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A Conversation About Spirituality, Strength and Community

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Published on May 12, 2020

Key Takeaways

On coping with the unfamiliar territory of the coronavirus, Patient Power Co-Founder Esther Schorr says, “It feels a little bit like wandering in the desert without a compass." If this unprecedented pandemic is causing you to feel lost and out of control, the coping techniques discussed in this video may help.   
 
Watch as Rabbi Jill Zimmerman and Pastor Rodrick Echols, two spiritual leaders who have navigated their own personal wildernesses, join Esther for a conversation about spirituality, gratitude and community. They also share tangible ways to stay present, connect with others and tap into your own innate skills and abilities to cope in times of uncertainty.

This is the first of two parts. The second part will be coming soon.

[Due to extreme load on our website and Zoom platform, viewers may experience a time delay between the audio and video of the interview - please note the transcript can be read below.]

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Transcript | A Conversation About Spirituality, Strength and Community

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Recorded on May 7, 2020

Esther Schorr:
Hello everybody. This is Esther Schorr with Patient Power and welcome to what I think is going to be somewhat of a groundbreaking topic for us. We're going to be talking about spirituality and gratitude and community in the context of what is going on right now with the coronavirus pandemic.
 
What I want to do is first make some introductions. I'd like to introduce you to our two wonderful guests—that is Pastor Rod Echols, and he is the pastor at the Neighborhood Congregational, UCC congregation in Laguna Beach. In addition to the work that Pastor Echols does in pastoral care, he does leadership development, fundraising, counseling, and he is devoted to helping people feel connected through community, which is of course a driving force for us at Patient Power as well. Welcome, Pastor Rod. It's great to have you here.
 
Let me just kind of frame the discussion we want to have. With the coming of this pandemic, we're all, in a sense, in the wilderness, and I have to take this from my friend the rabbi who I hope will join us, that that means we don't really have a map to the territory we're in right now. The last pandemic of this kind of global scale was in 1918, and while the world was different then, the impact on human life and on daily life was similar. There was a sense of being afraid, being confused, being sad and maybe angry, because this situation is a real feeling of loss of control. I certainly know that that's been my reaction and the reaction of a number of my loved ones, and when that happens, it can bring out the best and the worst in people. It feels a little bit like wandering in the desert without a compass. It has been said though that those who've been touched by cancer or other serious illnesses have faced this uncertainty already and have learned to cope in our own way, and now the rest of the world has to learn how to cope too.

Our discussion today is going to center on how each of us can tap into the skills, the innate abilities we each have, and the personal spirit, whatever that means to you, that each of us have that will bring out the best in us. Let's start with you, Pastor Rod. You have, in your own way, walked through challenges in the past, perhaps a personal wilderness. Can you share with us a little bit about that and how you cope with that?
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:
I am, and let me say thank you, Esther, and thank you to this incredible organization for the opportunity. I hope that everyone listening and being a part of this experience takes something that makes the most meaning for you no matter where you are at this time. I do not have in my personal journey a story about a medical diagnosis, but I do have a particular story about how I found myself working the way through a dramatic change in my life.
 
I grew up in the deep South, in Tennessee, and quite a fundamentalist conservative-type background if you will, and that for me was very comforting at the time. It provided a real foundation for my growth as a leader, as a person, as a family-oriented pastor, but it also inculcated in me some ideas that for others could be quite dehumanizing and negative for their life experiences. And it wasn't until I made my way to New England to go to college that I was introduced during those days to other ways of thinking about the world and the people in my life and their experiences, their ideas, their orientations, their religious beliefs, their ways of seeing the world. You can perhaps imagine that for someone like me, that was a change. That was a culture shock—quite dramatic for me in some cases.
 
I essentially was thrust into a new environment and way of seeing the world that was just in many ways foreign to me. I'm grateful because in the midst of that new way, if you will, I had a chance to live into what Diana Butler Bass calls the knitting group phenomenon. No one joins a knitting group because they want to read about knitting or learn the intricacies or theories behind knitting. They joined that group because they're curious about what it looks like and how it feels, and ultimately what it can mean for their lives, if they can see themselves doing this craft, making meaning in the midst of this craft.
 
Esther Schorr:

Really what it sounds like is that that connection gave you some sense of community and something to move yourself forward in a time when maybe things were uncertain.
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:
No doubt about it and also a place where I felt safe.
 
Esther Schorr:
Exactly. Rabbi Jill, you've talked a lot about our current situation being, when we didn't have you at the beginning, we talked a little bit about sort of being in the wilderness. Can you share a little bit about your own, kind of coming to where you are and finding community and maybe how you're coping currently and helping your community?
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:
I think about this time as a wilderness, and in the Jewish story, the wilderness has a huge place. Because not only when we left Egypt as we were slaves and we came into freedom, we then wandered for 40 years in the desert. And so most of the sacred books that we studied, the Torah, is about those dynamics of what happens in the desert, what happens in the wilderness.
 
