Well, here we are. Most of us are still on lockdown.
Most of us have had at least a few mental breakdowns at this point. Most of us have missed out on or had to cancel things that we were really looking forward to.
Most of us have wondered what corner of the world we could go to where we can go to the beach and sit at the local bar and pretend everything is normal. Most of us are now thinking about how in the States we’re entering summer, the season of outdoor bars, concerts, festivals, baseball games, and barbecues—all of which now are not happening.
I have a confession. I’ve had as many breakdowns, “I want to go out right nows,” and “I can’t do this much longers” as the next guy, but I’ve actually really enjoyed quarantine.
Of course, the devastating effects of COVID-19 are not lost on me. I’ve chosen to take the perspective of honoring lives lost by leaning into this time, because I’m sure you’ve heard by now, there is so much to gain from the introspection that we’ve been offered.
All that being said, I’m not here to tell you about the opportunities and the perspectives today.
I’m here to tell you “how I’ve remained so positive,” as a family member recently pointed out.
The answer is: I’ve spent the majority of my time practicing a new skill.
To boil this down as simply as possible, my practice of presence is existing only in the moment that you are in, actively choosing to focus on what is empowering in “the now.”
What are the thoughts that send us into a spiral?
Omg if we can’t go to a bar this summer, I’m going to go crazy.
If my trip in November is cancelled, I’m going to be miserable.
I wonder if my ex is social distancing. Maybe he’s actually at a secret party right now. Should I be at a secret party?
There are so many reasons why these are the thoughts that send us into a spiral under normal conditions. First, in short, at the moment that we’re thinking them, these things are not true. Our brain has made them up. We are worrying about something that is fictional. You’d be better off to worry about what’s going to happen on the next episode of your favorite TV show.
Second, when we say things like, “If this happens, then I____,” you are essentially damning yourself. When we determine and declare how we will react if something happens, our ego will go into overdrive to make it happen. You are deciding that you will not be okay, and then when the time comes, you will wonder why you’re not okay.
Lastly, and our topic for today, none of those things are happening in the now that you are in.
The truth is, if I thought about the fact that I had big plans for this summer, was planning to move across the world, travel, and meet new people, I would feel pretty depleted. If I worried about the consequences of everything going on and how long this is going to last, I would feel pretty hopeless. So, I don’t.
There are so many of my favorite teachers and thought leaders from Deepak Chopra to Michael Singer who teach about presence, and I highly recommend looking into the idea yourself.
In the meantime, these have been the keys to practicing and cultivating presence during COVID19 that have worked for me:
The first thing that’s important to realize is that deciding you are going to practice presence does not magically dispel all of the thoughts you have that are not in the spirit of presence—especially if you are someone who usually lives with the kind of thoughts aforementioned anyway.
Understand that your brain is going to go there—it’s okay. Just as it went there, it can go somewhere else. So, the first practice you have to adopt is awareness.
What are my thoughts saying right now? Oh, they’re talking to me about something that might not even happen and that is not contributing anything positive or empowering in my life. Time to change the subject.
If you’re finding you have a hard time changing the subject (which is likely and again, totally fine), take stock of the now. Make a mental or written checklist of what you can do and focus on in this moment that would be empowering and positive. Maybe you notice that your neck is tense, so you decide you’ll play some calming music and stretch for a few minutes. Maybe you notice you forgot to make your bed today, so you go make your bed. Maybe you notice there’s someone in the next room you can go check in on, go have a chat.
This is also where you may notice and dive into some of the deeper work that this time is calling us to do. If you’re ready for this step, I’d invite you to take a look at that negative or disempowering thought that keeps circling, and journal about it:
Why is it that this thought is staying with me? What would I have to believe differently to think something empowering rather than disempowering?
2. Protecting yourself from the anti-presence
As you begin this process of cultivating awareness and presence, you begin to realize you’re feeling better. Then something may happen. You may walk into the next room and the news is on. Wa, wa, waaa. And now you’re right back where you were. Anything that is going to cause you to be taken out of your beautiful, new state of living in the now, from the news to the person you know that always has something negative to say—let’s call them: the anti-presence—have got to go.
Now I know some of you are thinking you may have some reason, valid or not, why you can’t cut the anti-presence out of your life. Here, I invite you to do two things: first, look at what is causing you disempowering and negative thoughts and feelings and ask yourself why you believe you need to subject yourself to this.
One of the greatest gifts we can learn in this time is boundaries. If you have a list of reasons why you must be engaged with something that does not serve you, I’d venture to say you may have to start setting up some boundaries and highly recommend you use this time to do some reading on how to establish and maintain healthy boundaries.
For the purposes of our talk today (not focused on boundaries), maybe you’re right and you do need to be exposed to anti-presence; what we are exposed to does not determine what we take in. I’m sure you can think of a time that you were talking to or in the presence of somebody who was feeling an emotion that you were not feeling at all. Or a time that you were engaged with someone who was thinking the polar opposite of what you were thinking. Recall those times and realize that this is possible. Use your awareness and talk to yourself,
Oh, it seems this person has a big anti-presence thing going on, I understand that, but I’m not going to engage in that. Their thoughts and feelings don’t need to be mine…
And then get away as fast as possible.
3. Not planning
This is a big one and my action-step-list-planning-lovers are really going to need to tune in here. I am a planner. I am an expert, a goal-setter (actually, it’s part of my job). I have not been able to operate status quo since COVID-19. Whether we like it or not and, more importantly, whether we are conscious of it or not, our minds and bodies are experiencing trauma. Those mood swings you’re feeling are totally normal. In fact, any and every reaction you are having is totally normal.
You need to change your job description to: surfer. Your one and only job is to ride the waves. If you try to plan how you’re going to ride the next wave, you’re going to fall out of this one.
We can’t plan for next month, we can’t plan for the end of this month; in fact, I have not even been able to plan for the day. Here’s what I do:
I still make a list (cue breath of relief from the list-makers). I make a list of all of the things that serve me—things that are empowering to what I know I want in my life. This can change daily to include different tasks you may have for work or personal, but in general they always include, journaling, meditating, yoga, going for a walk, tidying up the house, making a nourishing meal, etc.
As you move through the day, it may be that you planned to organize your finances and suddenly you feel like if you looked at your computer for one more second, you’d pass out. That is your body sending you a message. I implore you to listen, for your health and sanity. Take a look at your list. Choose another activity that would be empowering.
There will be a time that you can come back to the task you had to walk away from, and you will be more equipped to do it and do it well once you’ve given your body what it needs.
4. Permission to slow down
This ties us into the last, and certainly not least, key: give yourself permission to slow down and to do less.
Here are the facts people: we don’t know how long this is going to last. Here’s what I highly recommend you take that to mean: you have time. We never have time! That’s why we’re all so stressed and feeling like we have to figure out how to get out of this as fast as we can because that is how we’re used to living. Not anymore.
And, my friends, no matter which way you look at it, time is a gift.
So, if you’re like me and you’re constantly feeling the anxiety of something that you should be doing, take a deep breath, and say to yourself, “I have time.” Therefore, I shouldn’t push through this next task even though I feel like crap, I should take a 20-minute nap, or go for a 20-minute walk. Because you do have time.
And it’s not only okay, but necessary to surviving, and dare I say thriving during this time.