Keeping Your Life Simple, Even After the Pandemic is Over

Are you starting to feel anxious about the world opening up, about possibilities becoming possible again? We’re not there yet, but are you feeling a little nervous nonetheless, with maybe even a tinge of loss?

For a lot of people, this phase of the pandemic is bringing with it a new and unexpected kind of stress. The anxiety that’s bubbling up right now is not about life closing down, but paradoxically, about life opening up, and with it, the possibility of what we can and will do. It’s about “getting back out there” and what that will mean for our overall well-being.

As dreadful and devastating as this pandemic has been and continues to be, it has also brought with it a strange and unexpected sense of relief. So many people have confessed to me how relieved and thankful they’ve been over these last few months about the fact that there was nowhere to go and nothing to do. When nothing was possible, for everyone, when we couldn’t do most of what we do, what appeared, unexpectedly, was a sense of peace. So too, many people have confessed to being afraid that they will go right to living the way they did pre-pandemic, and forget all the lessons they’ve learned (and earned) through this hard time.

In our productivity-obsessed society, we feel like we have to do everything, be everywhere, see everyone; we suffer with the fear of missing out on the life we’re supposed to be living. The freedom and relief, therefore, that has come from not having to do anything (because there’s nothing to do) has been profound and life-altering. Permission to not have to be busy, productive or social, to not have to prove (to ourselves or others) that we’re living a good enough life, has offered us a much-needed break from the chronic shoulding, doing, and chasing by which we habitually live.

While change never comes in the form we wish it would, this pandemic has given (and continues to give) us a radical opportunity to step off the hamster wheel of doing, to disconnect from the relentless and mindless busyness with which we fill up our lives. With all future planning called off, this period has been a unique chance to fully arrive in this moment, now, to be present with ourselves, the people around us, nature, and everything else. We were handed an official permission slip, to award our full attention to washing the dishes, walking the dog, playing music, and making the bed, and to do so without guiltshame, or deprivation. And maybe even, with a touch of gratitude.

When we couldn’t do any of the things we were used to doing, many of us discovered that we were quite OK, good even. We were OK doing a lot less; the things we always did suddenly didn’t seem so important or necessary. We may have realized that a lot of our doing and busyness was simply borne out of habit and conditioning, what we thought we were supposed to do, should do, or had to do. This crisis has woken us up from the anesthesia of our perpetual busyness, uprooted our pride in our busyness. Many of us have realized that we don’t want a lot of the things we thought we wanted, and don’t want to be living the way we were living before the pandemic shook us from slumber. Doing less has allowed us to experience more. Having tasted a radically different way of living, we have started asking the most important question: How do I actually want to live my life? When this is all over,we don’t have to keep living the same life we lived pre-pandemic.article continues after advertisement

During this crisis, the present moment, blessedly, felt like it was enough, no matter how simple its contents. Whatever we were doing, it was fine or at least good enough. We couldn’t make anything happen so we didn’t have to make anything happen. We were off the hook. There was no better reality out there against which to compare and denigrate our own. 

But, as things start to open up in the world and it’s possible for us to start doing again, this reverence for the present moment can easily slip away. If we’re not awake, appreciation will soon become dissatisfaction again. Undoubtedly, we will start to hear those familiar and dangerous whispers that tell us we should be doing, should be busy, should be keeping up with everyone else, should be taking advantage of what’s possible, should be socializing more, should be “living” more and better. If we’re not prepared for these whispers, aware of them when they come, then we will quickly slide back into the belief that the simple things, simple moments, simple experiences are not enough and that we are not enough if that’s all we’re doing, all we’re accomplishing. And, the accompanying and perhaps most dangerous thought of all, namely, that there’s something outside of us, some experience, achievement, acquisition or place, that can make us enough, make us content, and ultimately, make us want to be where we are. We will lose our sense of peace and return to that particular brand of suffering that comes from forgetting that happiness is an inside job. 

Our drive to get back to life in the world may be authentic and healthy, and yet, if we get back out there without awareness, we risk losing the profound gifts and insights from all this difficulty we’ve just endured. If we’re not mindful of our reentry into the world of doing, we’ll find ourselves back on the hamster wheel of habitual and chronic busyness and doing. Before we finish counting backwards from 10, we’ll be sleepwalking through our lives (or sleep-running), back to doing what we think we should do and have to do, mindlessly chasing after a better moment and a life that’s enough. We will have again lost touch with ourselves, with what we really want, and with a more present, grateful, and satisfying way of living. 

