March 17, 2020

What the Coronavirus is Teaching Me: 5 Lessons from Uncertain Times.

“Trying to create what you want while being in resistance to what is, is like trying to paddle a canoe forward when your fishing line is stuck on a branch at the bottom of the lake. Embracing uncertainty and adopting the subsequent attitude of curious surrender in this circumstance enables us to metaphorically unhook ourselves from the bottom of the lake and move forward.” ~ Teal Swan


I can’t stop checking the news.

The human mind doesn’t like uncertainty. It’s too threatening.

We’re wired to want to know how things are going to turn out. To know the shape and textures our days will hold. I’ll admit it—I get a little unhinged when my kids have a snow day, and the day I’d planned dissolves the moment I get that text from the school.

So when a deadly virus with no known cure emerges, resembling the common cold and influenza? Our minds—not unlike the stock market—definitely don’t like that.

Most of us depend on life pretty much replicating itself day after day, without sharp fluctuations.

That’s why I can’t seem to stop myself from peeking at the news, though I know it’s only increasing my anxiety. I’m searching for a map that will show me how this will all unfold, whether the people I love will be okay, how much my daily routine might be inconvenienced.

There is, of course, no such map. Or if there is, the map changes constantly. On Saturday, it still seemed okay to schedule playdates for my kids—by Sunday, it didn’t.

But even in less dramatic times, uncertainty pulses just below the surface of all of our lives. Always. Accidents happen, people we love get sick or die or betray us. Earthquakes and tornados sweep through, literally or metaphorically.

And uncertainty doesn’t just bring about the unwelcome.

It can also present us with the person we meet at that party we almost didn’t go to; the natures of our children, sweeter and more complicated and nuanced than any daydream could conjure; the way sometimes, we sit down and create something—a riff or a poem or a doodle—where previously there was only air.

When there’s no clear map, we craft our own.

Feel it all.

I’ve heard a lot of people minimizing their feelings over what’s unfolding. We’re in uncharted territory, and that brings up a lot of emotions.

It’s okay—in fact, it’s natural—to be scared.

It’s okay to be angry. Some of us will get sick. Some of us will die or lose people we love. Many of us will face financial repercussions. Nearly all of us will experience a jarring level of disruption to our lives during an era of unprecedented convenience. We need to make space for our grief and frustration and fear.

Adapt an attitude of “curious surrender.”

When we make space for our feelings, when we allow ourselves to experience and express them, we create room for looking at our situation differently. I adore the idea of “curious surrender.”

If this is our new and ever-morphing reality, what might we learn from it? How might it reshape us in positive ways? Who might we be when we strip away the excess appointments and commitments? What do we suddenly have time for? If we’re forced into stillness, can we hear the low and steady voice within that’s whispering for us to make a change?

In slowing the spread of the coronavirus, will we experience the unexpected sweetness of slowing down?

Take care of ourselves.

It is okay—in fact, it’s necessary—for us to steady ourselves, to care sweetly for ourselves, so that we can be there for others.

I’m an intensely introverted person who struggles with unexpected snow days. Now we’re facing at least two weeks—and likely much longer—of being home with my kids and husband, with no outside company. Do you hear my silent screams?

To cope, I’m reminding myself to stick with routines that are sustainable—for me, that means continuing to journal and write, meditate, practice yoga, and read—so I’ll be more centered when it’s time to flex in whatever ways we’ll need to flex. I’m also experimenting with putting my phone down and making the times when I do check the news more intentional.

Take care of others.

As the situation emerges over the days and weeks to come, I want to keep an eye out for who might need extra help. Right now I’m thinking of those who are immunocompromised, the elderly, small business owners, healthcare workers, families challenged by a lack of childcare. Right now, this might look like buying gift cards to yoga studios and restaurants. Later, it will likely look very different.

Be open to the hidden gifts.

Often I fret about our dependence on technology, but right now, I’m so grateful for it. It’s never been easier to stay home, yet stay connected. To work without leaving the kitchen table. To check on people I care about, to see their faces without being in the same room. To be entertained, and to keep my kids entertained.

These are hard times.

May they also make us more essential. More loving and gentle and raw. May it strip away the unnecessary, the excess, anything that doesn’t bring us alive. May we find moments of bright beauty speckled among the intense uncertainty. May we call attention to these strange and stunning gifts.

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