I wrote this letter back in April although I never published these contemplations around what was, at the time, the most abrasive adversary we were facing in Covid-19. I am carrying some margin of hope that with a little editing this may still be resonate in the midst of the more recent sacred cry that is the fight against racism. Admittedly, this does not engage in the necessary discourse on social justice; it is simply an invitation to recognize your own reactivity in the midst of global and national traumas. Hopefully I have not strayed too far from this intent.
Some of us are on personal cruise ships and others in little dinghies. We’re not really struggling together. -Isaiah, age 17
This statement came about as we were talking about the impact of the global storm we’ve referred to as COVID-19. I started thinking about our collective response patterns to major stressors and how I’ve been organizing them in my own mind in an effort to understand. In my perspective, I have seen groups of humanitarians focusing on the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, the haves and have-nots. Theirs has been a platform built on the opportunity to fight for change; a just argument however long-suffering.
Many who have taken refuge leaning on their religious communities have also raced to find meaning and even argument within their sacred text. They tend to alleviate their anxiety in the midst of this great unknown by making both traumas (Pandemic and injustice) into a holy and foretold war. For some these belief patterns will be a lifeline of hope, but in others it will be used as a justified weapon against that which threatens white privilege.
I have watched as those who lean pragmatic arm themselves with science and information in an effort to calm their own internal storm while the politically minded seemingly become increasingly hostile. Lines have been drawn in espousing their respective dogma; they have busied themselves with casting blame on their woefully corrupt opposition in an effort at self-preservation.
A large majority have simply worked harder in these trying circumstances, having been given no choice but to bear the brunt of risk for the most privileged.
Most will simply suffer from both.
May I suggest something? Pay attention to those from who you learn. Your mind, your perspective, the lens through which you see the world around you is made up of many small interactions. As a whole, we’re gleaning a lot of information passively scrolling through various media. Quickly becoming a collective common (and familiar) source of social engagement, scrolling is leaving many largely without conscious thought and interaction. Fear-based opinions and uneducated stances on everything from politics to medicine to parenting and especially racism are common place and they’re seeping quietly into our core beliefs.
Unconvinced? Let’s take a less charged topic to press in a little.
Who here has recently formed an opinion about zoom calls being the main source of all anxiety and restlessness over the course of the previous 2-3 months? Was that a belief you held in February, or did you maybe have a different idea as to the increasing prevalence of anxiety in our culture? Now go through and check out which memes and video shorts you found funny in that time frame. No really, go check. Look at your history tab. There should be one for your likes….how many of those were based on the ills of zoom meetings? You see, it’s not that hard to sway beliefs. All it takes is an entertaining (or more accurately: activating) video on the subject and a little knowledge of herd behavior…
What if I told you that anxiety and restlessness has less to do with zoom meetings and more to do with **Here’s where it gets real** a collective unknown and present trauma? How would you categorize that statement? Would you push it off? Would you embrace it?
My invitation to you is to pay attention. Pay attention to the weight of feeling uncomfortable, confused, and vulnerable in this collective suffering. Resist the urge to constantly distract from discomfort in the face of this unknown. Resist using up already taxed stores of energy on fighting one another’s ideologies, aptly keeping yourself preoccupied, or striving to lessen the burden of suffering by finding the elusive meaning; a sordid and boringly predictable human need (I said what I said, it’s boring y’all).
Meaning-making, in regards to COVID-19, at this point in our timeline is a slow death march toward inevitable disappointment.
That invitation to be present to our suffering isn’t always safe. Some (Please read A LOT) of our past wounds and disruptions have been activated in our perceived isolation, financial burden, and fear. We’re going to have to start small, safe, in learning to be present.
If you’re still here and tracking, I’d like to leave you with something tangible to work through in your own activation; a way to mediate your current trauma with a nod to mental health and bring you back safely within yourself.
If we receive information through our senses it makes sense for us to take back ownership of input and guide our senses to recovery. All that’s needed is a quiet space with these questions written out and something to record your responses:
- What sounds do you enjoy hearing? What feels soothing to your ears?
- What do you find beautiful to look at? What is a feast to your eyes?
- Bring to mind your favorite smell. What’s it called?
- Think about the most soothing thing to feel. What is it?
- What is your favorite taste?
This may take you several tries depending on the depth of your previous hurt. You may feel uncomfortable with the quiet and stillness, that’s ok. You could also try walking while you think or playing some soft music if that helps occupy your anxiety at this task. The goal is to bring you safely home to yourself.
We can expect that in this time waves of discomfort will continue to ebb and flow. There will be times we feel we’ve adapted to a new normal and times when we feel restless. Times when we can feel the defense of our marginalized neighbors rise within us, and times we wont be able to handle any more discord. Anxiety may come and bring with it depression. We might feel angst and anger or some disproportionate irritation to everyday frustrations; we’re likely to throw adult sized tantrums and it’s ok.
Can I throw some truthiest truths out? No one knows what they’re doing right now. None of us has the line on how to behave, nor how to feel, or where to go from here. It’s all trial and error with some well-thought out guesses and a handful of poor choices thrown in for fun. True, we can glean from previous pandemics and social justice outrage; we must learn from mistakes past and present. Also true? This is a different world with different knowledge, different access, and different outcomes. Now is hard, now is unknown. Take a walk, take a drive, call a friend, ask for help. Be sad, be mad, be relieved; just be.