As we re-enter the world, my hope is that we can do it with awareness and intention, and with a deep respect and appreciation for what we’ve glimpsed through this powerful and unprecedented time. Let us not forget the way it felt to bake a pie, take a walk, or play cards with our child, when that was the only place we could be, and maybe even for a moment, the only place we wanted to be. Let us not lose touch with the experience of being deeply grateful for a good conversation, a good song, or a good cup of coffee. It is up to each of us to keep fresh the experience of being fully in this now, without the chatter of what’s to come or what we should be doing always running in the background. Long after we’re back out there, our practice is to stay tethered to the sense of relief we felt when we had permission, perhaps for the first time in our lives, to not have to do all the things we think we have to do. Simultaneously, to keep in the foreground of our mind and heart the way we felt when we were off the hamster wheel. Most of all, my hope is that we continue to ask ourselves the question, “how do I really want to live?” and then design a life that’s in line with our answer.

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The Harder Life Gets the Softer We Need to Be

When life gets hard and things go wrong, the most counterintuitive and seemingly impossible choice is to relax, to soften, and find ease with what’s happening. How can we (and why should we) relax when life feels out of control, and not in a good way? When difficulty arises, we fight with it, brace against it. Our resistance is our way of saying that we’re not okay with reality, and insisting that we can change it. But unfortunately, it doesn’t work and it doesn’t help.  

These days, with four broken bones in my foot, I’ve taken to tooling around New York City on a knee scooter. As you might imagine, the ride is bumpy. My scooter is the opposite of a mountain bike; its wheels are petite and fragile and it takes nothing more than a twig or pebble to tip it over. I’ve gone flying numerous times, landing on my broken foot and in excruciating pain.

As I’ve gotten more skilled as a scooter pilot however, I’ve noticed something important about what makes for a hard ride and what makes it easier. It seems that the rougher the road, the more precarious my path, the tighter I tended to grip onto the handlebars, to tense my body and brace against the bouncing and jostling of the vehicle. The more turbulence I met, the more rigid I became in body and mind. As a result of the chronic bracing and constriction, I ended up with a spasming upper back and strained pectoral muscles, which made taking a deep breath an impossibility.

But I also noticed, thankfully, and just in time to trade in my scooter for my own feet, that if I opened my hands, loosened my grip just slightly when the bumps came, relaxed my upper body as the scooter tried to right itself in the uneven terrain, if I just allowed the bumping, tilting, and shaking to happen, remarkably, I didn’t tip over. The scooter adjusted and found its way back to smoothness without my having to mount a fight against it, and without my having to break anything else along the way. 

In life, when the bumps come, when the road gets rough, as it has been for all of us of late, we tend to brace against it, fight with it, and try to control it. When we lose our job, the doctor calls with bad news, our marriage falls apart, or this gigantic bump, the pandemic arrives, we resist, brace, tense our minds and bodies, and (understandably) fight against what we don’t want. The more difficulty life delivers, the more unpredictability and impermanence, the tighter we grip onto what we know, what we have, an imaginary safety and permanence. We cling to an idea of what we had and what we’re losing. The more flexibility life demands, the more rigid we become, and the more we suffer. 

When life throws us curveballs, or balls that hit us smack in the knee, we suffer not only from the pain of our smashed kneecap, but equally (if not more), from the thought that this shouldn’t be happening to us. We “shouldn’t” get hit in the knee, we don’t deserve that, this is not the life we signed up for. We get stuck in the idea of what our life “should” look like—which, for sure, is not this. We fight against reality, a reality, by the way, that has no interest in our protestations. article continues after advertisement

We not only brace against reality, cling onto an idea of how our life “should” be, but at the same time, we personalize the bumps in our path. We deny the truth, that everyone struggles and every human life includes difficulty, which means us too and our life. We reject the fact that we are not different from other humans, that we too will encounter bumps, and that this is indeed the human condition.

