February 1, 2021

Pandemic Coping: How to Feel Hopeful (not Hopeless).

“…If you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself.” ~ Dalai Lama


As we head into the eighth month of a worldwide pandemic, I’m hearing more and more about “pandemic fatigue.”

We are tired of masking, tired of not hugging, tired of not gathering, and not going to the movies, the theatre, or concerts. We are tired of our television and our phones—we are just plain tired.

Coupled with this feeling are news bytes telling us it will be a long time before we have a vaccine or before we can let our guard (or our masks) down. Dire reports put us fighting this into the end of 2021, if not longer. Vaccinations are starting, but a whopping 40 percent of people have said they won’t get it. So here we are.

When I focus on the statistics, I feel overwhelmed and hopeless. So I turn to nature, which has survived and evolved and continues to inspire us in spite of our human faults and assaults.

Having recently rediscovered camping (the safest way to travel these days), one day, I became enthralled watching migrating birds, mostly geese.

I knew geese flew in a “V” formation and that there is an aerodynamic reason for this, but watching them work together, trading off positions, is a brilliant example of teamwork and care of the flock as a whole. This creation of an energy slipstream, a place that doesn’t require as much energy as the lead spot, is also called drafting and is a dynamic factor in bicycle and auto racing.

The birds flying behind the lead bird get a lift force from the lead bird, so they don’t have to work so hard to achieve lift. And when the lead bird is weary, it drops back. Then another bird, having rested, takes its place. Recent research shows the birds in the slipstream even have a lower heart rate than the lead bird.

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.” ~ Maya Angelou

As I see it, the longer the pandemic drags on, the more we must function as a flock of geese. We have to recognize those times we cannot be the strong bird in front because we are drained, if not physically, then mentally, or emotionally. We have to know when it’s time to drop back and not work so hard to achieve lift, but leave that to others.

We don’t know how long the pandemic will be here, but we know by now that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. We must pace ourselves if we are to live through this in a way that is remotely sane and healthy. We have to learn to rest and accept help. It is critical to our humanness and crucial to our humanity.

“But then it occurred to him that any progress he had made on his quest so far he had made by accepting the help that had been offered to him.” ~ Neil Gaiman

Accepting help is not easy for most of us—it’s easier if it’s offered. Asking for it is even tougher. But even then, we’re quick to say, “Oh no, I’m fine. I’m hanging in there!” Often, we don’t even know what we need, or we feel selfish in the asking. Some of us need a window of time in which no one needs anything from us. Some of us need to feel needed and purposeful. Most days probably vacillate between the two.

The pandemic has brought me many lessons, among them learning to accept my limitations. It turns out I’m not superwoman, and even though I practice mindfulness meditation, yoga, walking, prayer, and countless other methods of self-care and support, these are trying times, and sometimes, it isn’t enough. It’s okay to nap, to sleep more, to check out, to run away, to ask for help—it’s okay to not be the lead bird.

As we move forward, pacing ourselves in our “V” formation, we need to honor all the positions in the flock. Let us recognize when others need to drop back, when they need to catch their breath and rest. Offer help to them, show up, and be there mindfully.

But if you can’t, that’s okay. There are many birds in the flock—so take your rest, fall back into the slipstream, and rest in this flow of life. We work; we rest; we help; we accept help; we lead; we allow.

Ultimately, we fly—together.

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” ~ Jack Kornfield



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