Many looked toward 2022 with high hopes, hoping to see an end to the pandemic and vowing to get back on track. But 2022 had other plans; Omicron, inflation, and currently the tensions with Russia coupled with a host of other issues have people feeling stressed and out of sorts. Things are not looking like most people expected them to when 2022 was on the horizon. Most thought the pandemic would be in the rearview mirror and we would be back to normal. Yet people are still suffering the lingering effects of prolonged pandemic including isolation, anxiety, and loneliness.
As a result of all this upheaval and uncertainty many Americans are worried about their health, their livelihoods, and their futures. It is more important than ever that we all find ways to cope and handle our lives in more mindful ways.
To learn more, we conducted an interview with Lobsang Chunzom, a Buddhist nun and a worldwide teacher of meditation and philosophy in the Je Tsongkapa tradition. She is the founder of Limitless Health Institute, a nonprofit organization that collaborates with other caring organizations in NYC to help people experience the link between their own health and happiness and how they care for others. The LHI workshops she designs and facilitates are used worldwide. Chunzom has been a licensed Creative Arts Therapist for 30 years, specializing in dance/movement therapy. She has extensive training in ancient meditation techniques, including a 3-year meditation retreat in silence and solitude. Chunzom has degrees in movement therapy from NYU and UCLA and has provided therapeutic services in hospital settings as well as created programs to help substance abusers, incarcerated youth, and families in crisis.
Venerable Lobsang Chunzom is a Buddhist nun and a worldwide teacher of meditation and philosophy in the Je Tsongkapa tradition. She is the founder of Limitless Health Institute, a nonprofit organization that collaborates with other caring organizations in NYC to help people experience the link between their own health and happiness and how they care for others. The LHI workshops she designs and facilitates are used worldwide. Chunzom has been a licensed Creative Arts Therapist for 30 years, specializing in dance/movement therapy. She has extensive training in ancient meditation techniques, including a 3-year meditation retreat in silence and solitude. Chunzom has degrees in movement therapy from NYU and UCLA and has provided therapeutic services in hospital settings as well as created programs to help substance abusers, incarcerated youth, and families in crisis.
1. What things are emerging in 2022 that are making people feel more stressed?
In 2022, we have a greater sense of what equanimity is just by living through global experiences; disease, war, and climate. We are more aware of the connection between everyone’s wellbeing and we can see suffering the same everywhere. Once we can agree that our human struggles are similar then we can help ease the pain of ourselves, our family, community and people afar. That knowledge will help us to move through suffering with compassion, and then we can easily help others get through those shared hardships because we know what it feels like. Otherwise, it’s actually more overwhelming to try and solve our own problems all alone, without considering the problems of others. That stress must be unbearable, hopeless. Compassion eases stress.
2. What effects is the prolonged pandemic having on people?
We were thrown into distress, quickly and unexpectedly, when the pandemic hit. After two years, we started moving slowly and carefully away from the initial impact the quarantine had for people in general. There are lingering effects of any traumatic experience, but when everyone on the planet is involved it seems that prolonged effects are impossible to avoid. We can examine the negative or positive effects, and because it can happen again, at any given moment, quickly and unexpectedly, let’s look at the good things we learned. We can help each other make healthy changes since we all know it could happen again without any warning. When we honor our traumatic experiences and the healing process, we can find resilience through the ongoing challenges, no matter what they are. We might even be able to give up certain methods of healthcare that no longer work for today.
3. With such upheaval and uncertainty we are living in why is it so important to learn to manage stress? What effects does stress have on us?
Many people talk about an uncertainty in the days to come, and I wonder what was certain before everyone started asking this question? If you made a list of all the things in your life that were guaranteed to happen, or something you thought would never change in your life before the pandemic, I wonder what would be on that list? When we’re young, we think we have great deal of life ahead of us and we’re not yet worried about life’s uncertainty, till we see people dying, like those living in a war zone. At that time, the young and old realize nothing is certain, not even life itself. Everyone’s death is certain and the only thing uncertain is when that moment will come. In the meantime, what matters is how we live. Why be stressed over the inevitable changes throughout life, nothing stays the same. The only certain thing is that my kindness, the good things I do for others, will certainly create a kind and good world to live in. Uncertainty only comes from a lack of knowledge of how the world truly works.
4. How can children and adults cope with negative thoughts during these stressful times?
Coping is something people talk about when they forget that all things shall pass. We do have trauma, anxiety is real, but the goal is to change – not to cope. Addressing negative emotions as they arise is important. There are effective tools to increase watchfulness of our own thoughts and actions, and that takes practice over time. A person can learn to identify predominant emotions that drive certain actions, but there are only a few ways to be aware of thoughts that create more negative thoughts. Learning to stop the negative thoughts from coming is a better place to be than having to have them come. There is an unexpected strategy we all can do to put to rest all negative emotions; stay very observant of thoughts, words and actions. Especially in situations that are emotionally charged for you, and consciously change negative reactions into meaningful interactions through any situation. What is meaningful? Anything that benefits yourself and others.
5. How can people remain positive considering all that is going on?
There is no such thing as being positive in a negative situation. A negative, bad situation that is harmful, cannot go away by wishing and praying only. To wish that something bad turns into something good is impossible – the flower has already blossomed and is poisoned, so don’t eat it, smash it. Work hard to pull out the negative life experiences from its roots. What is the root of suffering? Misunderstanding why suffering happens and where does it come from? If we know this, then we can do something to stop it. What actions can we do today to create sweet flowers tomorrow? If you don’t like what is going on around you, remember you’re in control by taking positive helpful actions to change the seeds you plant. Then those seeds will grow and doubles in strength each day. We collect positive energy by being happy about something good you did to help the situation today.
Fight the negative emotion and focus on the action of kindness, you will see the difference. Many emotions will come, one day only love.
6. If we view COVID as a long-term issue, how can people start focusing on the present more rather on what is going to happen?
Protect the lives of others very carefully, think of others first. Wanting to help people when you are also struggling is super powerful. Be a living example of the best way to help others. If we could just wave our hands and heal people then someone would have already come and done that. No great bodhisattva would sit and watch us all die from a virus if they could just magically heal us. It is up to each and every one of us to think about how we can take care of each other, and we will see amazing vaccines, and new cures to sicknesses we thought would never come.
7. What do you recommend people do every day that would improve their health, wellbeing and happiness in 2022?
Every day help one person in the same way you help yourself.
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