When difficulty arrives, we are temporarily shattered out of our uniqueness, out of our delusion that we are magically protected from hard times. But, we continue imagining that we are different and that our challenges are happening specifically to and against us. We feel punished, victimized, and personally deprived of what we deserve, burdened with difficulties that “shouldn’t” be, and that we “shouldn’t” have to endure. The result: We suffer more.  

So, what does loosening our grip on the handlebars look like in real life? In reality, what does it mean to relax our body and mind, to allow the bumps in the road, ride through the chop without bracing against it, stay loose when the ground and we are shaking?

To begin with, it means that we stop fighting with the truth, stop bracing against what’s happening: the reality of the bumps. It means that we release the idea that this can’t be happening. Whether we want it or not, this is happening, this is our reality for now. The bumps in the road are here. That’s the inarguable truth, which doesn’t mean we like it or will stop doing what we can do to make it better. But the sooner we accept our reality, the sooner we can start adapting to it, righting ourselves within it. 

More than anything else, we need to release this dangerous and damaging idea about the way our life “should” be going and what “should” be happening to us. We must see through this notion that our life is inherently different from all other lives and therefore, protected from pain. And, that we are somehow entitled to a life that is without big bumps.article continues after advertisement

To wish for a smooth and easy life, without great hardship, is natural and healthy, but to be tortured and feel punished by the fact that our life is like other lives, with its share of suffering and struggle, is to force ourselves to suffer senselessly and more than necessary. Human life includes hardship. You are human. You do the math. 

So too, releasing our grip on the handlebars involves acceptance. This bump, this boulder, dragon, wildfire, or crevasse in our path, is not something we can control; it’s bigger than us. What it’s doing here, why the universe put it in our path, we don’t know and may never know. This involves that most profound step we call surrender. When we truly surrender to the fact that we cannot wish, work, buy, pray, seduce, or strategize this challenge away, that it’s here whether we want it or not, then, we are on our way to a smoother ride and a different sort of serenity.  

Simultaneously, relaxing in the face of difficulty includes considering the possibility that there might something for us to learn from this bumpy path. While this broken pavement is a huge and scary obstacle now, perhaps something in all this turbulence can serve us later and help us grow. Perhaps something in all this difficulty and pain will help us be of service to others in some way at some time. While we can’t yet know what good might come from all this, staying open to this possibility, even when it seems unthinkable, can help us relax and roll with more ease. article continues after advertisement

As you roll through your life and encounter the bumps that every life contains, contemplate what it might mean to loosen your grip on the handlebars, to stop bracing against the ride. Ask yourself what that would look like in your own life. See if there’s a way to let go of the fight with reality, even when you absolutely despise your reality. Consider whether there’s anywhere or any way to relax with and within the reality that’s here, for now.

What’s certain is that when we brace against the challenges of life, fight with reality, reject our human vulnerability, rigidify our body and mind … when we do it that way, we strain other muscles, break other bones, and ultimately, we suffer, more than we have to. Counterintuitively, when we give ourselves the gift of relaxation, of softness, and acceptance; when we roll with not against our situation, we offer ourselves the smoothest ride possible on an inherently bumpy road. Strength and toughness are great skills, but it’s our ability to relax and roll when life gets hard that ultimately determines our resilience and wellbeing.

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When Your Relationship Is Not What You Think It “Should” Be

There comes a time in every relationship when you realize that something you think you need and “should” have is not available. What you do when you discover this can determine the future of the relationship, and your contentment within it. Our partner will have limitations, just as we will. It might be something small and meaningless, or something more serious, like unacknowledged anger issues. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if these are deal-breakers in the relationship.

Lily recently walked into the bedroom to find her husband, Ken, asleep. His sweater, which was covered in dog hair, was draped across her pillow. She wasn’t in the room but for a few seconds when Ken turned over, spun around to face her, and began unleashing his anger. “Look at it,” he said, accusatorially. “It’s dog hair. She’s been in here, sleeping in the bed. I had to change the pillowcases.” His tone was furious and aggressive. There was also a pile of laundered clothing on Lily’s side of the bed. “What is all this?” she asked. “Put it away,” he said sharply, and then turned back over and, after a few sighs, seemed to be back asleep. And no, he wasn’t dreaming.

Lily felt blindsided and completely confused. Why was he attacking her about the dog? Was he implying that she had left the door to the bedroom open? She had no idea what had just happened. But, given that it was late, she went about her nightly ritual, moved the clothing and hairy sweater, and went to sleep.

