In the darkness, comes opportunity

Seeing what's happening in a new light, a chat on wellness and health during a pandemic, essential businesses, trauma response, the end of the world, and archives

Hi friends,

New York City has been hit even harder with COVID-19. Around the city, hospitals have run out of ventilators, morgues have filled up, and bodies are being piled into refrigerated trucks (content warning). Despite all of this, people clamored to watch the USNS Comfort arriving this weekend without social distancing or protective equipment.

There are many predictions on how this will end.

Some scientists say that social distancing will be the new normal for at least a year until we develop and distribute a vaccine.

Some epidemiologists estimate that this pattern of shelter-in-place will become an annual tradition to come.

Some economists forecast that our recovery will be a lot slower than we think.

While we can run infinite mathematical models and economic projections, the timeline rests in the hands of this virus. Unfortunately, pandemics don't care about stock markets, jobs, or vacations we have scheduled. All we can do is to take this day by day.

Another day we get through is another day closer to the end of this nightmare.

With that said, I want to shift the focus to something else this week. A radical shift in our every day to be at home opens presents us with new ways of thinking and behaving unlike we’ve ever had before. In the darkness, comes the opportunity to shift our relationship with others, ourselves, and the greater world around us.

When living with others, we have an opportunity to deepen our relationship with those that are immediately around us. We are finally present for those family meals, playtimes, and conversations with roommates we missed amidst our daily hustle.

In isolation, we spend considerable time alone with our thoughts. We try to escape with news, social media, video games, and digital happy hours... but the time we have can become a ripe opportunity to reflect, practice gratitude, and cultivate equanimity.

Last year, I sat in silence, meditating for two months around the world. At one of my retreats, I was confined to a small cement room with nothing more than a wood brick and a bamboo mat to sleep on. I felt a flurry of emotions (boredom, frustration, angst), and it was in those moments, that I started to cultivate a relationship with these more unpleasant emotions.

The truth is, challenging times are the only opportunities we have in practicing how we recognize and respond to these unfavorable emotions. What is difficult one day becomes fodder for equanimity for the future.

As we start to clamp down on our time, but also our finances, we reflect on what we truly need. They are far greater than luxurious vacations or dream cars. What nourishes us are these invaluable connections with others that are closer than we think, just a room or a phone call away.

Lastly, one of the biggest opportunities that have come out of this, has been the opportunity to reevaluate our relationship with this planet. Since we have isolated and businesses have paused, we see an unprecedented decrease in pollution. In Madrid, average nitrogen dioxide levels have dropped by 56%, and in New York, carbon monoxide levels from cars have been reduced by nearly 50%. We can rethink our relationship with nature and implement ways of coexisting as a partner, rather than as parasite or cancer.

Although we may grumble our way through change, what is happening to us may be the blessing we weren’t expecting to get.

Announcement!

Tomorrow (Thursday, April 2), I am hosting a livestream with two other amazing queer leaders on mindfulness, health, and employment amidst everything that is going on during COVID-19.

RSVP via Eventbrite (to get the recording emailed) or bookmark the link on Facebook Live or YouTube Live to get reminders there. Would love to see you there!


Are they essential?

"Employees who have asked to work from home were told that it was too costly and difficult to set up. After an employee was stopped on the way to the center by law enforcement and told to go home, the company gave employees a letter to show the police in the future, the person said."

A great read on how some businesses, including Restoration Hardware, are risking their employee's lives to classify themselves as an essential business.

Understanding trauma responses

Gabor Mate and Russell Brand talk about the current pandemic and share some insights on how we are managing it. These two powerhouses provide great insights on trauma response, aid, and where we can go from here.

The business of doomsday

One of my favorite newsletters, The Hustle, wrote a fascinating piece this weekend on the doomsday business. After reading, I fell into a black hole looking at various floorplans of luxury bunkers. Just… wow.

