Finding Abundance in a Time of Scarcity

This is an excerpt from the episode above.

“It’s incredible how many crises we’re all living in the same time . . . I do hope that we come out of it better by rethinking how we do things like how we work, how we commute, how we live.”

Caroline Roux, PhD
Concordia University

I’ve been thinking a lot about how as terrible as 2020 has been, maybe it’s also a chance to reset. To get our priorities straight, to learn how to live better.

This isn’t just theoretical for me. In August, after months of white-knuckling pandemic life in the Bay Area with three small children and zero full-time jobs, our family launched into a very sudden, unanticipated pandemic Odyssey that took us across the country and called everything into question.

In the original Odyssey, there’s a moment when Odysseus and his men arrive on a land where the people there didn’t sleep so they could work two jobs: one shepherding sheep and one herding cattle. 

Being a working parent in this pandemic has felt a bit like that; if only we could do without sleep, we could work and be good parents–or, as the case may be, administrative assistants managing our kids’ Zoom schedules. We tried, but about the only thing we could say for our efforts was that our kids now knew how to search for Kung Fu Panda videos on YouTube, which they did whenever we weren’t hovering over them. We needed help, and there were no easy or obvious solutions. 

When our school district announced in that our kids wouldn’t be going back to school in-person, there was a lot of talk in our community about helping each other out. I spent hours on the phone with other parents, most of whom liked the idea of forming a distance learning co-op–but got stuck in the details. Our family had two school-aged kids, an added burden most one-kid families didn’t want to take on. Others were nervous about COVID exposure with our 3-year-old going back to preschool, a decision we’d made out of desperation because our house was small, and distance learning to the backdrop of shrieks and photo bombing was not a great combination. There were concerns about equity and behavioral issues and differences in parenting styles. 

We had weathered job loss and cancelled family visits and even watched our plans to take a sabbatical year slip away–all without losing hope. But the prospect of doing distance learning alone brought a creeping panic that was new. Our sense of abundance had dropped away. For the first time in the pandemic, we felt alone.

Caroline Roux and Kelly Goldsmith are some of the world’s leading experts on resource scarcity. Kelly describes their work this way: “I like to tell people I study what happens when everyday people don’t have access to everyday things.”

Like, say, when two working parents who used to send their kids to school are suddenly faced with the challenge of working and caring for their kids–and maybe even teaching them a little. But unlike the mythical men in the Odyssey, they can’t survive without sleep.

“It’s those people who have scarcity on their minds that are actually excellent at identifying and responding to these win-win opportunities when you help yourself by helping others.” 

Kelly Goldsmith, phd
Vanderbilt university

I first came across Caroline and Kelly’s research months ago, which illustrated that it’s possible to motivate people in times of scarcity to become more generous.

“That paper kind of starts off in a dark place, that scarcity increases selfishness,” Kelly said. “But then it comes back around to say, “look, it doesn’t always have to be that way.’ It’s those people who have scarcity on their minds that are actually excellent at identifying and responding to these win-win opportunities when you help yourself by helping others.” 

I wanted to see if they could help me to find my way back to a feeling of abundance–or if not abundance, at least well-tempered hope.

You can hear our conversation and the continuation of this pandemic Odyssey in episode 2: The Hidden Ship or read the transcript on our website.

This. Is. US.

There’s been a sense of urgency and quiet desperation in the air these past few days. People are sitting on pins and needles holding their breath, praying for a hopeful turn out regarding the election. I’m writing this without the foresight of who has won the election, nor do I care. I have this nagging thought that no matter who wins or loses, things aren’t truly going to “go back to normal” or change at a national level if the people aren’t aware and willing to do the work that needs to be done on an individual level first.

This morning I felt the desire to scroll down my Instagram feed, as lately I have felt withdrawn. For weeks my timeline has been inundated with voting propaganda, celebrity endorsements, Biden memes, etc. and the whole thing is a turn-off. Because even if Biden wins and Trump is no longer in power, realistically it’s going to take some serious time to uproot the entanglement America finds herself in with racism and economic disparity. As I was idly scrolling, I came across the feed of @theshelahmarie who posted about Eddie Glaude who is an American Academic and the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. What he said in this interview was profound.