Ken was already at the breakfast table drinking coffee when Lily got up. She was carrying a lot of feelings as she sat down to join him. “What happened to you last night?” she asked. “I walked into the bedroom and you shouted at me, attacked me about the dog hair.” “I attacked you?” he said, raising his eyebrows, making a face and other mocking sounds.

Lily spoke quietly, “In my world, that was an emotional attack.”

Ken responded: “I didn’t shout at you. In what universe did I attack you? You think everything is an attack. Whatever you think, I’m sure it’s right.” Lily didn’t say any more. But when their daughter arrived at the table a few minutes later, Lily humorously told the story of what had happened the previous evening, mocking Ken’s rage and actions. As Lily put it, “I expressed myself to Ken, again, backhandedly this time, and let our daughter validate my feelings since he would not acknowledge anything had happened.”

Lily and Ken had been married for 14 years, with a lot of happiness.  Ken had always been quick to erupt over small things. But when his eruptions were done, which was also quickly, he carried on as if nothing had happened. He didn’t remember his anger. Anyone who pointed it out (which Lily had done many times) was then deemed to be distorting reality and attacking Ken. When these eruptions occurred, Lily was left feeling wounded and in need of an apology, which rarely came.  She wasn’t “gaslit” as she didn’t doubt her experience in any way, but still, she wanted Ken to acknowledge his behavior.  article continues after advertisement

After “the dog hair attack,” Lily felt upset, closed off, and emotionally attacked, even if it was in a small way. Maybe worse than the attack itself was the feeling of being further mistreated by what she believed was her husband’s demand that she pretend nothing had happened.

Lily desperately wanted to tell Ken that this was not OK, but she also knew no apology or empathy would be forthcoming. Rather, she would be judged for attacking him and inventing the whole thing. She felt trapped and alone. At the same time, Lily was angry and disappointed in herself for not having the courage to tell Ken how she felt. Lily believed that to truly respect herself, she had to be willing to be honest about how she felt.

She also knew that letting the incident go and moving forward would be the best choice if peace was what she wanted, and indeed it was. As Lily saw it, there was no good option. What she longed for, really, was a simple apology, an acknowledgment that he shouldn’t have spoken to her like that, even if it meant nothing to him.

For Lily, everything wrong about the marriage, a marriage she also very much enjoyed, was contained in this one incident. 

But her response felt inauthentic and incomplete; making fun of his behavior with her daughter didn’t take care of Lily—it didn’t make her feel more understood or loved. Was there a way to take care of herself, she wondered, even if her husband couldn’t give her what she needed?

When Lily and I dove into this experience together, we discovered a couple of powerful “shoulds” operating in the background of her mind, which, although not the problem, were intensifying her suffering. 

To begin with, Lily believed that she “should” be able to share all of her feelings with her partner and have them lovingly received. And that if she couldn’t share her truth, all the time, she should not be in the relationship. Lily also believed that she “should” have the courage (and be willing) to share her feelings with her partner, no matter what consequences doing so would create.article continues after advertisement

Together, we unpacked Lily’s suitcase of “shoulds,” exposing each to the test of the light. Was it really true that Lily “should” be willing to share all her feelings, no matter what consequences the sharing would create? Was sharing, even when she knew it would meet with defensiveness and rejection, really the self-respecting choice?

Was it possible that, in certain cases, the self-respecting and self-caring choice was to acknowledge and honor her experience—to herself—and not to her husband? Was it possible that the self-compassionate move was the one that took care of her pain but protected her from more aggression and misunderstanding?

And was it really true that she “should not” be in a relationship in which she could not share everything? Did Ken really have to always understand how she felt in order for her to feel good about herself? Furthermore, what if the story she was telling herself—that Ken had intentionally hurt her and was now bullying her into silence—was just a narrative of her own making and not the truth?article continues after advertisement

It occurred to her too, that when this happened in the future, she could simply hold up a “stop” hand to her husband, tell him she didn’t like or wouldn’t stand for his tone, or simply leave the room. She could choose to act in alignment with her discontent rather than explain it in words.