Coronavirus archives

I recently discovered this website, COVID-19 Archive, through Reddit, which aggregates various news articles since January 1, 2020, about the coronavirus. The headlines from early January and February are unsettling, especially given the information and circumstances that we are in now.

Some excerpts:

As always, thanks for reading!

P.S. If you enjoyed this, share or sign up here: mindfulmoments.substack.com

Anything else? You can always hit "reply" to email me directly. 💌

Have a beautiful day!

Metta (loving-kindness),
Steven

Yellow Glitter Podcast | IG | YT | FB | TW | StevenWakabayashi.com

The price of privilege

Why we're past the point of containment, happy birthday to me, more coronavirus news, pretty charts, and what about me

Hi friend,

The way we respond in unprecedented times reveals much more about ourselves than we even know.

While China was battling COVID-19 in November of last year, the rest of the world watched silently. Despite the dramatic shutdowns and number of cases growing exponentially every day, it was business as usual everywhere else. As it spread to other Asian countries, including South Korea and Japan, the soon-to-be pandemic went largely ignored by the West.

Once the novel coronavirus hit the shores of Italy, it was still dismissed by their neighbors. Now, all of the European countries are fighting to control this outbreak by instituting the very same measure that had gone unrecognized in Asia and Italy. Just this weekend alone, Germany banned public gatherings of more than two, and Italy banned all outdoor exercising, including walking, running, and cycling as a means to stop the spread of this virus.

While this outbreak has unfolded in the past few months, most Americans are still oblivious. For many, life is still business as usual. Despite the setbacks from closed businesses and flights, spring break and vacations continue. Even with mandated home lock-downs in place, I still see people frolicking in parks on Instagram and roaming the streets from outside my window.

Challenging privilege is an arduous undertaking, especially when asking Americans to stay at home to save the lives of others. Life has been too comfortable over the past few decades, being free of recession, famine, disease, or war within our borders.

Take, for instance, early statistical reports of COVID-19 coming out of China and Italy. The rate of fatality was most concentrated on the older population 65 and up. Instead of heeding this as a warning to immediately set up protection and isolation for the vulnerable older population, the younger generation took the data and made it work for themselves.

“I won’t die.”

Even as people started to die around the world, it wasn’t enough. There weren’t enough dead bodies yet to take this seriously.

“It’s just the flu.”

In fact, if we followed that very same logic (we won’t take this seriously until it surpasses the number of deaths as the flu, world hunger, etc.), we would only have started to take action after millions of deaths. As we know now, it takes weeks before isolation to directly impact the rate of infection, and creating a vaccine takes at least 12-18 months. We would have decimated our population before any flattening of the curve were to be taking place.

Still, there are many others who refute statistical data around the number of cases and deaths from the COVID-19. I wholeheartedly agree.

Until COVID-19 testing begins in any region, initial statistics of coronavirus and related-deaths are not accounted for. Many are sent home misdiagnosed with the flu, and deaths are recorded as pneumonia or other complications arising from a collapsed immune system. Others are at home, suffering alone, and unable to go to the hospital. Recently, the mayor of Bergamo, the epicenter of the worst COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, wrote: “for each COVID death there are three who die at home of pneumonia without a test.” The statistics we have are all grossly underreported.

In my opinion, we may already be past the point of containment. Some states are just now starting to close businesses, schools, and public spaces. International and domestic flights are still operating out of major hubs. Churches are still operating despite local ordinances. The majority of Americans are still walking around without masks or gloves, believing that social distance is all the protection they need. And the cherry on top: testing kits are still unavailable to the majority of Americans.

While I agree that further reporting will improve our statistical assessment of this virus, there is still this assumption that after testing positive, there is a whole medical facility, staff, and supplies ready and waiting. Getting tested will not add more ventilators to a hospital, open up more hospital beds, or bring back to life those we have already lost. 

