Have you noticed people driving fast out there? Maybe you are one of those fast drivers, in a hurry to get to your destination and away from where you came from. It seems like everyone is vibrating with stress and the need to get out and away.
Now that we are past the solstice, longer days are slowly returning to the northern hemisphere. The US has an incoming administration that will restore responsiveness and leadership to our government. In a major international scientific achievement, a vaccine is already being distributed for COVID-19. Relief is within sight, almost within reach.
Not here yet
Relief is in sight, but not yet here. Winter is only beginning in the northern hemisphere. In the US, it will take a long, painful time to undo the damage of the last four years. We need to wear masks and keep our distance from each other for another few months, until enough people have had the vaccine for community spread of COVID-19 to die down.
Change can be disorienting, even change we desperately want. We can choose to pause, slow down, and keep ourselves company rather than rushing toward the promise of relief. We do not have to work harder to make it happen. The days will lengthen, the vaccine will come to our communities, and the new US administration will be inaugurated.
Emergencies start suddenly, and we go into Emergency Mode all at once. Even if an emergency also ends suddenly, we emerge more gradually, in fits and starts, relaxing a bit and then tensing again out of habit.
In an emergency, we push down our emotions, focus on the problems at hand, and do what we have to do to survive. When relief is in sight and the emergency no longer looks endless, those emotions can rise up and demand our attention. We come out of freeze the way we went in, brimming with pent up energy and distress.
As you see relief ahead, you might suddenly feel the need to fight, flee, or freeze as if the emergency were starting all over again. You might shiver in terror or wail with grief. Can you find a safe time and space to let those suspended emotions flow? Think of yourself like a river with wide banks, comfortably allowing turbulence to move through you.
Like the prickle of returning circulation, losses and longings might arise that had been numb while the emergency was ongoing. Our routines and traditions steady us, giving us anchors we can rely on. When we miss out on those traditions while sheltering in place or doing essential work, we feel disoriented and ungrounded.
Take some time to sense your feet on the ground in this moment. Notice your breath, in and out. Invite the losses that are alive in you to come forward, sensing how your body and your whole system carry them. Are there blank places, dangling strings, lonely echoes? Take some time to acknowledge each loss and the way it feels inside you.
Come back to your feet, and your breath. When you feel ready, hold the question of what helps your body and your whole system feel oriented and stable. Pause and invite answers to form. Take in any sensations, images, and information that float up, and let them know you hear them. Take time to enjoy each response and the way it feels inside you.
Some of what orients and stabilizes you might be accessible now, for example familiar music or being outside, and some might not, for example being in the same room with friends who live elsewhere. Take some time to sense the whole of how that is for you right now. Warmly acknowledging your longings can bring relief even if you cannot fulfill them.
Come back to your feet, and your breath. Give yourself time to transition from paying attention inside to interacting with the world again.
We have all been under strain for the past year, in addition to everything we were struggling with before that. It seems like everything is slower and more complicated and more expensive. I call it the “pandemic tax” and do my best to accept it calmly. We are all doing our best with the resources we have, drawing on inner reserves that now need replenishing.
What sustains and replenishes you now, in our changed world? What gives you strength to keep coping with all the ways the pandemic tax shows up in your life? There might be small acts of kindness, given and received. Online connections and events that were inaccessible in the past. A clearer acknowledgment and appreciation of what is essential and who does essential work.
Permission to move slowly
In this second half of the pandemic, with relief in sight, give yourself permission to move slowly. Acknowledge losses and longings as well as gratitude and gains. Honor your limits and give yourself time to rest and recover even before the emergency is officially over. Perhaps some of what you most want is already available right here and now.
- How to be at Home, 5 min video by Andrea Dorfman, poem by Tanya Davis, a 2020 followup to their 2010 video How to be Alone.