Until we have actually experienced a particular crisis, can we truly predict how we’ll ultimately react beforehand? For a significant majority of us, I’d say no. Medical professionals, first responders, those who’ve served in combat and maybe a few others in fields requiring highly skilled personnel might have an advantage when it comes to utilizing their training for such circumstances, but for the rest of us, we are clearly learning it on the go.
Last month, I shared with readers some of the issues I was personally struggling with during the first several weeks of this crisis, so much of which were self-induced. Thankfully, I’ve been making progress ever since, and the tide has begun to subside. At the root of the matter, it’s all come down to separating the narrative from the situation.
As adults, we forget that it’s quite normal to be anxious and afraid; not only for our own safety, but also for those we love. Unlike the devastation caused by a natural disaster or the fallout from a targeted terrorist attack where fear and anxiety are more likely to be limited in their scope geographically, the social and emotional effects of a global pandemic reach far more populations, exponentially. Aside from some of the more obvious paradigms that have been temporarily redefined, it’s quite staggering to think about how many of us are trying to mentally process and work through this on an individual basis, all the while remaining physically distant from one another.
Dr. Susan David, a highly-sought after leader in management thinking and an instructor in psychology at Harvard University, recently expressed in an interview on the topic of self-care in times of crisis: “The circumstance is certainly not something we’ve asked for, but life is calling for every one of us to move into the place of wisdom within ourselves.”
Much of that begins with everyday choices. She later adds: “Ultimately, self-compassion is about recognizing what it means to be human. Discomfort, stress, disappointment, loss and pain are all part of the human journey. If we are not able to enter into a space of kindness to ourselves, we’re putting ourselves at odds with the reality of life. Self-compassion is about recognizing that you are doing the best you can – with who you are, with what you’ve got, and with the resources that you’ve been given.”
For many of us, this may be the first time in a long while that we’ve actually taken stock in ourselves; inspecting the sturdiness or the make-up of our “mental foundation,” in essence, the degree to which we were grounded before this crisis hit. Rarely do we focus our attention on self when life is perceived to be humming along and going smoothly. Sadly, on those rare occasions when we do, so much of the emphasis tends to be directed towards our exterior and its physical appearance.
Eckhart Tolle, the renowned spiritualist and author of The Power of Now and A New Earth, sees the current crisis as the perfect moment for us to go inward. In a recent YouTube posting titled “Staying Conscious in the Face of Adversity,” he articulates rather succinctly what’s at the core of our fear-based existence: “Adversity forces you to go deeper. If you don’t, you’ll suffer. It’s only when you leave the present moment that fear arises as a thought form, which then creates an emotion. Use it as an opportunity to move away from the “mind identified” state of consciousness.”
He later invites viewers to ask themselves (and this is where it hit home for me), “How can I separate the actual event or situation from how I am mentally perceiving it through the thoughts that I’m experiencing?”
Even the vocabulary that we use to describe feelings and emotions is a misrepresentation of who we are when experiencing difficult circumstances. We tend to say, “I’m scared,” rather than “I’m feeling scared at this moment.” Notice the nature of the first statement and its all-encompassing descriptor being conveyed without any separation from self. Said another way, we are not our thoughts.
In a piece written by Kimberly Jordan Allen, posted on the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health website, one particular passage titled, “Observe the Story” drew similar conclusions. She quotes Steven Leonard, lead faculty member: “Be aware of the stories in your mind. What is the story that you are believing? How many different stories are happening in our minds right now about the virus and how we will be affected? Just let go of the story and be with what it is that you’re feeling and doing without having to craft a narrative around it.”
Once we begin to identify and release the unnecessary narrative that’s attempting to control our thoughts, we are making the conscious decision to stay present. Everything else beyond our core — what we tell ourselves, what we’ve already experienced, and of course, what we project might happen — are only thoughts.