This whole week, amidst the massive change that has occurred so quickly, I have been searching for some kind of leadership or guidance around how to handle this. I have been watching the news trying to hear something that is comforting or that will tell me how long we will have to live this way and when it will “go back to normal”. I have listened to politicians press conferences and read as much as I can about this new pandemic. Some of it has been comforting – knowing I won’t lose my housing and that small businesses like mine will be offered some help. However, none of it has brought me the answers that I had been hoping would soothe me and provide me with a way to deal with this.
I believe strongly in the power of connection to soothe and heal, and with the inability to sit with others, to commiserate face to face, to comfort physically, I am feeling adrift. I have been trying to figure out how to connect with family, friends and my clients. Seeing people over the internet has definitely offered a way to be as close as possible, to try to provide some normalcy and connection, however, I miss the feeling of being with people in a room, laughing, crying, talking, moving, being with.
It occurred to me in the past three days that this is a moment not only of change but of transformation. Transformation to what, is the question. Sitting with this uncertainty is very difficult. In our household, where both my husband and I are psychotherapists, we have been talking about how we have been working to manage our fear response and to find our way back into the social engagement system/window of tolerance and out of the fight or flight response. We are trying to stay grounded amidst a flurry of activity and change. We are trying to make good decisions when we have no idea what the future will hold.
It has been dawning on me slowly that I know this. I know how to sit with this transformation and unpredictability. I have been taught by my clients who come to me precisely because they have experienced a major life change or are struggling to find the ground under them. It could be an end to a relationship or a relationship in crisis, the grief at the end of a loved ones life, it could be from having lived a life where there was no safety and they have always had to be on guard for danger lurked everywhere, it could be that even danger lived inside of them in the form of a disease. I have spent 20+ years sitting with people who are navigating sometimes overwhelming challenges in their lives and trying to make the best decisions they can with no ability to predict what’s next or if the choice will be a good one or not.
Often people ask me about my job, “Isn’t your job depressing”. I am always taken aback by this question because I find it quite the opposite; I find it deeply inspiring. It is inspiring because the people who come to see me are navigating challenges and are finding a depth of courage and tapping into their internal wisdom to move towards change. They are surviving in unsurvivable circumstances. They are holding on to hope that they can change something in themselves and this will change something in their world. I get to witness their wisdom in action.
On the back of my business cards there is a quote by Victor Frankl, author of “Man’s search for meaning”. It says,
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
We are not able to change the situation we all find ourselves in. We can ignore it and act as though it is not happening (flight), we can blame others for it (fight), we can feel paralyzed (freeze), we can move into hopelessness (submit) or we can search for a saviour (attach). These are all of our survival mechanisms that help us to get through dangerous or scary events. Of course they are activated in us all now and we likely move through them all throughout the day. They are our protection, they are our guardians, and they are our first sources of how to manage danger.
But here’s the thing, if you work with me you know, the way to handle transformation is not to avoid, to fight, to flee, to freeze, to give up or to abdicate your power to someone else, although these are useful when there is danger. The way to transformation is to go inside. It is to be present with what is here right now including all of these parts of ourselves. Not to push them away, not to push away the present reality, but to accept our circumstances as they are. To see things for what they are. Then to choose with “full hearts and clear eyes” what to do next.
There is very little that we know will come in the next few weeks, months and years. In reality, this is always true, but we get lulled into the idea of predictability until something comes along to shake us up. Right now, we are in a time of collective shake up rather than personal life shakeup. For some of us, it is both and stress can be even higher in these situations.
So for my own guidance and my comfort at this time, I am searching inside. I am turning to myself and my inner world through yoga asana, pranayama and meditation. I am turning to perennial wisdom in sacred words. I am connecting as best I can online with others. I am painting pictures with my children and putting them in my windows to demonstrate a collective spirit with my community. I am planting food. I am making syrup. I am trying to stay with my internal shifting fears and hopes. I am being inspired by the many years I have had the privilege of being with people in their struggle and finding hope in the incredible solutions they have found to move towards a deeper presence with themselves and in their relationships.
We are in a time of transformation. A transformation to what? We don’t have to rely on others to define this for us. We have the time now to turn inward. To rest. To read. To reflect. To be with ourselves. To find our own answers. When we emerge from this isolation, we can do so with a clear sense of our own direction which is often lost in our busy world. We can have the courage and the clarity to be different, to make better choices, to move towards what we want with clear intention.
Please know that I am truly with you all at this time. May we all be with ourselves. May we all find a way to presence, connection and compassion. May we weather this transformation and unavoidable change with courage, honesty, humility, presence and hope. May we continue to sense the connection we have to each other and to our environments. May we stop and rest. May we find more time. May we reflect. May we hear and trust our own wisdom. May we all be well and safe.
With great love and deep appreciation for the wisdom you have all shared with me, and the courage you have to engage in positive transformation,