With her “shoulds” brought to light, Lily immediately felt freer. She realized that self-respect could come from not sharing rather than sharing—from actively choosing to protect herself from her husband’s defensiveness and anger.  This process was not about excusing his behavior but rather about seeing how her judgments about the what the relationship “should” be like were causing more suffering not less.

She accepted that her husband’s defensiveness was his issue and not something she could fix—and certainly not something that more disclosure on her part was going to change. She discovered that it was enough to acknowledge her experience to herself and take care of herself in the moment; she did not have to share all her feelings with her husband—even when they stemmed from his behavior.  

She also saw through her belief that a worthy relationship was one in which everything could be shared and received with an open heart. This marriage was worth a lot to her, and worth staying in, and at the same time, it contained a difficulty she couldn’t change.  And so, she started accepting her relationship for what it was and was not, which brought a lot of peace. article continues after advertisement

She was better off taking care of herself in the relationship that actually existed and with the partner who actually existed. Finally, Lily loosened her grip on the story she was telling herself about her husband’s intention to hurt her and his “demand” that she pretend nothing had happened.  She decided to let the meaning of his eruptions be the meaning he ascribed to them and not the meaning she had constructed.  When she let go of the idea that he was “doing that to her,”  the whole thing felt a lot lighter.

When what you want is not possible, and yet you still value and want to stay in the relationship, it is a good idea to investigate the stories you’re telling yourself about your partner and what’s happening in the relationship. Get to know the narrative you’re writing in your head about your partner’s intentions. So, too, it’s important to uncover the silent “shoulds” running in the background of your mind, the “shoulds” that are continually stoking your suffering. Unpacking your stories and “shoulds” is not a replacement for trying to change bad behavior, and not about justifying bad behavior, but it will free you to live more peacefully within your relationship—as it is.

One caveat: If your relationship feels abusive in any way, it’s important to leave, not to learn how to work with it.  This article is not meant to encourage you to find peace with what is consistently hurtful or to turn a blind eye to bad behavior.  Leaving an unhealthy relationship is an option that needs to be considered.  At the same time, every single intimate relationship, even the very best one, contains difficulty.  Joy and difficulty.  We often feel happy and want to stay in relationships that also contain aspects we don’t want and that are painful.  In this article, I hope to offer a path and some peace for anyone who chooses to accept and  stay in a relationship with elements that are not okay, and particularly elements that you cannot change.  

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Rushing to Be Okay Before You Are Okay

From the time we’re young, we’re taught to find the silver lining in every cloud, to search for the lesson in every challenge. Adversity is our teacher, darkness brings light, difficulty is an opportunity. Yes, that’s all useful, but sometimes, we rush the positive narrative before we’ve allowed ourselves to feel the actual feelings … the hard ones. The lessons we construct end up replacing the actual learning and we end up with a pseudo-wellbeing that isn’t real or resilient. Not being okay, for real, is also okay, and even necessary.

I recently broke my foot two days before going on a long-awaited beach vacation. The break was a non-weight-bearing injury. I didn’t know what that meant when the ER doctor first used the term, but I soon came to understand that it meant what it sounds like it meant; you cannot put your foot down on the ground for any reason, not without risking surgery or excruciating pain. And in my case, not for six weeks. While it’s not something you think about until you need to, not being able to set your foot down for any reason is a kind of big deal; it makes life very challenging.  Essentially, with a badly broken foot, you have to just sit down and sit still. 

At this moment in history, our world is not okay; we are not okay. Oddly, however, when things are not okay, we are told that we should be okay, should be able to get okay with not okay. The should police tell us that adversity is an opportunity for growth, and within all difficulty lies a great teaching. Suffering is our guru, a gift. And yes, that may all be true. But I wonder, does our positive, spiritual narrative around life’s challenges rush us into a pseudo-well-being, a flimsy mental construct, an okayness that’s not entirely real, not earned? Is there a time and place for actually not being okay … before we get to being okay with not being okay?   

So here I was, in this adorable boardwalk beach town, a town with endless opportunities for walking and running, for exploring neighborhoods by foot, spectacular hiking, bike riding, and swimming. A town meant to be fully and physically enjoyed … and no possibility of doing any of it.  I watched as my family (with my encouragement) traipsed off to explore the sweet town and neighboring towns, stroll the boardwalks, take sunrise jogs, participate in power yoga classes (on the beach), swim in the gentle waves, laugh their way through gigantic suburban grocery store aisles, and, basically, have a whole lot of fun. 