Regardless of testing availability, it should not impact the precautionary measures we need to be taking at this moment. At this point, we should be operating as if everyone is an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19. Based on projections by Governor Cuomo of NYC, between 40-80% will be infected with the virus.

Since the level of severity is potentially linked to viral load (amount of virus within us), we should be isolating as much as possible to reduce aggregating additional viral particulates. We must err on the side of caution and learn from our brothers, sisters, and siblings from all around the world.

  • Stop traveling.

  • Reduce (or eliminate) movement through public spaces.

  • Cover up when going outside (gloves, masks, any other available protective layer).

  • Hydrate.

  • Stay healthy.

I love you all so very much. Until next week.

By the way… guess what day it is?

Guess what day it is today?⁣

It’s my birthday!⁣

And since cakes are sold out from online delivery, this mini @diptyque candle will do. 🕯🕵🏻‍♂️⁣

Just one year ago, I spent my birthday in Taiwan with friends and family while studying meditation around the world. And the year before that, recovering after a debilitating health condition that sent me to the hospital for months.⁣

My doctor at the time told me to get used to the hospital bed. “The sooner you can come to terms with what you’re going through, the sooner you’ll be happier.” It wasn’t until after the third month, with no visible signs of improvement, I had started to accept this as a fact.⁣

Except, when I had finally done so, my health started to shift.⁣

In giving up what I wanted my life to be, I relaxed to let go of the tension in my body. I slowly released the expectations of myself I had held so closely - measures of success, happiness, wealth, and superficiality. The dissonance between the past, present, and future had created ripples of anxiety and unhappiness for so long.⁣

In embracing the harsh present reality, I had finally arrived to start my healing.⁣

Today, I find myself up against the same challenge. I’m faced with the reality of an unknown future, health, and economy while an invisible virus wreaks havoc to the world and those I love. While my brain continues to birth infinite possible futures that have yet to unfold, I remind myself that the way forward is through the present.⁣

I am breathing. I am typing. I am thinking.⁣
I am believing. I am loving. I am breathing again.⁣

And that’s enough.⁣

In that hospital bed just over two years ago, I had promised myself that I wouldn’t take these simple moments for granted. And now, I revel in the opportunity to practice the very same lessons again.⁣

I am here.⁣
I am present.⁣
I am home.
March 25, 2020

My birthday wish? For you to stay home. 🤪

Let’s continue to do our part in flattening the curve, reducing hospital load, and saving lives.


Where I get my updates

A few sources I thoroughly enjoy. I follow Andy Slavitt, former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under Barak Obama. His daily updates on the novel coronavirus are succinct, hopeful, and actionable. And for breaking news, Reddit (r/coronavirus) has been extremely reliable.

Beautiful, educational maps and charts

The NY Times published an extraordinary article mapping out the spread of the novel coronavirus out of Wuhan. Tomas Pueyo has done an amazing job culling together insights and data points that help educate the need to flatten the curve and act now.

What about me

Vox breaks down what the novel coronavirus means for people based on various age groups.

Tips on working remotely

In other non-coronavirus news, one of my favorite authors, Daphne Gray-Grant shares her tips on how to improve working from home.

As always, thanks for reading!

P.S. If you enjoyed this, share or sign up here: mindfulmoments.substack.com

Anything else? You can always hit "reply" to email me directly. 💌

Have a beautiful day!

Metta (loving-kindness),
Steven

Yellow Glitter Podcast | IG | YT | FB | TW | StevenWakabayashi.com

Why I'm taking this more seriously

A shift in perspective around COVID-19, working remotely, our new normal, and a story of hope

Hi friends,

It’s been a harrowing week. Recent events have unfolded in unimaginable ways. The coronavirus has finally come to the US.

For months, it has been business as usual here in America, even as various Asian countries have been decimated by this virus. Even for myself, I was off galavanting through South Korea and Japan carelessly based on the little information I was able to read. Weeks after I returned, I was out getting acupuncture treatments and going out to my favorite restaurants in Manhattan, joking about social isolation.

