. It’s a long process to come to terms with our own emotions. Grief can overwhelm the body and the mind with such force that we wonder if we will ever feel ‘normal’ again. We will. It takes time, patience, and abundant love. I have felt the love and concern of my loved ones from beyond this world. They want to know if I am OK. Well, not yet; but I will be. Death tends to bring up every trauma that we have suffered through, every death to which we had to adjust. It is soul work, and it hurts.

But I will do the work, because love is stronger than any force in the universe. It is from that love that we take these forms in the first place, and it is to that love we will return.

—Kirsten A. Thorne

(kirstenthorne@gmail.com)

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