Let’s admit it: the most important shift during this pandemic for us will be the shift within

My heart is still quietly denying this is all happening at all. Coronavirus, pandemic, COVID-19, lockdown, quarantine, social distancing. There is a tiny place in me that is still shutting the door to it all and hoping that when I wake up tomorrow everything will be back the way it was before Christmas….

I still haven’t exactly come to terms within myself that something irreversible has happened to us all. Like other world-wide, life-changing struggles through which humanity has emerged throughout history, this too will change everything about our lives. We will mourn the loss of much. Eventually we will rejoice at positive inventions and policy changes that will see us into what will be. We are already seeing a touch of that in the new ways we are discovering we can use the internet for education, work and telemedicine. But the most important shift for each of us, will be what shifts within.

In these lockdown months I’ve found myself craving chocolate. More significantly, I’ve been more sensitive. I’ve fallen back into issues that have circled through my life periodically in the past 50 years. With boundaries gone I’ve felt unsafe and insecure. The larger questions of life have been surfacing: What do I need? Who am I? Do I like who I have become?

It isn’t just the pandemic or the lockdown that affects us. It’s all the unexpected and almost random divestment in our life that we have borne because of the lockdown. If I lose my job or my role, I lose the cluster of behaviors, friends, responsibilities, perks, schedules that were associated with it. I lose my sense of “me” that that job helped create, the meaning that I or my life had in that position. Overnight. At times with nothing to replace it. Other situations have arisen like knots in our days. I may be discouraged if I can’t keep the family happy in this new situation. If I’m not great at homeschooling, entertaining, encouraging, working from home, providing for my kids in social isolation. Who am I as a daughter or son when I can’t take care of my parents because I can’t get to them when they most need me? What if a project I worked on all last year has now been scrapped in this post-coronavirus world? How do I find the energy to go forward? The purpose? To begin again. Or change careers. How do I make the best decision in the face of an unknown future?

The anxiety that has bubbled just below the surface capsizing my frightened heart through all the experiences I’ve had during the lockdown has brought me in touch with anxiety issues that are nothing new. They have been woven through my life and have affected me spiritually and emotionally. This may be happening to you. Perhaps you are touching more keenly the wounds of  PTSD, OCD, scrupulosity, midlife losses as sands are shifting. Emotional struggles. Grief. Depression. Fear.

I’m reminded of what I was once told by a wise mentor: What is important is not the situation itself, but how we are with these situations that are calling us to doubt, question, and fear ourselves and sometimes life itself.

The realities that we live through can bring on headaches, sleeplessness, dissociation, emotional distress. Sometimes these can last for weeks, months, years. At times we are aware of how all this is wearing on us physically, psychologically, and spiritually. At other times it remains a secret even from ourselves.

Mindful practices, awareness exercises, contemplative presence can help us come home to who we are, as we are, in whatever space we are in.

Here’s an exercise in awareness you may find helpful:

Take a moment to close your eyes and take a few deep breath. Drop any expectations, plans, ideals, memories, anyone or anything outside of this moment. And relax.

Notice the sensations of touch, sound, taste, and smell.

Notice where you are sitting and the weight of your body.

Be aware of any feelings that you are experiencing.

Become aware of what manifests itself within you as you say slowly:

I am feeling something. I am aware of my body. (Pause)

I am experiencing something. I am aware of my emotions (Pause)

I am resisting something. I am aware of my thoughts and beliefs. (Pause)

I am more than this.

Drop down deeper into your heart. Into the center of your soul. Into that place where God has made his home within you. Where he reigns as King. Where he teaches, and leads, and comforts as Shepherd.

Quietly bow your head to the ground. And adore.

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