But I have changed my stance on the situation.

After reading trusted news outlets and studying scientific journals, I am embarrassed to have taken the situation so lightly. It shocks me how much I had downplayed this entire situation. In hindsight, that was a reflection of me, my shortcomings, and my coping mechanisms at the time.

Some things on my mind:

  1. I had witnessed first-hand the difference in attitudes of how South Korea and Japan reacted to this situation. With just a few cases, the entire country retreated, put on masks, and emptied out public spaces. What I experience in America is the complete opposite, even with more cases and deaths than these two Asian countries combined. New Yorkers are still shopping, visiting each other in their homes, commuting, going on runs… and I fear there is a huge learning opportunity that is looming ahead of us. If we do not adopt the same mindset and behaviors as Asia, we will not have the same response that they have had to this situation.

  2. The biggest impact we can have is to remove ourselves from the equation of viral spread. Socially distance and quarantine to avoid being potential vectors of the virus. The Washington Post did a beautiful, animated job illustrating how to “flatten the curve” of a contagion. If we all took responsibility for ourselves, we can protect those we love all around us.

  3. Until scientists and doctors better understand this virus, we need to be overly cautious to ensure our own safety. This isn’t just money or time we are gambling with, it is our lives. In this situation, the consequence of being wrong cannot be undone.

  4. When advising or supporting others during this tumultuous time, understand that everyone is on their own journey. Ultimately, we cannot help those who are unwilling to help themselves. I’ve exhausted myself this past week trying to get those I love to change their behaviors. I’ve realized that I can only do as much as they are willing to accept. We must focus on taking care of ourselves first and pray they will follow our example.

As we head into isolation and observe how things turn out, recognize what a beautiful opportunity is blossoming before us. Peace begins to form around the world, pollution and CO2 levels have dropped significantly, and nature is reappearing in some of the most trafficked areas on Earth.

This is perhaps the wake-up call we were all looking for.

How many times we hit the snooze is up to us.

Starting today, I will be hosting various digital mindfulness sessions and talks to help empower and calm those who might be struggling at this time. I will be experimenting with various formats and see which resonate with my community. Zoom, Facebook, Instagram, podcasts… we are blessed with so many digital mediums to connect with one another instantly all around the world.

Follow my Instagram (@stevenwakabayashi) and Facebook (@wakuu) for the latest and greatest.

With that, so much love for you during these turbulent times. May we be safe, may we be healthy, and may we be happy in the upcoming weeks.

Metta. (with loving-kindness)


Podcasts on COVID-19

One of the best sources of information has been Sam Harris’s podcasts. He sits down with Nicholas Christakis, Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science, about the impact of the pandemic to society and Amesh Adalja, infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, about the spread of the coronavirus.

And another one that was thoroughly nourishing was the one with Tim Ferriss and Jack Kornfield to talk about finding peace amid COVID-19.

Working remotely

Author Daphne Gray-Grant offers some great advice for those learning how to establish working remotely during this time.

A new normal

Despite what people have said, life has still not returned back to normal in China. We are now operating in the quarantine economy: delivery and sanitation.

A story of hope

BBC News filmmakers followed the story of the coronavirus through Wuhan for over 50 days since lockdown in January. The story does have a hopeful ending.

As always, thanks for reading!

P.S. If you enjoyed this, share or sign up here: mindfulmoments.substack.com

Anything else? You can always hit "reply" to email me directly. 💌

Have a beautiful day!

Metta (loving-kindness),
Steven

Yellow Glitter Podcast | IG | YT | FB | TW | StevenWakabayashi.com

Coronavirus and self-quarantine in NYC

Thoughts on the coronavirus this week, support group, a really special guest on my podcast, relationships, and death

Hi friends,

It’s another week of the coronavirus. Italy has locked itself down, SXSW is canceled (the Olympics are probably next), and a lockdown started here in NYC.

