When the entire world - literally - has been thrown into an unexpected and scary state of flux, we can very easily find ourselves in a state of panic. We become vulnerable to fear and the anxiety that comes with things being completely out of control and having absolutely no idea what is going to happen next. We also can find ourselves consumed with grief for what has been lost, including milestone event celebrations, the reassuring structure of our everyday routines, and in some horrible cases, loved ones who were dear to us.
These are all devastating things that happen during a terrible time. In times like these it is healthy and necessary to acknowledge our pain and disappointment, so they can be dealt with and we can eventually move on from them. There’s no secret formula for how long mourning takes, but we have to allow ourselves to feel the bad feelings and take as long as we need to recover from them.
While we’re doing that, and while we’re dealing with an ever-changing set of rules and expectations of ourselves and our fellow humans, I wonder if we can turn these times into ones that could ultimately be beneficial to ourselves once the hard part is over.
The word that keeps coming to my mind when I think about this is: Freedom.
It seems like during these difficult times that some rules no longer apply. There are new rules, to be sure, but it seems like when we’re navigating unknown and potentially dangerous territory, some of the old things that we were taught no longer serve us. For example, a lot of us were taught that “success” looks like a high powered job, a big house, and a lot of disposable income we can use to buy expensive things. Well, with massive job losses across the country and the entire world, retirement investments taking a nose dive, and bank accounts being drained on a daily basis, “success” looks very different to us today. “Success” means keeping ourselves and our families safe and healthy, it means looking out for our neighbors and people in our community who need help, and it means being socially responsible and respectful of the people with whom we share the Earth. “Success” can mean devoting time and effort into helping children with their online learning, while still managing to take a shower and get some semblance of dinner on the table at the end of the day. “Success” right now can mean pivoting a previously face-to-face business to one with a strong online presence, and adapting to the current social distancing rules. With everyone sharing the burden of a global pandemic, I believe there is a freedom in redefining the typical definition of things like “success.”
Some of us were taught that beauty means a certain number on a scale and a certain color of hair, which often take upkeep and maintenance provided at gyms and hair salons. With those businesses shuttered for the foreseeable future, I wonder if we can embrace the freedom of letting our roots go gray or not worrying if we gain a few pounds during this time. OR, we can also enjoy the freedom of being innovative regarding these things - like maybe trying a fun new hair color that we do ourselves or creating our own weights out of paint cans from the garage or fashioning a jump rope out of bungee cords. There can be a beautiful freedom in allowing ourselves to take creative control over things…and also in letting go of those things that might be causing us stress.
There’s also a profound freedom in taking this time to do things outside of the box; things that we never had time for, or things that we were afraid of doing for whatever reason. Just last night I participated in a virtual reunion with cast members from a show I did in college 30 years ago. It worked because we’re all home right now, we all have plenty of time on our hands, and we’re all looking to connect with other people while being unable to congregate with friends and relatives like we used to. It was a little scary to reach out to all of these people, most of whom haven’t seen each other in decades, but everybody who was on board jumped in wholeheartedly and it was an uplifting and very memorable experience. If you’ve always wanted to build something or write something or paint something, I would encourage you to take this time to at least start it in some way. We don’t know if we’ll ever have “down” time like this again in our lives, so I think it would be fantastic to embrace the freedom to follow our lifelong dreams and passions during it.
Yes, these times are difficult and unsteady and at times they can be terrifying. But as always, we have the choice of how we look at the circumstances around us. We can choose to get caught up in the frenzy of hoarding supplies, the maelstrom of panic, fear, and uncertainty, or the dreadful practice of judging others in order to make ourselves feel better. Or we can choose to see the bright side of the situation, to appreciate the beauty of the smog-free blue sky and breathe the clearer air outside, and to welcome the freedom that comes with the regular rules being suspended for a while. Hopefully, when things return to a more normal state, we will have learned to keep that freedom alive in our hearts and minds, and not let the societal rules of success and beauty take hold of our psyches and hem us in from achieving true happiness. We can learn a lot from how we deal with arduous situations and we can choose how we come out of them on the other side.
Wishing you good health, safety, freedom, and happiness, now and always.