In the midst of our current world situation, I’ve been thinking about a lot about what I need to “get through” this, to endure this, to thrive, and to survive this plague. I’m not thinking so much of “what to do” as to how to be. What states do I need to invoke internally to thrive instead of merely existing?
I started with the concept of endurance, and decided that I don’t like it much in the context of this pandemic. Endurance, this word geek found, is derived from the Latin indurare, “to make hard.” This may work in war and on the battlefield, but battlefield metaphors are overused, and very rarely are they constructive in everyday life.
There are other definitions of endurance, of course. “Bearing pain or hardship” isn’t too bad. The other that I actually like is “the ability or strength to continue or last,” but even these definitions are simply not my experience of what is helping me to live this new normal in a healthy and peaceful manner.
The qualities that I am finding help the most have nothing to do with hardening myself, in fact. They seem to have everything to do with the opposite. This is the list of internal characteristics that I am finding the most helpful, in no particular order.
I attend a weekly gratitude meeting online, started by a friend of mine. The topic is always the same. Participants from all over the country are called on in no particular order, and the question is always the same: “What are you grateful for?”
I always start with “I’m grateful for this meeting!” Attending a discussion of what we are grateful for is uplifting, and places me in a worldview that repositions me when I am feeling down. This week I talked about gratitude for my health. I’ve talked about how grateful I am for my family, my ability to show up for others, my connection with nature, the sacred and the divine.
I’m grateful for my neighbors’ kids, who tell me that they love me and they miss me while they smile at me over the wall between our yards. I’m grateful for my mother, whose alert and agile mind has kept me in fascinating conversation for a lifetime. I’m grateful for my father, who gave me my sense of humor. I’m everlastingly grateful for a core group of truly exceptional friends, who tease me, tell me when I’m off the beam, and call me to see how I’m doing.
There’s more. But gratitude is a state, not a mood. And when I put myself in a state of gratitude, I don’t need endurance.
Another fun fact is that research has recently shown that the expression of gratitude is good for the mood. So this gratitude thing has some evidence behind it.
Letting people know that I am not doing well is a practice, not a goal. It’s not something I learn how to do permanently. Like most things, I get into a practice of vulnerability and then I get away from it. When I recall it to mind, I bring it back into my sphere and use it to receive what I need.
The most practical manifestation of my vulnerability right now is to ask for help or connection when I need it. I’ve asked a couple of people to check up on me daily this week. This is my way of feeling loved and cared for, but without vulnerability, no one could know that I need this. It is a vital part of the daily maintenance of the condition of my psyche and my spirit.
After I ask for help for myself, I call someone else to see how they are doing. Any random person in my life is fine. Last week I called a family member, and found out that they are struggling a lot with their kids and spouse during this time. We stayed on the phone for an hour. I listened a lot, gave a few perspectives, but could not know what this meant to them until a few days later when a flower arrangement showed up at my door with a thank you. “You talked me off the ledge,” it said. The beauty of this is that by helping them, I got out of my own head for a bit, too.
This week I decided to create a small gathering of friends outdoors to do distance socializing here at my home. I will be holding one of these weekly for three weeks. I’ve talked to a lot of people I trust and respect, and we are all coming to the conclusion safe COVID is a lot like safer sex in how it is negotiated. Who have you been with? What would you like to do? What precautions have you taken? What are you willing to risk?
Once these discussions have been had, everyone can decide what level of risk they are willing to tolerate, and with some precautions in place, there are some things we can do to alleviate our social suffering and isolation.
This brings me to my conclusion. It’s not about endurance for me. Enduring can make me hard. Alleviation comes from the Latin “ad” and “levis” (same root as levitate), meaning to lighten a burden. If I think not about what makes me harder and tougher, it doesn’t help me. I’m going to continue to focus on what makes my burden lighter, what lifts me up. What lightens the burden for you?
Harvard University Medical School: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier
Dr. Rosalyn Dischiavo