After traveling through Japan and South Korea a few weeks ago, I had been self-quarantined by many recommendations. I’m glad to say that it’s now finished and had no symptoms. But something really disturbing happened. Upon returning back to New York City, I was trying to find a test to clear myself in advance but was not able to find any tests available in the city for me. The only tests that were available were only given to those who were bed-bound in the hospital. And if I was still eligible, I would be given the opportunity to send samples to a facility to get tested over 3-5 business days.

The fact that I cannot find a readily-accessible virus test for everyone in one of the most developed countries in the world has me shocked. As of this Monday, South Korea has tested over 15,000 every day and the US has tested a total of 4,384 people. It doesn’t make any sense.

I am extremely frustrated with how incompetent our current administration here in the US has been managing this pandemic. From delays in testing to a White House full of self-interested individuals, it may, unfortunately, have to get worse here in the states before it becomes addressed with the seriousness it requires.

I’m going to keep this week’s rant about the coronavirus simple.

Stay clean, wash your hands, drink lots of fluids, and sleep.

Take all the precautionary measures to stay in healthy shape, because that’s all we can really do at this point.

Two updates from me:

If you are Asian in NYC, we are hosting a support group this Sunday 3/15 at 6:00pm to talk about the issues surrounding the coronavirus. Fear and angst has sparked prejudice and racism, and we will be creating a safe space to talk and heal through this together.

And I am really excited to share my latest podcast episode is with none other than Margaret Cho! We sit down and talk about her life leading up to comedy, including what it was like growing up in a Korean household, exploring sexuality, dating as a queer Asian, finding spirituality, and practicing mindfulness. She was such a delight. Let me know your thoughts!


Two more thoughts on the coronavirus

Here’s what you need to know about dining out in the age of coronavirus

Epidemics Reveal the Truth About the Societies They Hit

How Relationships Change Over Time

The New Yorker artist Olivia de Recat has perfectly illustrated the complex dynamics of human relationships by drawing lines, and they will have you smiling and crying at the same time.

I didn't think I could get so emotional over lines. The dog and parent ones got to me. (notice where the lines start and end)

Write a Eulogy

Writer Anne-Laure Le Cunff lists out a series of prompts to help write your eulogy to get clarity on your life's direction.

When we take the time to write our eulogies, it creates this magnetic pull power that draws us forward, our priorities and our vision for where we want to be as leaders and how we’ll get there come into sharp focus. This clarity enables us to make the best decisions, get up out of our comfortable patterns, create new habits, and start moving us toward a better future.

Instead of using death to paralyze us, especially during this time, how can we leverage to inspire or work and change the world?

As always, thanks for reading!

P.S. If you enjoyed this, share or sign up here: mindfulmoments.substack.com

Anything else? You can always hit "reply" to email me directly. 💌

Have a beautiful day!

Metta (loving-kindness),
Steven

Yellow Glitter Podcast | IG | YT | FB | TW | StevenWakabayashi.com

A global pandemic of widespread racism and intolerance

Thoughts on the epidemic of coronavirus, queer Asian love, evolutions of friendships, and extra reading on the virus.

Hi friend,

It's been a tough few weeks. Not only do we have a global crisis on our hands, but we also have rampant xenophobia hurting Asians around the world. From San Francisco to Londonnews to social media, and personal stories from my friends, one of the most damaging aspects of this virus is has been the racism that has followed.

If we take a look at how social media has responded to other events, such as the Notre Dame Cathedral burning down in Paris (with 0 deaths), the amount of prayers, money, and support have been astonishingly different. Currently, almost 3,000 people have died from this virus in Mainland China. (Live count of coronavirus cases around the world)

A few things to consider and my thoughts on the situation:

  1. Just because you are Chinese, doesn't mean you have the virus. Just because you aren't Chinese, doesn't mean you won't get the virus. And no, you will not catch the coronavirus just by eating at your local Chinese restaurant or walking through your local Chinatown.

