It has been 9 days since I left my house. The news spews updates every time I have the guts to look. And the worst part of all of this is the not knowing. When will this pandemic end? What’s going to happen to all of our jobs? How many lives will be affected? Will there ever be enough toilet paper ever again? Uncertainty is plain uncomfortable. In music, we have “deceptive cadences.” This is when a phrase or an entire piece ends on a chord that leaves listeners feeling unresolved and uncomfortable. That’s all well and fine when it’s a piece of music. But what if you’re waking up every day stuck in a chord of dissonance?
This is where we find ourselves right now all over the world. Stuck on a dissonant chord without a clue as to when it will resolve. Maybe it won’t resolve? Maybe we’ll find ourselves in an entirely new movement with a whole new mood, wrought with new motives and themes that will be developed over time? That sounds exciting! And scary. What will it sound like? Will I like the new theme? There are no answers. For now, we are stuck.
Being stuck is like someone just hit the pause button. Life as we have known it is on pause. What can we do? How do we cope with the discomfort of being stuck and uncertain? Here are some tips:
1.) Be mindful of your thoughts. Thank goodness my thoughts are not visible to anyone, including myself. My thoughts have ranged from “everything is going to change for the better” to “I’m ruined and my life is a total failure.” This can happen in a span of a day, an hour, or even a minute. My thoughts can very easily turn to emotions like sadness, fear, or worry. What I’ve learned about emotions is that you want to keep them in MOTION. If they get stuck, they can make you sick with depression or anxiety. First, take some deep breaths and notice the sensations in your body. Where are you tight and bunch? Where is stress landing and making you hurt. Breath into those spots as you notice them. Don’t put effort into changing the feelings, just breath. Second, notice your thoughts. Using my example thoughts from above (“I’m ruined and my life is a total failure”), I might let that thought arise and let it go. If that thought seems particularly sticky, I move to step 3 which is to question those thoughts. Am I really ruined? Am I a complete failure? No. The answer is clearly no. Then I might breath into the tense spots in my body and see how those spots feel now. Often, things seem to soften. Finally, I’ll ask what’s happening right now? And the answer is usually “Nothing. Right now I have everything that I need.” Our minds can be used for so many great things. Our minds also can’t always be trusted. Listen to your body, notice your thoughts, question your thoughts, listen to the truth of the present moment.
2.) Practice self-care. Self-care is listening to what your body needs and then responding. If you feel hungry, eat something. Feeling tired? Take a nap. Need to calm down? Choose whatever calming routine works for you, whether it be going for a walk, meditating, or binge-watching your favorite show. If you’re not sure what you need in terms of self-care, now’s a great time to experiment and see what works for you. The good news is that when everything is said and done, you’ll know a lot more about yourself and what you need to take care of yourself in a healthy way.
3.) Make a list of all the things that effortlessly keep you engaged. And then do them. When I was a kid, if I dared utter the words “I’m bored,” my mother would helpfully create a list of about a dozen things I could do. Some of the things were chores that I’d been putting off, and some were activities that might engage me like read a book, draw a picture, play with my toys, etc. At the time, I hated getting “the list” so much that I refrained from admitting I was bored to anyone. Instead, I would create my own list (that way, I didn’t have to face the chores). The things I put on my list today are different from when I was a kid. I actually enjoy “chores” and find that organizing a closet puts me into a flow state, do not ask me why! Again, if you’re not sure what’s going to keep your attention, no sweat. Experiment! You will find something.
4.) Check in with people. We need social interaction. As an introvert, I often can’t believe I feel this way. But if there’s one thing I have learned in the past 9 days, it’s that I need to at least talk to people. When I imagine what people must have experienced during the Spanish flu pandemic, I wonder how they dealt with the lack of contact. These were in the days when letter writing was the fastest way you could send word to family and friends who did not live in your own town. We don’t live like that anymore. We have technology that has allowed us instant contact with friends and family. It’s as if our technology has been designed for this moment (I hope not...that would be creepy). I’m enjoying checking in with people about their current experience with social distancing and staying at home all day, every day. Although we can’t be physically present, we can at least hold space for each other’s experience and feelings, and for the moment we connect virtually, there’s less discomfort.
5.) Explore the present moment. I know. This one’s hard. There’s a great scene in one of my favorite TV shows from the 90s (Northern Exposure) where the uptight, neurotic doctor from New York asks his very calm, quiet secretary how she can just sit in stillness and not say anything for hours on end. She challenges him to be silent for a minute, and he says “no problem.” But after a few seconds, he erupts in anger. A lot of people are like this. The idea of sitting still and being in the present moment stirs up quite a lot of anxiety. I would ask, what are the thoughts going through your mind? Are you following those thoughts? What would happen if you allow the thoughts to appear but then let them go like clouds passing by? It only becomes a fantastical tale in your mind if, like Alice, you decide to follow the rabbit down that hole. Coming full circle, when you allow yourself the present moment, you find freedom. Freedom from thoughts. Freedom from discomfort. Freedom from suffering. Maybe it will only last a moment. But when you practice, it starts to last longer and longer.
My “go to” question right now is “when all is said and done, how do I want to see that I've handled this time in my life?” If, looking back, I see that I gave in to my fear thoughts, didn’t take care of myself, accomplished nothing, isolated myself from others completely, and writhed in discontent the entire time, I’m not going feel very good about how I handled things. That’s not what I want for future me. I'd rather look back and see that I modeled strength and positivity for my daughter and that I learned that my inner strengths are capable of dealing with anything life throws me. This moment of pause is an opportunity to cultivate self-awareness like never before. Self-awareness is the lighthouse that illuminates our way to calmer shores. And when we experience internal calm, the environment and beings that are in our physical space 24/7 have a chance of feeling calm too. Best wishes to you all out there as we learn how to navigate these uncertain times by mastering how we navigate ourselves.
Peace & Love,