To paraphrase, Glaude said that America is not unique in its sins. It has this willful ignorance that protects our innocence. He blew my mind when he relayed the fact that the Tea Party wasn’t about economic populism, but about demographic shifts. They were upset about becoming a minority, so they raised hell. That sounds much like alt-right groups today, huh? Glaude continued to say racism is the ugly underbelly of this country and the country has been playing politics on this hatred. “It’s easy for us to place Pittsburg, Charlottesville, and El Paso on Donald Trump’s shoulders.” He hit the nail on the head for me, when he said that Trump is a manifestation of the ugliness that’s in us. I will take it further and dare to say he is a manifestation of karma we’ve had coming as a nation and if we don’t change things now, this will happen again and again. A never-ending cycle of hatred. You may agree to disagree, but simply put, Glaude said “This is us.”

That statement alone shook me because it was jarring and controversial, and it causes a need for self-introspection as well as introspection of the collective. What was our role in all this? Did we educate ourselves enough? Did we fight enough? Did we sage before we left the house, or offer up thanks before our feet even hit the floor? And where do we go from here? I feel like we’re recovering ground in our search for truth amid all this fear-mongering and blatant propaganda. The collective is feeling the pain from the loss of loved ones, rage from the lack of justice, and fear of the unknown. The possibility of things being left open-ended can weigh on the collective consciousness, so do your part and check-in with yourself and make sure your mental and spiritual health is up to par, then check on your friends and family to offer support where you can. Support your local Black-owned businesses to generate circulation of wealth within your community. Support Black-owned businesses in general. The floor has opened to mental, spiritual, emotional, and political questions. Your voice and opinions matter, so keep the conversations going and remain open to understand others. There is as much space to disagree amicably as there is to agree. We have to set the standard and remain firm because it starts, is maintained, and ended with us people. We’ve made it this far together, and if we continue to lay the foundation and build one another up, we will thrive.

Free Your Mind: Mindfulness and Meditation

In my October post Watch Your Mouth!: Self-Care Through Self-Affirmation I provided a few tips on how to affirm yourself to stay grounded and centered in the midst of social upheaval and general chaos. This month, I’d like to continue this discussion with an emphasis on mindfulness and meditation to help you free your mind.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that invites individuals to detach from external stimuli and be present with and for themselves. Mindfulness can involve breathing techniques or guided meditations. It can also be movement based through fusing meditation with yoga, Tai Chi, or other sports. It is important to note that mindfulness and meditation do not require you to change who you are to practice it. In fact, as you begin living a more mindful lifestyle, you may find out more about who you are and gifts that you had locked away, or traumas that need to be uprooted and addressed.

What are the Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation?

Taking time to check in with yourself is one of the most important things you can do for your health. By taking brief moments throughout the day, or even a dedicated time once per week, some stress related health issues can be avoided, or the risk diminished. Let’s look at some of the other benefits.

  1. Stress Relief: Mindfulness and meditation help relieve stress because it’s a way to take a break from the chaos of your daily life. The world privileges grind culture and treats us like machines which we are not. It’s okay to understand that your capacity has limits, and meditation is one way to step away and reset when it has been reached.
  2. Helps with Anxiety and Depression: A large percentage of society is impacted by anxiety and/or depression. Whether the anxiety and/or depression are seasonal or chronic, mindfulness and meditation can help alleviate the symptoms. Of course, these techniques should be used in conjunction with other treatment options depending upon the severity of the anxiety and/or depression. Mindfulness and meditation can help alleviate certain symptoms because in checking in with yourself, and detaching for a moment, it enables to you calm down and discern the root of whatever triggered the anxiety and/or depressive episode if it is situational. If it is not situational, these practices can still help you recharge after an episode.
  3. Improves Concentration: Since mindfulness and meditation require a level of focus, these practices help you learn to filter out background noise efficiently.
  4. Keeps You Physically Fit: When mindfulness and meditation are fused with sports and other movement practices, you’re able to care for your body and mind simultaneously.
  5. Helps Unlock Creativity: If you are feeling blocked, try meditating and you’ll be surprised to see the ideas begin easily flowing.

How to Begin a Mindful, Meditative Lifestyle

  1. Determine which type of mindfulness and/or meditation works best for your lifestyle. I personally enjoy meditating with crystals (check back next month for my article on the healing properties of crystals) and also through practicing the afro-Brazilian martial art Capoeira. Others enjoy meditating outside barefoot to connect to the earth’s energy. Some prefer traditional meditation. There is no wrong or right way to be mindful.
  2. Begin! Mindfulness and meditation are more than just trendy buzz words, they are things that we are all inherently capable of doing if we give ourselves permission to stop for a moment and be present differently.

Self-care isn’t selfish, take time to check in with yourself. To paraphrase En Vogue, free your mind; rest, healing, and so much more will follow!

