Is this the Beginning, the Middle or the End?
Yes! The short answer is all of the above, all at once.
We're living in such a time warp these days (or is it months now?) where some plans are accelerated to "not someday - now!" and others in motion have slowed to a crawl or even a halt.
But where are we in this oddly elastic timeline created by the coronavirus pandemic resulting in extreme contraction of public life: Relieved that we've weathered the storm and come out on the other side? Still waiting for the other shoe to drop? Resigned to endless emergency?
We don't need to choose between one or another of these responses, but we do need to orient ourselves somehow in a context that feels real as we try to establish some kind of stability for ourselves and move forward.
I believe many of us can even flourish in this bizarre situation, and create an increasingly better outcome for all. Let's start with embracing the dichotomy - or in this case, a trichotomy - where all three answers are simultaneously true.
It's the beginning...
March 13 was the last day I gave a hands-on a Reiki session to a client, in a nursing home that wisely closed its doors to all but the most essential personnel after that. March 15 was the last day our Spiritualist church met in person, and even then I felt a little naughty, aware that some reasonable adults were already calling off church and other group gatherings.
So March 16 marks the beginning of my "home-based lifestyle" - not entirely quarantine, more like a working staycation - and my husband joined me nine days later. Since then I've completely moved my business and church online, and I'm finally feeling like I'm hitting my stride with nearly total virtual community. I no longer visit my mother in a nearby residential care facility, and only go out for curbside grocery pickup or herbs from our naturopath, to drop off recycling and trash, to check our post office box and to buy fresh food from a neighboring farm. Other than a visit to the hospital when my husband was experiencing severe COVID-like symptoms but tested negative, that's it for outings in the car. Plus I take long walks on our dirt road, where I rarely pass another pedestrian, though I still tie a bandana around my neck just in case. All other human contact is on Zoom, or occasionally by phone.
You've likely got a laundry list of what has changed significantly in your life and household as well. Two months is not a long time to acclimate to these major changes. Any lifestyle changes take time to accept, whether we like them or not, and these are particularly volatile as scientists scramble to pin down and piece together even rudimentary information on how the novel coronavirus behaves and how we can be safest, and political leaders scramble to enact and adjust guidelines and mandates for public health without provoking hostile responses or unnecessarily depriving people of basic resources. Then there's the economic chaos, definitely just getting started.
New beginnings have accumulated daily, sometimes hourly, because we're needing to reinvent nearly every routine activity from hand washing frequency and duration to meal planning without going to restaurants or stopping by the store for that one special ingredient, from getting dressed to go out - don't forget the mask! - to sanitizing light switches and doorknobs at bedtime. It has been exhausting at times when things that "should" be easy are awkward and frustrating, like trying to recognize my neighbor's face half-covered with a bandana or smile with my eyes to let someone know I care when my mouth is hidden. I've even dreamt of finding myself in public without a mask on, horrified. It's the new nightmare version of performing to a crowd with no pants on. Yikes.
We can't even name all the changes coming in the months and years ahead, though we have an inkling of some, and they're not all pretty. Yes, we're talking about months and years, despite the rush in some places to pretend that a few weeks forgoing parties and travel was enough to quell the unfolding tragedy. And the longer we play chicken with the virus in this state or that city, this business and that social gathering, the longer it will take to get it right and learn how best to manage this thing that is, in some fashion, here to stay.
However, I also believe this is the beginning of many powerful opportunities to shape those months and years and the systems that will emerge from this moment, as long as it lasts, which might be, in many aspects, forever.
So let's be patient with ourselves and others. We're just getting started.
... it's the middle...
We've actually come a long way in the last couple of months, in many respects. New cleaning routines are now familiar habits, everyone in our Spiritualist community on Zoom has found the mute/unmute icon, chat and video options. We've even joined a virtual cocktail party devoted to discussing climate change. And I've enjoyed the shift from commuting over three mountains in the Subaru to brisk walking in unseasonably chilly weather that feels like Spring hit the pause button just when we all retreated to our burrows for another six weeks.
And I'm embracing pivoting Essential Arts to all virtual offerings. Virtual Reiki sessions aren't new to my practice, but I've long wanted to share online programs and I'm grateful that in this moment I can offer exactly what's needed in the maelstrom of stress and chaos - relaxation training, caring, healing support, and I can do it from home. I've been developing content and formats on and off for years, and I'm feeling confident I can produce, market and deliver high-quality online programming, which is pretty exciting. I look forward to developing a vibrant, permanent virtual Essential Arts community, even if I resume work with clients and programs in person again at some point.