In the grand scheme, having to sit down and sit still is not the end of the world, not the biggest deal, and certainly not even a blip on the screen when it comes to what’s happening in the world.  But, for someone like me, it is a big deal—a monumental deal in fact. Moving is a fundamental ingredient in my well-being, like breathing and eating. Strange though it may sound, I don’t think a day has passed in the last 35 years when I didn’t feel immense gratitude for being able to head out on my daily walk or run. When I was pregnant and on bed rest, I knew that I would do anything and everything in my power to never not be able to move again. I have relied on being able to move and move quickly in order to feel emotionally and physically well; it’s my fix, my go-to feel-good drug that’s served me for a lifetime. So, here I was, sitting in my seat at the beach, still as a sloth, unable to give myself what I needed to be well. 

I felt really bad about not being able to walk or run or move much at all. But I noticed that I felt almost as bad about feeling bad. Many people I talked to about the situation told me some version of the silver lining to every cloud adage, with a little “oh, what a pain” thrown in for good measure. My more spiritually-inclined friends were excited by the situation and the teachings that awaited me in this opportunity. I felt disappointment in myself for thinking that this moment was anything other than perfect, and should be any other way, and sternly told myself to accept the present moment without resistance, since that’s all there was. My family reminded me to practice the power of now, along with the power of surrender, neither one of which, apparently, I was practicing. As my body atrophied on the sofa, my mind was soaking in shoulds, the ways I should be better-experiencing this unfortunate opportunity. I chided myself with Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how,” thinking about all those who had suffered before me with a purpose. I went full throttle on the self-throttling. I still felt awful about not being able to move and the timing of this injury with my long-awaited active vacation, but I felt just as terrible if not worse about the fact that I was feeling so terrible.    

But then it occurred to me that I was rushing myself to learn and feel something new and expansive in this mess, before I had actually learned it or felt it. I was demanding that I be a person who walked through this with great optimism and spiritual perspective. I realized that this idea of a hidden teaching, the “why” that made the “how” okay, and all the rest of the shoulds might just be a narrative that I was constructing. I was skipping an important step in the process, a step that needed to happen so that I could actually learn and grow, not just script the narrative of learning and growing. 

I was rushing to be okay with what was not okay, but without giving myself permission to genuinely not be okay, and not be the face of reason and hope. I had constructed a narrative about growth and opportunity before actually experiencing either one. I felt enormous pressure, most of it coming from inside myself, pressure to not be bothered, to find acceptance and peace about this situation. But I wasn’t there, not yet anyway, if I ever would be. Rather than compel myself to use this as a teaching, I had to actually let myself feel bad, feel sad, feel upset, feel angry, feel irritated, feel disappointed about this situation, this unfortunate event—to live it as I actually experienced it. I had to let the teaching teach me rather than construct a teaching that would work for my mind.

Getting okay with not okay is not about feeling good or even comfortable with what doesn’t feel good or comfortable. It’s not about manufacturing a positive lesson in a negative situation, before that lesson has actually revealed itself. It is, however, about having the courage to allow yourself to not be okay, actually not be okay, without judgment and the urgency to change it. There’s no reason to berate or shame yourself for feeling bad; bad things happen and we, sometimes, just plain have to feel bad. The feeling-bad part is a part of the process and the very part that leads to feeling good again. When you stop judging yourself for not being okay, you are indeed being okay with not being okay.

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Hitting the Pandemic Wall

How to keep going when you’re depleted and there’s no finish line in sight.

As a society, we are hitting the proverbial wall in this pandemic.  We’ve gone through the stage of being happy to clean out the closets, bake new goodies, catch up on every Netflix series we missed, or learn how to order a meal in a new language.  And, through the stage of celebrating this enforced pause, spending quality time with our kids, stepping off the hamster wheel of doing, remembering what’s most important to us, taking a break from making plans, feeling gratitude for what really matters and profound appreciation for the human capacity for kindness. 

At this point, months into the pandemic, the pies are baked, the dog is nearly dead from walking, the closets are clean, the notebooks are filled-up with gratitude lists, the kids are sufficiently hugged, the songs are sung, the pilot-light campfire is burned out, the Netflix shows have all been watched, the pots are banged, the dance parties danced, the zoom happy hours imbibed. So, what now?