    Look at what's happening in Italy and South Korea. Viruses don't discriminate, and neither should we. Racist politicians and business leaders have put more effort into passing prejudice reforms rather than being proactive with their people. We have to look inward before it becomes an even more significant issue for everyone. Racism has never paid off in history.

  2. The origins of this virus could have come from anywhere. Instead of blaming an ethnic group for the wet markets, where live and dead animals kept in close captivity for consumption, we should scrutinize the cultural and socioeconomic conditions that lead to the need to create these wet markets in the first place. 

    Reality is, for as long as we consume animals or animal byproducts, such as cosmetics and animal skin bags, these markets will continue to exist as cost-effective means to buy and sell animals, especially for poor communities.

  3. We should not downplay the severity of this. Yes, more people have died from the regular flu this season. But even more people die from hunger or unsanitary water every year. Why do we feel the need to compare body counts? Why do we need a few hundred thousand more to die before we accept this as a fact? And why do we need someone close to us to die before it becomes a reality and not just a Facebook post or Instagram story?

    This is not a competition of which viruses are more important (non-profit spaces fight over this already). We should be trying our best to prevent more deaths as much as we have the knowledge and resources to provide.

  4. On the flip side, the media has done two terrible things. 

    First is the inaccurate reporting from international news sources corroborating with local government, and second, the frenzied covering it around the world.

    Reputable journalism is needed more than ever, especially in these moments. When politicians govern our "free" words, they are at the mercy of human inadequacy—ego, jealousy, envy. We should support our independent journalists around the world for their in-depth coverage of issues like this.

    But these organizations stay afloat through ads. Ads work when there are a lot of eyes. This has resulted in the frenzied covering of any popular issue until the next hot topic comes along. 

    With that said, for one's sanity and mindfulness, a few minutes of reading a day is all that's needed for updates. I find that most of the content flooding the system is extremely repetitive. When facts are exhausted, the only things left are endless opinions and predictions of things that haven't yet happened. The future is infinite, but our time isn't.

  5. Lastly, if you are freaking out, the reality is... there isn't much we can do to change what has happened. All we can do is to make the best decisions we can today and plan for a better tomorrow. Wash your hands. Sleep. Reduce stress. Avoid straining your body. Stay happy. All of these have been proven to improve our immunity far greater than external supplements.

Our greatest panacea to fight an infection is right within ourselves. No amount of rubbing alcohol or disposable face masks will give us the healing we have yet to provide ourselves with first.


Queer Asian Love

I've been hard at work this month, getting two really special projects up and running. The first is an interview with Alex Lee. He is currently running for California State Assembly, and if elected, would be the youngest Asian bisexual member.

The second project is a series of interviews with other queer Asian on their perspectives on love, dating, and relationships. I also had each guest do an episode on my Yellow Glitter podcast diving in deeper into their background and story.

Check these stories out.

How Relationships Change Over Time

The New Yorker artist Olivia de Recat has perfectly illustrated the complex dynamics of human relationships by drawing lines, and they will have you smiling and crying at the same time.

I didn't think I could get so emotional over lines. The dog and parent ones got to me. Notice where the lines start and end.

Additional reading on the coronavirus

The Atlantic: I Prepared for Everything, but Not Coronavirus on a Cruise Ship.

Quartz: The growing list of world events canceled due to coronavirus

Reuters: How coronavirus cases exploded in South Korean churches and hospitals

Vanity Fair: How the coronavirus is creating a fake-news nightmares cape

As always, thanks for reading!

P.S. If you enjoyed this, share or sign up here: mindfulmoments.substack.com

Anything else? You can always hit "reply" to email me directly. 💌

Have a beautiful day!

Metta (loving-kindness),
Steven

Yellow Glitter Podcast | IG | YT | FB | TW | StevenWakabayashi.com

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