One of my teachers said this to me last year: Let yourself be changed by the pandemic. Do not struggle to hold on to how things were. Do not attempt to maintain your life in the image of the past. The world is changing massively – be changed with it.
While I took in this guidance intellectually, I’ve been noticing nonetheless my habit to move through my days as if life IS ultimately the same as before, as if nothing has really changed at my core.
I catch myself unthinkingly inhabiting a belief that at some point “the pandemic will be over,” and then I’ll resume frequent travel, I’ll re-start my in-person client practice, I’ll spontaneously invite a friend to meet up, things will “go back” to how they were. It’s not that I’m consciously nursing a desire for my pre-pandemic life, it’s just an unexamined expectation, like quiet background music.
“Let the pandemic change you.”
What does this instruction ask of us? What could it mean to “be changed” by this pandemic? What is the invitation in these words?
I hear it as encouragement to actively notice what unintentional shifts are happening to me because of the pandemic – to really take stock of what’s living through me right now – and then to make a conscious choice of how I want to be changed.
In truth, the relentless momentum of change that is upon us is like an avalanche. We can brace ourselves to resist it with a firm grip on the past, and find ourselves completely taken under – or we can ask ourselves, “Where do I want this momentum to take me?” and start aiming our lives with careful intent.
It is often said, we become what we practice. According to Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do.” It is not a one-time accomplishment that defines us, like winning a footrace – it is the practice of running every day. So what will we practice, as this pandemic stretches towards the 2-year mark?
In recent weeks, I’ve been getting honest with myself – I’ve been surveying how the pandemic has actually been changing me and the people around me. And I’ve been making some decisions. Here, then, are some of the ways I’ve decided to aim to be changed:
- When we feel threatened (or listen to others who feel threatened), it’s easy to become self-focused, to circle the wagons and look out for “ours,” to stockpile and guard our resources. Last week, I received a personal email seeking donations for urgent medical treatment for the founder of a non-profit, Favela Da Paz, in Brazil. This man had been the guest speaker in an online course I had attended, and he had taught movingly, poignantly, on living in a gift economy in one of the most violent slums in São Paulo. “He lives with very little money,” the email read. “He has given a lot to the world, and it would be wonderful if he experienced the world taking care of him too.” I felt my heart warm as I watched the fundraising needle rise, clicking the refresh button to watch the amount grow throughout the day, a visual measure of our community offering him support and love. The fundraising goal was met in 12 hours. We naturally take care of each other when we feel our connection.
I will practice seeing strangers as my kin. I will practice generosity.
- I rarely have occasion to meet new people these days. I feel lonely more frequently. We can consciously create opportunities to interact, even through the awkwardness of a new format or restrictions – we can take down our guard, get vulnerable, and make the first move to invite someone to a conversation. We can breathe new intimacy into old friendships. A friend of mine told me she has started a new practice of reaching out to one person every day. Sometimes she calls an old friend for a newsy catch-up, and sometimes she simply texts a “hello, I’m thinking about you,” but the key is it’s a daily act of connecting.
I will practice connecting with people beyond the superficial.
- Fear is rampant these days, sometimes undercover, and often used as a tool of persuasion in our media. We can notice our fear and tease it apart – what exactly am I fearful of here? Is that a reasonable fear? If not, what do I need in order to allow my nervous system to leave fight or flight mode and settle? A nightly warm bath with diffused jatamamsi or lavender essential oil is one of my favorite ways to embody safety. In one of our weekly meetings, an Inner Wisdom Circle member who is a somatic-based therapist shared that in healing trauma, “Safety IS the treatment.” We can consciously cultivate the sensations and emotions of safety, and then appreciate it, relish it, give our sensory system a chance to take it in.
I will practice feeling safe and evoking a feeling of trust.
- Moving the body is so very life-giving! For those of us privileged to be working from home via a computer, it’s easy to be relatively still all day, and to feel stagnant physically (and mentally) by day’s end. We need blood to circulate nutrients to every tissue, and we need the animating power of prāna to reach every cell. I often take a walk outside around 5pm to process the mental detritus of a full day and infuse my body with energy. As winter makes getting outside less tempting, I’m calling on the good ol’ buddy system to meet my sister at a gym.
I will practice moving with enthusiasm.
- Nature itself is medicine when I have spent too long inside. It soothes all ailments, physical and mental. It restores the eyesight to gaze at natural scenes after a day of screens. It restores the hearing to listen to birds and wind in the branches after the “white noise” of indoor environments. It restores our electromagnetic field to be surrounded by the force of rocks, trees, earth. In a time where emerging from our homes feels tinged with danger, we must remember: nature heals us.
I will practice immersing myself in nature.
- I am out of touch – literally. We need touch, the physical affirmation of another body making contact. When I see my sister, she often asks, “Did you get your 7 hugs today?” I’m not sure where she got the number 7, but she is confident it’s the minimum recommended daily allowance every person should receive. Since I live alone, she often enlists my nephews to help me stock up when I visit their house. “Kitty and puppy snuggles count,” she assures me.
I will practice hugging and asking for touch. I will practice abhyanga.
- The influence of technology is vast and minute – it penetrates every part of our day through devices that many literally bring to bed at night. Often defended as a portal to connection, our hand-held devices are designed to create a sense of urgency at best, or a false perception of reality at worst. I have felt myself become even more trained, addicted to, and subjugated by this thing. We assuage ourselves with promises to use it only under certain circumstances, yet it is sneaky and repeatedly escapes confinement. When I don’t call up my full arsenal of intent, I quietly fall under someone or something else’s control.
I will practice unplugging from technology and other people’s agendas. I will practice stimulating my mind with self-generated creativity.
- In the public narrative, our good health has become something to defend, a gemstone treasure we possess that could be taken from us if we aren’t vigilant. We hunker down to protect it, building up thicker walls so no one can breach the fortress and steal the prize. The solution seems always to defend harder. We forget that we could also do something every day to strengthen our health, so that even if an interloper gets past the wall, the gemstones have multiplied. In addition to defending, we could eat like a healthy person eats, we could move like a healthy person moves, we could laugh like a healthy person laughs.
I will practice BEING healthy.
When someone asks me years from now, “how did the Pandemic change you?” I want to feel good about my answer. I plan to say: It made me more generous, more creative, less fearful, more connected to my community, more trusting, and healthier than I have ever been.
“Let the pandemic change you.”
If we choose it, we have the power and creativity to impact how we will be changed. What will you practice in 2022? Please share your decisions in the Comments below – I’d love to hear what you will be practicing!