What to do to overcome fear? Stay in the moment.
At the start of our state’s “stay at home” COVID-19 order in Arizona, I felt no drive to begin the day. My typical routine didn’t seem to fit. Why get up? There was no place to go. There were no lunch meetings or errands on my calendar. Just going to the grocery store was risky. Nursing a cup of coffee and hiding under the comforter seemed more consoling. Overrun by fear, I certainly wasn’t practicing being in the moment.
In those first few mornings, I hid from something I couldn’t see and struggled to understand how it could travel all over the globe. My greatest hope at the time was that my cellphone wouldn’t have any more bad news to share. Yet it always did. Sleep was a respite, but waking to a new day didn’t seem to heal the blunt stab of the day before. My thoughts raced through “what-ifs.”
After a few shell-shocked mornings, looking up from sips of my coffee, my attention caught the sunrises’ subtle motion. Slowly, but methodically, shadows tracked along the wall. That is when I decided to stay in the present moment and appreciate what was unfolding before me.
How to find a sense of purpose and meaning.
One of my favorites pieces of art at home is a Day of the Dead La Catrina skeleton figurine walking her skeleton dog on a ribbon leash. After my little Beagle passed away, I saw this clay figurine with her dog sculpted by Juanita Tilghman at an art gallery. The sculpture reminded me of the two of us. With my dog Macy by my side, we made our way through a lot of life changes together. Then she was gone. This purchase was one of those, “I have to have it” items, and looking at them makes me smile about my happy memories of my dog.
How can lucid dreaming help?
A few days after I brought La Catrina and her dog into my home and placed them so I could look at them from the bed, I had one of the most lucid dreams I’ve ever had. Although asleep, in the dream, I felt very aware. Everything was realistic. I felt the motion of a dog landing on the mattress. Macy jumped up onto the bed near my feet. I saw her; I saw the comforter on my bed; I saw my room exactly as it is when I am awake. Everything was in its place. Somehow, I knew she was visiting me from the “other side.”
Her tail wagged as our eyes met. All I could think to whisper is, “is it as good as they say?” referring to the afterlife. In a human voice with so much excitement, she proclaimed, “Yes!” The joy of seeing her and hearing the exhilaration in her voice woke me up.
If you’ve never experienced lucid dreaming, a key benefit of such an experience is that you feel a sense of empowerment because you have some control. I knew I could ask whatever question I wanted to ask. In retrospect, I’m glad I thought so quickly in my sleep.
Lucid dreaming is another way of experiencing the present moment. I focused on one thing, and that was the spirit of my precious dog. I noticed the surroundings, what was present. I’ve had lucid dreams in the past, but this one felt like I was in touch with my higher self. And her higher self.
The importance of purpose in life.
For the next two weeks in March, every morning, I began working with my other dog. Saying that sounds like I was conducting obedience training. More realistically, just as Macy had done, the dog was training me. I looked forward to the morning. I felt a sense of purpose. Most importantly, I was learning how to find hope.
I first started by pulling the dog forward for more separation from La Catrina. I notated the time, and I calculated how I needed to get into position slightly earlier each day. Springtime, remember? The rise of the sun came a little sooner each day, enough that I had to be ready. I left my tripod and camera in the bedroom set up, prepared for the next day. By some divine miracle, I never tripped over them in the dark over the next couple of weeks. That could have been a costly accident with a lot of explicatives thrown about in the night.
How to overcome fear and doubt: focus on the now.
Each day I learned a little something about how the light would shift. The sun’s effect moved incredibly fast. I learned how to get the dog shadow positioned just right, only to go back to the camera to take the picture and see that in those few seconds, the shadow had already moved beyond the point I wanted. I’d review my photographs, and vow to get it right the next morning. The sweet spot for the light required pinpoint accuracy. Or at least my perfectionism demanded it.