There is a general malaise, hopelessness, boredom, and depression settling in on our collective psyche.  As the weather improves and summer starts to beckon, we are itching to get out and do things, fun things, new things.  We want to make plans, start living, adventuring, and imagining, but we can’t—not yet.  

We don’t know when this will end, and if it will come back again, with a vengeance.  We don’t know when a vaccine or reliably helpful drug will appear.  Or, when the grown-ups will reappear and come up with a plan to get us through this.  We don’t know when we will go back to working in offices, or safely eating in restaurants, or hugging our friends without worry.  Will summer camp happen?  Will there be a fall term in schools?  Will air travel be possible?  Will we end up being quarantined again at the end of the year?  Will we get to live a regular life again?  We don’t know the answer to all these questions and really, every question we are asking these days.  We are living with an infinite question mark.

We’ve hit the twenty-mile mark in this pandemic marathon, the stretch where we don’t know how or even if we can keep going … when it feels like we can’t go on another moment, are completely spent, empty, and all reserves have been used up. 

One thing is certain: there’s nothing novel left in this time of the Novel Coronavirus.  As we head towards the end of yet another month spent in this strange land of quarantine, how can we stay hopeful and energetic?  And can we?  From where, within ourselves, are we to dig up the strength and resilience to keep moving forward, keep being our best selves?  How do we continue to live with intention, purpose, hope, and positivity?  Are these qualities lost until this crisis is over?  And furthermore, what is our intention at this point?

To begin with, intention, purpose, hope, and possibility are not gone and not lost.  These qualities do not need to be put on hold (along with everything else) until we can take off our masks.  This stage in the pandemic, which includes our weariness, exhaustion, and despondency, along with (sometimes) flashes of hope, strength, and anticipation, is a moment to double-down on the practice of self-compassion and being present. This is a moment to welcome all of our experience, the good, bad, and ugly, and to do so with a sense of fierce loving kindness.  Now is the time to acknowledge the truth with honesty and courage, without leaving anything out or deluding ourselves.  Yes, I’m tired, sad, irritated, angry, frustrated, lonely, hopeless, bored, powerless, and whatever else I am.  And yes, I miss the life I knew and am ready for this to end.  At the very same time, now is the time to remind ourselves, with unrelenting kindness, this is what is.  This is what’s true.  I cannot change this.  And, this too shall change and pass. article continues after advertisement

This wall we’re hitting now is an opportunity to surrender and walk the ultimate spiritual path, to say yes to what’s here, without fighting, even when what we’re saying yes to is something we positively don’t want.  This is the real moment to practice being in the present moment when we don’t like the present moment and can no longer see the purpose of it.

When our life is going well, we can be the person we want to be without too much effort; our best self feels possible and doable.  So too, when we face new challenges, when things are freshly difficult, we can also find ways to be our best selves.  We create a storyline about our ability to rise up and meet life’s difficulty, to make lemonade from lemons. We tell ourselves that who we are in difficulty is who we really are.  We have all sorts of strategies for shaping our attitude and behavior in newly difficult situations.  But the real challenges arise when the hardship has been around for a while, when it has ceased to be new, obviously meaningful, or interesting.  When hardship becomes the norm, the spiritual warrior in us must awaken.  Here, in the long hallway, before the exit door has come into view, is when our real warrior self is not just wanted, but needed.  Here is where we must set the intention to attend to this moment with no past and no future attached, no months of quarantine behind it, and no plans for what lies ahead in front of it.  No next.  Here, we set an intention to say yes to just this moment and all that it contains.

We’ve moved past the novelty and fascination with this pandemic.  We’ve now taken up residence in the uncomfortable, sustained, and not obviously teachable part of this experience.  This is the stage at which we have to practice presence with renewed focus and intensity.  The more we want out, the more our mind wants to wander off to what could, should or might be, the more rigorously we must practice bringing our attention back to here where we are.  Paradoxically, our presence in this difficulty is our best protection from despair.  Now is the time to ask ourselves, again and again, what’s happening right here where I am, inside and outside of me?  And with that, who do I want to be in this very moment? 

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