It’s a popular phrase – “these times of uncertainty.” Implicit in this phrase, at least for me, has been an unconscious belief/wish/hope/expectation that at some point the times will become more certain. When I look around at my life and the world from the vantage point of my sixth decade, I realize I’ve been engaged in magical thinking in waiting for the arrival of this illusive moment.
There are times when we feel like we are on more of an even keel than others. We enjoy the harmony and want it to continue. As is often said, whether you’re feeling happy or miserable, don’t get attached. It will change. There is a wish for things to settle down, settle in and be predictable. At least so we can catch our breath.
It’s not news to anyone in the modern world that we are living in the midst of phenomenal and accelerated social, cultural, political, and technological change. The more connected we are virtually, the more accelerated it feels. The systems we built to get us to the present aren’t going to work for the future that’s coming. The new is unfolding, as it always does, though we can’t see it yet. The birth process can be a painful one and is not for the faint of heart. It’s even more painful when the old systems (which include us – our mindsets and expectations) attempt to control a natural process that cannot be controlled.
This uncertainty brings both excitement and stress into our personal lives. Lately, the pressure feels amplified. We see it around us in the stress of others and feel it in ourselves. Tempers are short. Patience is tested. Outlooks can seem gloomy.
It’s been quite a year for blame, criticism and manufactured fear. It’s also been a very challenging year for lots of people with so much loss and letting go.
So how do we keep our spirits alive and not become paralyzed in order to live generatively and generously? How do we keep ourselves engaged when it’s easier to check out and go shopping, binge watch the latest series, and/or lose ourselves in social media? (To name a few of my go-to’s.) A temporary and false sense of relief followed by a crash similar to a junk food binge. (I’m not saying we don’t need a diversion from time to time. It’s when we become addicted and immobilized that it presents problems.)
Connect. Care. Contribute.
Isolation is a dangerous neighborhood. Our public discourse has become more and more positional; breeding suspicion, distrust and even hatred between us. The answer is not to go to our corners and shore up our positions. It is to connect.
- Connect: to yourself, one another, what and who you love, your gifts and talents, what gives you energy. Connecting to a higher power that is greater than us can be very comforting. Spending time in nature is a powerful way to connect to the great mystery. Meditate to connect within.
- Participate in groups. If you don’t have one, join one. Find a cause that’s important to you and get involved. If it’s a group of people not like you, who don’t share the same world view, even better. Listen for the common ground. It’s there. If you can’t find it at first, listen harder.
- Nurture your community. If you don’t have one, find one. Change happens when loose, informal groups of people come together around things they care about. The small group is the vehicle for change.
- If you qualify for any category of 12-step work, they are a great place to work on yourself in the company of others who are different than you yet share a common goal.
- Play more. It’s healthy and is a great way to connect.
In times of stress it’s important to increase our vigilance around care – for ourselves, loved ones, communities, and the planet we share. Giving ourselves time to integrate conflicting feelings, resting, taking breaks from the onslaught to reflect will sustain us.
- Be kind. Do it for no other reason than it feels good. Open doors, let people go in front of you in line, merge into your lane, give generous compliments. Kindness creates openings and spaciousness between us. And don’t forget to be kind to yourself.
- I like Anne Lamott’s practice of flirting with elders. Listen for their wisdom. They’ve seen it all (albeit in different incarnations) and don’t find a lot of people to listen to them.
- Bring people together to talk, cook, learn something new together. Start with what you have in common and care about. Follow wherever it leads.
Action relieves anxiety. Offer what you can. Service takes us out of ourselves and benefits the greater good. Share your gifts and talents in any way that means something to you. Help is needed everywhere.
- Volunteer for a cause you believe in. You know, the one you keep thinking about but don’t get around to calling. This time of year is rich with opportunities.
- Make art. Whatever your medium, even if you don’t think you have one, art is a powerful vehicle to integrate feelings and experiences.
- Create beauty. In your home, office, for others who don’t have the capacity or resources.
- Plant a garden. Make sure to include some spring flowers. It’s the best metaphor for hope.