Cyclops in Vegas

Listen to the full Shelter in Place episode above.
Illustration by A.J. Fitzpatrick

“These children were left alone,” I could hear the woman saying even though she had her back to me. Her voice was shrill and angry. “Your babies could have walked off. If you don’t cherish your children, then you should reconsider being a father.”

My husband Nate was silent, but I could see in his posture the twitchy defensiveness of an animal ready to fight or flee. I was close enough now to see the woman: short gray-white hair, breezy, loose clothing built for comfort, and a gold cross around her neck. As I stepped onto the curb, she spun around and pointed her finger at me.

“And you. If you’re the mother, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

I want to stop here and say that I don’t disagree with this angry stranger. My kids are 8, 6, and 3—not babies, but still too young to be left alone in public—even for the short time it took Nate to find me at REI, unlock the car parked by the entrance, and make it back to the table where the kids were sitting.

Our Pandemic Odyssey, the story of how and why we left the only place that feels like home, is a complicated one. But for now suffice it to say that the combined challenges of pandemic living with three small kids, wildfire season, distance learning, and the financial stress of startup living had reached a fever pitch. In less than two weeks we’d gone from swearing we would never leave Oakland to packing up our lives and cramming it into our Odyssey—that is, our minivan. 

“We live in a world

that continually primes us to be

the worst version of ourselves.”

Author Robert McKee said that “true character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.”

If he’s right, then my true character leaves something to be desired. Because when Nate threw his hands up and retreated inside Panera, abandoning me to this well-meaning grandma who was all too eager to let into me, all I saw was an angry cyclops ready to gobble us up. 

From political debates to the daily news, that ugly scene in Vegas looks a lot like our world right now. We live in a world that continually primes us to be the worst version of ourselves. We devour social media that paints our enemies in a negative light, and consume news that supports the beliefs we already have. As much as I’d like to believe that I would’ve acted more graciously with that woman if my life hadn’t felt so difficult, I’m afraid that Robert McKee is right about my character.

Listen to the full story on Shelter in Place Podcast here.

Why Do I Feel So NAKED?

Have you ever had to have a conversation with someone that you dreaded having? I bet you wished you could skip the whole process, or that they could read your mind, thus taking the pressure off of you. Unfortunately, things don’t happen that way. People may be perceptive enough to sense when something is wrong with you, but chances are high that your friends aren’t mind readers, so how could they possibly know what’s bothering you if you don’t communicate that to them clearly?

Most people are terrified by the mere idea of being vulnerable with someone. More so emotionally than physically. From a very young age, we begin to develop emotional defense patterns, also known as “5 Personality Patterns” according to Steven Kessler. We can either shut down, become flighty, neglect/project our own needs onto others, or become quite aggressive when feeling threatened emotionally. These patterns can come into play when we are given critiques we were unprepared for, as well as moments where we are the ones giving the criticism. Generations predating Generation Z, did not grow up with TED Talks and other resources that we have today. We coped as best we could and communicated with as much emotional maturity as we had available and adapted as more information was provided via life research or life experience.

One thing I’ve learned from personal experience is that there are some self assessing moments where we have to have conversations with ourselves that cause us to self correct and self soothe and there are others where we take the resolutions of those internal conversations and share those findings with those who are directly impacted by the issue at hand. Just the other day, I had to have a conversation that I felt in no way prepared for.

For about a week I had been feeling at ill ease with the state of a situation, but didn’t fully understand why. The more I sat with myself, quieted my mind, and let the thoughts and emotions flow, the clearer the root of the issue became in my minds eye; I was being triggered in the present by somethings I hadn’t dealt with from the past. It took me having a moment of clarity on the couch to see what my subconscious was trying to communicate to me. The kicker is that the communication couldn’t end there. This situation called for me to identify the issue for myself and share that information with someone else. Thankfully, the person that I had to communicate my feelings to hadn’t seen me in my distraught state of mind until I myself had identified the problem first. I gathered every bit of courage that I could muster, hid my face under the readily available blanket, and began to spill the contents of my heart. It was by far the most naked I’ve ever felt in my life. Vulnerability is like sitting that dream where you’re nude in a classroom of your peers, but they see all your emotional flaws. I don’t mention this to scare you, but to prepare you because the results were beyond worth it. I got a strengthened bond, they got a deeper understanding of me, and my fears were quelled.

The key thing in moments of vulnerability is that the person you are communicating with validates your emotions and respects you, because you respect this person enough to share your thoughts and fears with them. Surround yourself with people who value your emotions and respect you and your boundaries. Moments of vulnerability are few and far in between, but they produce gems that should be shared with loved ones and cherished forever.

