Hitting the Pandemic Wall
How to keep going when you're depleted and there's no finish line in sight.
Posted May 18, 2020 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
As a society, we are hitting the proverbial wall in this pandemic. We’ve gone through the stage of being happy to clean out the closets, bake new goodies, catch up on every Netflix series we missed, or learn how to order a meal in a new language. And, through the stage of celebrating this enforced pause, spending quality time with our kids, stepping off the hamster wheel of doing, remembering what’s most important to us, taking a break from making plans, feeling gratitude for what really matters and profound appreciation for the human capacity for kindness.
At this point, months into the pandemic, the pies are baked, the dog is nearly dead from walking, the closets are clean, the notebooks are filled-up with gratitude lists, the kids are sufficiently hugged, the songs are sung, the pilot-light campfire is burned out, the Netflix shows have all been watched, the pots are banged, the dance parties danced, the zoom happy hours imbibed. So, what now?
There is a general malaise, hopelessness, boredom, and depression settling in on our collective psyche. As the weather improves and summer starts to beckon, we are itching to get out and do things, fun things, new things. We want to make plans, start living, adventuring, and imagining, but we can’t—not yet.
We don’t know when this will end, and if it will come back again, with a vengeance. We don't know when a vaccine or reliably helpful drug will appear. Or, when the grown-ups will reappear and come up with a plan to get us through this. We don’t know when we will go back to working in offices, or safely eating in restaurants, or hugging our friends without worry. Will summer camp happen? Will there be a fall term in schools? Will air travel be possible? Will we end up being quarantined again at the end of the year? Will we get to live a regular life again? We don’t know the answer to all these questions and really, every question we are asking these days. We are living with an infinite question mark.
We’ve hit the twenty-mile mark in this pandemic marathon, the stretch where we don’t know how or even if we can keep going ... when it feels like we can't go on another moment, are completely spent, empty, and all reserves have been used up.
One thing is certain: there’s nothing novel left in this time of the Novel Coronavirus. As we head towards the end of yet another month spent in this strange land of quarantine, how can we stay hopeful and energetic? And can we? From where, within ourselves, are we to dig up the strength and resilience to keep moving forward, keep being our best selves? How do we continue to live with intention, purpose, hope, and positivity? Are these qualities lost until this crisis is over? And furthermore, what is our intention at this point?
To begin with, intention, purpose, hope, and possibility are not gone and not lost. These qualities do not need to be put on hold (along with everything else) until we can take off our masks. This stage in the pandemic, which includes our weariness, exhaustion, and despondency, along with (sometimes) flashes of hope, strength, and anticipation, is a moment to double-down on the practice of self-compassion and being present. This is a moment to welcome all of our experience, the good, bad, and ugly, and to do so with a sense of fierce loving kindness. Now is the time to acknowledge the truth with honesty and courage, without leaving anything out or deluding ourselves. Yes, I’m tired, sad, irritated, angry, frustrated, lonely, hopeless, bored, powerless, and whatever else I am. And yes, I miss the life I knew and am ready for this to end. At the very same time, now is the time to remind ourselves, with unrelenting kindness, this is what is. This is what's true. I cannot change this. And, this too shall change and pass.
This wall we're hitting now is an opportunity to surrender and walk the ultimate spiritual path, to say yes to what’s here, without fighting, even when what we’re saying yes to is something we positively don’t want. This is the real moment to practice being in the present moment when we don’t like the present moment and can no longer see the purpose of it.
When our life is going well, we can be the person we want to be without too much effort; our best self feels possible and doable. So too, when we face new challenges, when things are freshly difficult, we can also find ways to be our best selves. We create a storyline about our ability to rise up and meet life’s difficulty, to make lemonade from lemons. We tell ourselves that who we are in difficulty is who we really are. We have all sorts of strategies for shaping our attitude and behavior in newly difficult situations. But the real challenges arise when the hardship has been around for a while, when it has ceased to be new, obviously meaningful, or interesting. When hardship becomes the norm, the spiritual warrior in us must awaken. Here, in the long hallway, before the exit door has come into view, is when our real warrior self is not just wanted, but needed. Here is where we must set the intention to attend to this moment with no past and no future attached, no months of quarantine behind it, and no plans for what lies ahead in front of it. No next. Here, we set an intention to say yes to just this moment and all that it contains.
We’ve moved past the novelty and fascination with this pandemic. We've now taken up residence in the uncomfortable, sustained, and not obviously teachable part of this experience. This is the stage at which we have to practice presence with renewed focus and intensity. The more we want out, the more our mind wants to wander off to what could, should or might be, the more rigorously we must practice bringing our attention back to here where we are. Paradoxically, our presence in this difficulty is our best protection from despair. Now is the time to ask ourselves, again and again, what’s happening right here where I am, inside and outside of me? And with that, who do I want to be in this very moment?
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