Esther Schorr:
Must have been a lot of coping going on then.
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:

There was, it was the gamut. There was a lot of complaining, a lot of I wish in this wilderness is so uncertain, I wish I could go back to Egypt, meaning I wish I could go back to being a slave, because at least I knew where my food was coming from. I think that's just a really profound, I mean it explicates the human nature of how difficult it is to wander and because we want to feel certain, and I think that it so matches where we are right now. This is a time in which I'm talking a lot about the wilderness in my community, and I do think that every single person, at least at this stage of the game, at this age, maybe if you're over 20, I don't know, that we've all experienced some kind of wilderness and some place that was the unknown for us. I think it's really the opportunity of this moment is that we can draw upon the strengths that we had.
 
Esther Schorr:
We can take this analogy of wilderness wandering, finding what are our strengths, and from that, I'm going to ask a question. For people who aren't, which is basically anybody who would be listening or watching this program, we're all trying to figure out how to get centered, how to feel more in control. How do we do that? What are some of the tangible things that people can do to tap into their own strength? Because we're making the assumption based on our talk here that everybody has the ability to do that. They need to recognize it, that it's within themselves to manage this. What are some of the things that we can do to tap into that so that we can get through this?
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:
I want to say something about, I was thinking when we had our conversation before that when I was in my third year of rabbinic school, so I went to rabbinic school when I was 47. So here I was, huge life change, and in my third year of my five-year program, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which was a huge—all the stuff, "Why me," et cetera. And I found that I was able to find a map with the doctors and the medication, whatever, so I knew what I was doing, but I really had to work with my own emotional and spiritual guidance. I had to figure out and one of the things I realized the most that I did, which is a tool that I use to this day, is that my mind would go into “what if.” I get the diagnosis ,and I'm already in a wheelchair in my mind. I didn't know really anything.
 
Esther Schorr:
Zero to a thousand.
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:
Exactly. I had to learn to really be applying my meditation and mindfulness practice to just be present today, what's the next right step? I think that in terms of even like right now, we do not know, and so it's not helpful.
 
Esther Schorr:

Pastor Rod, can you talk about the concept of being present? Because I hear that a lot. What does that mean to be present, and how does that might help somebody to not worry about the what if? Just help us interpret that.
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:

We talked a little bit before, and thank you, Rabbi, for mentioning the wilderness metaphor, because I think it connects absolutely with the knitting group metaphor that Diana Bass talks about. Because I felt in many ways that it was my wilderness or my wonderment or my not knowing, if you will, that provided me a basis for getting into the group, for learning and being willing to connect with the community that could make me feel safe and teach me things that perhaps I didn't know before, and ultimately helping me to become a better person. There is no doubt that the idea of being present is so very critical to that connective experience, and I think from my perspective, just speaking for me, there were two tangible elements that served me well in that case.
 
One was, and I don't do this extraordinarily well, but I'm working on it every day, active listening, right? Really listening to folks. I think in a time where the world is so frantically interested in getting back to business as usual. What I hear in there, subliminally, is a lack of desire to listen, to sit, to be still. And I think that in the context of the knitting group, the wilderness experience, if you will, there's a constant need to be willing to listen to another person's experience and to see how their experience can enliven your own. And that only comes by being willing to think outside of ourselves, to open our ears to see and feel what's happening, to make a space for another. Something powerful can happen in between when we listen actively.
 
Then the other thing that I have found helpful is asking good questions. This is not something that many people do well, and it's not something I do perfectly. But I'm working on it in my daily experience, asking good questions. Being willing to ask the kind of inquiries that encourage another person to go beyond the surface, to go beyond "Hey, I'm a good knitter, look at me,” to “No, This is why I'm such a good knitter. This is what I think about in my daily experience. This is what I worry about when I wake up in the morning. This is what makes me, this is what helps me get through my day. This is how I create community and belonging even when I can't go to a grocery store." Being able to go beyond the surface by inviting someone else to do that with me creates an avenue by which I can do the same. So listening and asking good questions are several ingredients.
 
Esther Schorr:
That brings you into the present.
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:
Yes.
 
Esther Schorr:

It brings you into the present, because you're deeply engaging with another person or other people. Rabbi Jill, thoughts about that?
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:
I think that's fabulous and I noticed that in both of the elements that you mentioned Pastor Rod, that there is not such a—we have to develop a tolerance for ambiguity. As human beings, we want to know when's it going to end, when am I going to be better. And so when you talk about asking the questions, it's like an interest more in “Let me explore the territory.” Listening for the truth rather than “I'm going to listen until I can say something,” and it does require kind of tolerance and the ability to be vulnerable to not know the answer and to really listen.
 
Esther Schorr:
Rabbi Jill, thank you. You are welcome to say goodbye, And, Pastor Echols, thank you for all that you have done to join us in this conversation and share your experiences and perspective, and I'm looking forward to speaking with you again very, very soon.
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:
Likewise. Thank you.
 
Esther Schorr:
Thanks a lot. To all of you who are listening, I hope that this has been helpful and that it has fed your spirit and helped you to think about how you as an individual and then as a collective can get through this trying time by listening, by stopping, by having some gratitude for what is good in life. And hopefully we'll talk again soon. This is Esther Schorr from Patient Power, and remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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