I am sitting at my kitchen table looking out the window at greening pastures that roll away gently and then rise to a line of trees at the base of a small mountain. The morning sun is casting a hazy glow. A hummingbird visits the flowers in pots on the deck.
The chickens are scratching in the garden; one vocal hen reports the egg she just laid. The birds sing. The neighbor’s tractor slowly rolls by the house headed to the hay field to retrieve a roll of hay for his cows. It is so quiet in my house I can hear the grandfather clock as it ticks off the seconds. Peace reigns.
Yet, within myself, there is no peace. Instead of calm, like a clear alpine lake, my insides are churning with the force of the winds — the winds of change, the gales of fear, the howling mistral that portends uncertainty. How can I make my insides match the bucolic peace of the outside?
We are all in a state of hyper-vigilance. We have come to see the world as a dangerous place, and the people around us as possible vectors for disease in ourselves and our loved ones. We are afraid that the groceries we bring into the house are carrying the virus right into our kitchen. We duck our heads and give a wide berth to those in our path.
We hold our breath — not just to prevent breathing in a germ, but because we are in a high state of alert. We are living with a dangerous enemy that becomes more dangerous by being invisible. It creates a constant state of vigilance that can exhaust our nervous systems and send us into a state of lowered immunity.
How do we combat this natural human response to the unknown with a more measured way of meeting the challenge that faces us? I think the first thing is to be gentle with ourselves. We are not only in a state of heightened awareness, we are also grieving. This is not a time to whip ourselves into shape with the “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. Or, for a more modern take, “Put on your big girl panties and get on with it.”
I have found myself unable to show up at the keyboard to write. At the beginning of the crisis, I was able to use my natural sunny optimism to spin this as something we can handle if we just keep our minds from spiraling out. I was certain that by reviewing all the things we have survived before, we could find confidence in our ability to get through this crisis, too.
But this is not just another crisis. This is a massive shifting of everything we have taken for granted about living in this world. This is the ultimate “Pull the rug out and let the little buzzards tumble” event that is unlike anything we have ever faced before.
The fear, grief, anger, despair and loss we are feeling are appropriate responses to this catastrophe. I have no words of wisdom for how to make this time transformative, enlightening, productive or restorative. I realize there is potential for it to be all those things. I also realize that when we push ourselves to make something positive out of difficult times we can discount the very valid experiences we are having. We don’t have to pretend it is a great opportunity to get our closets cleaned out or write that novel we have been thinking about forever. Maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t.
Maybe this is the time to learn to sit in being. To stop running away from feeling what we are feeling and actually allow those feelings to be there. We don’t have to make our feelings go away. We don’t have to “fix” them by talking ourselves out of them. We don’t have to sweep them under the rug and go on as usual. It’s okay to feel churned up, afraid, and sad. It’s also okay to feel moments of joy, pleasure and happiness. Whatever we are experiencing in this moment is right.
Can we give our heart space, can we offer ourselves love and assurance the way we would a treasured friend? If we can even begin to see the value of giving our feelings the attention they deserve, maybe that will be the great accomplishment of this time of change. It would be enough.
My goal is to keep my emotions from getting stuck and growing like a virus within me. If I can acknowledge my feelings by placing my hands on my heart and saying, “This is a moment of suffering,” then the feelings can relax because I have seen them and said it is okay. When I do this I find that the feelings have permission to move through me, and they usually do.
When I really get stuck I try to get outside and dig in the garden, or just sit in the swing beneath the shade of the chestnut and watch the life that is happening all around me. We all need a go-to way to relieve the pressure when our insides feel as if they are going to explode.
Lying in the floor, doing child’s pose, practicing deep breathing — these are other ways that I find some relief.
Please be gentle with yourself, and with those you are in close quarters with right now. This is hard for all of us. But I know that we will survive because history proves that the human spirit is resilient. The fact that we are here at all is proof that we can survive almost anything.
Be well, friend. Take care of yourself and those you love. Take care of your neighbors and your community. Do the things you know to do. Cut yourself some slack. Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. Allow your loved ones to feel what they are feeling. No pressure — only grace. Peace will return to your heart and to the world. It always does.