We've been at this long enough to see some things that are working and some that aren't. Staying home, washing hands, disinfecting surfaces, wearing masks and social distancing are definitely working. In Vermont, where we have successfully flattened the curve up to this point, there's a saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Sadly, some folks are taking out their frustrations on the very people who are trying to help us all stay safe, whether medical staff or government decision-makers, even store employees asking customers to help protect each other, and we're going to see the repercussions of these dangerous experiments very soon and for as long as they keep happening in the petri dish of public space. And I do recognize that not everyone can comply with the best recommended practices due to factors like not having access to curbside grocery pickup or delivery, feeling economic pressure to reopen a business before it's safe, mental health challenges of isolation, even PTSD triggered by restrictive face coverings, and many more.
Still, we've got to be willing to stretch our comfort zones as we reasonably can, to ask ourselves what more we can do to stay safe and help others. This must be part of the new normal, to assume more responsibility for the wellbeing of our whole community, until all are cared for equitably.
We're out of the starting gate, but nowhere near the home stretch, for we're already looking at recreating entire systems that form the foundations of our society, some temporarily and some permanently. The dust has not yet settled, nor the smoke cleared, so we don't even know what the new landscape will look like, yet some are already starting to rebuild.
The good news is that we can shape and influence the new normal going forward from where we are right now. The relationships we build with our neighbors, the local food systems strengthened, our own improved health, cleaner natural environment, outrage at the unnecessary suffering of the most vulnerable, and transformational activism - these gains will carry us forward if we nurture and cultivate them, if we refuse to succumb to complacency once our personal situation stabilizes.
We're bound together by powerful invisible systems in every area of our lives, and while it's true that white, middle class professionals who can work from home online are advantaged in this situation, it could be different if the next crisis leaves us without electricity, cable tv and internet, and those with family or community gardens, strong neighborhoods, subsistence farms, manual skills and creative hobbies have the advantage.
In every situation, wellness and self-care are crucial, and now many people either find they have the time to pursue new wellness practices like relaxation and healing, or they're busier, juggling more than before, which means they too need support and self-care more than ever.
Resiliency is rooted in diversity and cooperation as well as self-reliance and self-responsibility, in balance and integration. Ideally, we're learning to be flexible, open our minds, try new things, question habits, stop taking things for granted, prioritize wellness and home, reach out to give and receive support. This is a long-term collective experiment and the stakes are obviously high.
Let's cultivate endurance, with deep compassion for ourselves and others. We're on a steep learning curve that looks a lot like the hockey stick of infection rates, but flattening the curve means sticking with our best practices and growing exponentially as well.
... and it's the end.
We have already seen the end of many things familiar to us, and many more are winding down, transforming, being replaced or leaving enormous gaps in reality. Packing into movie theaters, eating at buffets, even shaking hands and casual hugging seems absurdly dangerous today, and maybe forever.
Grieving is the primary shared experience in the world right now. Yet grieving is a natural process, and ultimately one of healing. The stages of grief allow us to process and adapt to the unthinkable if we allow ourselves and others the time, space and support needed to cope in our own ways, short of endangering others.
Sharing the sense of loss makes it easier to bear. Unfortunately, some are impacted more harshly than others due to systemic prejudice, ignorance and greed, but everyone is touched in some way. This commonality is our strength, and can make it easier to let go of some outdated systems and habits that really did not serve the wellbeing of the whole community, even if we found them convenient. We have the courage within us to do what's right.
This can be the end of business as usual that sacrifices those less valued for the gain of the powerful, the end of insanity that pollutes the very elements we need for our survival every day, the end of power and success defined as domination and exploitation, the end of hoping someone else will take care of it, figure it out, clean it up.
In this moment of upheaval, we are at a profound crossroad where we can stop to pause and reflect before choosing, very mindfully, our next direction. We need to examine our priorities, our options and resources, and our ideals, and commit to making sure they are in alignment, not sacrificing one for another. We must be dedicated to the best solutions for the greatest good of all, perhaps not a happily-ever-after ending, but an outcome we can be proud of.
Let's mourn our losses and celebrate the opportunities of this moment. We've got a lot of healing and creating to do.
Time warp ... and weave.
In this moment, it's like all time is compressed. The past rushes in to haunt us, the future looms in chaos, and the present is reduced to coping.
There's never been a better time to be centered in the present moment, for "now" is all we have, as if it's becoming untethered from what we knew before and what we had expected would lie ahead.
When we learn to relax, to let our wounds heal and our brilliance arise, we can gain wisdom from the perspective of increasing our distance from the past with every day, and we can envision freshly the possibilities for what's to come.
From this place of peace, we will create peace. From compassion for ourselves we cultivate compassion for others, all others. From gratitude for this one meal, this one breath, this one day, we create a grateful heart that honors and blesses every being, every resource, every opportunity, every challenge.
Let's begin with patience, endure and become more resilient, grieve and celebrate together ... now.
Learn 2 Relax is a new Essential Arts program that's about to be released this May, so be sure to sign up at www.essentialarts.net to receive six days of free offerings in your inbox and opportunities for deeper wellness support.