Love the Way You Look (Youth Speak Out Series)

Society has always had an altered view on a woman’s body. From the large chest size, to the tiny waist and flat stomach, hips that flare out, the perfect height; not too tall, not too short, these expectations are often times unrealistic to expect of a woman’s body. 

My weight has always been has always been one of my biggest triggers. I’ve only ever been thin once in my life, and I’m pretty sure I’m never getting back to that place. Most people aren’t explicit with their disgust for my body, but my immediate family made it very clear I was too fat. 

In December of 2019, I was 210 pounds. In September of 2020, I am 140 pounds. I know for a fact that I gained weight between December 2019 and March 2020. But as of now, I am 140 pounds and while I now love the way I look, I also hate it.

Photo by Viajero at Pexels

I lost 70 pounds between March 2020 and September 2020. I know that there is no way I did that in a healthy way. I starved myself, point blank. I would deprive my body of nutrition so that I could feel beautiful; and while I do feel beautiful and look great on the outside, I feel awful on the inside. 

There were times where I wouldn’t eat. I would lay in bed, feel my stomach ask for food and refuse to give my body energy. if I did eat, I would over eat on purpose to make myself vomit, because in my mind, if I throw this up, all of this food won’t go to my stomach, my thighs. 

It’s been hard to accept the way I look. I get more compliments now that i’m thinner, now that my waist is smaller. I get more male attention now that my body reflects the body of a woman whom they desire; large breasts, a smaller waist, a more profound behind. All I’ve been given is positive feedback; but how can I accept these compliments knowing that I achieved this look in an unhealthy way? 

I am writing this post to encourage women to love the way they look. There is no such thing as the perfect woman, and male attention is not the end all be all.

Colette J is a Bay Area high school senior and youth writer who wants every woman to remember that she is beautiful.

Coming Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart

Introducing Karma Compass’s newest partner, Shelter in Place, a podcast about coming together in a world that pulls us apart.

Yesterday my husband Nate and I spent the better part of the day in the Emergency Room. Our 3-year-old Mattéa had gotten into my father-in-law’s blood pressure medication, and so after a call to poison control, we headed to the hospital. 

Thankfully, Mattéa was fine. Actually, she was better than fine. As we walked out of the ER several hours later, she looked up at us and said, “that was fun!” We tried not to glare at her. Apparently our efforts to make her understand how serious the situation was had been a total failure. The ER doc had already warned us that the bill would be several thousand dollars. After a long day of taking turns wrestling our daughter down so she wouldn’t pull off the sticky pads that connected wires to her chest and index finger, we were exhausted. Neither of us had slept well for weeks, and for days, our interactions had become increasingly ragged and terse. This visit to the windowless underworld of the ER was just our latest stop on a pandemic Odyssey that we hadn’t gone looking for. I’ll say more about that in a minute.

But first, I have to say that maybe Mattéa has the right idea. Sure, she’d spent hours hooked up to monitors, and had to sit still and miss her nap. But she’d also made a bunch of new friends who all told her how great she was doing, people committed to making sure that she was okay. The Goldfish crackers and orange juice they gave her didn’t hurt either. For Mattéa, it was all one big adventure.

“Ultimately Shelter in Place isn’t just about where you find safety.

It’s about where you belong.”

It’s easy for me to lose sight of the adventure in my own life–to get shipwrecked by the hospital bills, the bedtime battles, the daily griefs and injustices in the newsreel that no longer surprise me. I forget that even in the hard times, there are all kinds of people–friends and strangers–who are willing and ready to make sure we’re okay, to help steer us in the right direction, to tell us that we’re doing great. I forget that even on the worst days, there’s an adventure to be found if I’m willing to look for it.

And that’s why I’m so excited to partner with Karma Compass, to come together in this effort to have authentic conversations that can make a difference.

That’s what season 2 of Shelter in Place is all about: embracing the adventure we didn’t want, but that we’re on anyway–an adventure that we’re not meant to do alone. It’s about finding people who will offer you safety, shelter, and encouragement when you’re lost and ready to give up. It’s about learning to ignore the siren calls of depression and despair and instead find our way home–even if that home looks a lot different than the one we left behind.

Think of it as a pandemic Odyssey, a long and winding journey that shows us what we’re made of, and beckons us toward hope even when the world feels hopeless. A story that doesn’t ignore the dead ends or detours, but instead celebrates our need to rely on others to help us stay on course. Because ultimately Shelter in Place isn’t just about where you find safety. It’s about where you belong.

Listen to the full Shelter in Place story above.