I learned a new trick each morning on how to adjust the dog, the dresser, and the tripod. Then the aha moment: I figured out that if I moved the sliding door and screen back and forth, I had more options. Yay! My analytical brain had something to work on other than CDC and WHO statistics.
What all the attempts taught me.
Finally, many, many images later, I created “Stay at Home Command.” Not that anyone is counting, but I took 151 pictures. Yes, that many attempts to come up with one photo I truly liked. The importance for me was that I came to completion. I took a concept from a vague, “I’m intrigued” moment to a finished image. I wasn’t attached to how it needed to develop; I let the flow take me to where it needed to go.
I felt a sense of achievement, and now, adding this writing to it, I’m sharing a moment beyond just myself. Psychology studies show that having a sense of purpose adds to the overall quality of life and has positive health benefits. I’m appreciative of all the subtle nuances this photo brought into my life. I’d also like to thank those that took the time to study the photo and add their insights. Sometimes, we get too close to a subject to really see it. We need each other.
Art that represents me and what I was going through.
The alternating bars of dark and light hint of confinement like prison cell bars. The image of a leash attached to the shadow dog, but not entirely visible on the sculpture dog, portrays the claustrophobic feeling of being kept under another’s control. Yet, are we? We still have control over our thoughts. The dark and light spaces enclosed the shadow dog like our fears were enclosing us with so much of a focus on bad news.
Initially, I felt guilty about being happy or joyful during Covid-19. The mood everywhere seemed stifling, fearful. For me, the color of the dog on the dresser symbolized happiness during this difficult time, and the shadow was the other side of the equation.
I worked hard at trying to limit news and social media, so I could try to tip the scale on feeling more positive than negative, more color than monochrome. The colorful dog has a playful expression on his face, and he is curious about his shadow self. The dog was willing to face his darker thoughts to grow, but he was also in the light. The light represents hope, which is what I needed.
Interestingly, reflected on the dresser top, you can see the dog’s paws. Bare feet in dream symbolism is a metaphor for a way of exploring a direction forward that better reflects who you are. Our regular routines and typical rushing around were interrupted, so now we had more time for self-reflection.
What does La Catrina mean and why was it important for this photo?
La Catrina is another symbolic quirk in this photo representing how death strikes all of us at some point. In the early 1900s, Mexican cartoon artist Jose Posada Guadalupe created a satirical skeleton woman with a feathered hat like those worn by aristocracy. His Calaveras (skulls) poked fun at people trying to be something they were not, and he coined the message that death is democratic. Could there have been a timelier symbol for how we were all at risk?
As we came to grips with the thought that a tiny micro-organism had control over our lives, I realized that for my sanity, I needed to focus on today. This dog was my reminder to be present. Given that I can practice photography anywhere, inside or out, I began looking for other subjects to capture around the house. Take a look at “Let’s Stay Home” if you’d like to see more of these images.
While my mind still took a turn at ruminating on the virus and the impact of this order on society and the economy, I was able to pull from the downward thought-spiral more readily. Now I smile at these creations. One day, I can look back at these photos and recall how I overcame fear and coped with the barrage of change.
The wording of “Stay at Home Command” does seem a bit militant. I liked the play on words since there was a dog involved. For the series of photos I took after this, I decided to lighten up the tone with the title, “Let’s Stay Home.” We all have a choice during a difficult situation. I decided to tell fear to sit and stay while I focused on the moment in front of me. I hope you are finding your way of being present no matter what the circumstances. As my mother of 90 advised me in those early days, “We have to have hope for a better tomorrow.”
Ann Newman is a photographer, writer, and creator of Annstracts who tells the stories behind her pictures. As a former, professionally-trained salesperson, Ann understands that people want to solve problems or accelerate growth for a better future. Her insights, symbolism, and meanings from her pictures give her stories a positive spin. You might find Ann near her home in Phoenix, bent down looking at the tiniest details of a bug, patting any nearby dog, or asking “why” an awful lot.