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Coming Back from COVID, Part 1

Updated: Jun 17, 2021

Cultivating Meaning and Inviting Healing

Although there may be differences of opinion about when and how to return to “normal life,” it’s clear that we are already headed in that direction. From a return of rush hour traffic to increased travel to non-Zoom social meet-ups, life is starting to open up in a way that we haven’t experienced in over a year.

Many are eager for such a return, and I can entirely relate to the desire for many things that we’ve missed this last year. Like many, I long to see distant family and friends. I imagine the energy of the community gathering to dance and listen to music at Top of the Park. I dream of once again traveling and exploring the world.

But before we rush headlong into this new future, I want to take a moment to pause and reflect.

When we shifted into lockdown, everything happened so fast that we could hardly keep up, let alone take time to reflect as it was happening. As we stand on the doorstep of a re-opening world, we have the opportunity to reflect that we missed a year ago. Taking a moment to look back at the last year and ahead at what is to come offers us a chance to make meaning out of a chaotic time and bring healing into our lives as we move forward.

Looking Back

I know you may feel like you are ready to move on from this whole pandemic and never look back, but I invite you to take a moment to cultivate the lessons of this time. You don’t have to like those lessons—it’s never required that we like the experiences that come to us in life—but by taking a moment to reflect, you have the opportunity to transform even the painful or difficult memories into a kind of power that you can take forward with you

What meaning do you want to take away from this time?

This last year has been incredibly difficult for many people, but it has also highlighted aspects of life that many of us may have taken for granted. The ability to travel freely, to see loved ones, to gather as a community, and even the simple gift of health have been more apparent than ever. These lessons may seem incredibly obvious right now, but as we navigate the messy transition into re-opening in the coming weeks and months, such insights easily become ephemeral. Take a moment to reflect now. What have you found yourself grateful for during this last year? What have you found yourself missing? Although these experiences may have been painful, they can help to show you what’s truly meaningful for you in life.

What lifestyle changes do you want to keep?

Although this has been an incredibly challenging time for many, there have also been gifts. I’ve heard from parents who simultaneously feel pushed to the limits of their endurance (and beyond), but who have also expressed gratitude for having more time to see their children grow up. I’ve heard from many people who have appreciated having a slower pace of life with fewer commitments (I’ll talk more about that in my next post). And I think I speak for all introverts when I say that, for many of us, it felt like a relief to have less pressure to leave the house and keep a busy social calendar. What aspects of the COVID lifestyle worked well for you? What lessons have you learned about your lifestyle from this time that you want to incorporate into your life going forward? Are there things you would change in the future compared to your pre-COVID life?

I enjoyed spending more time in my garden

What needs to be healed?

Stress levels have been very high this last year, and not just because of COVID. Politics and social justice issues have also repeatedly taken center stage, causing a baseline tension that we all feel. When your stress level is high, your body responds. Whether you are aware of it or not, your nervous system and hormones have probably been working overtime this last year. Running that level of physical response for such a long time can leave you depleted physically, mentally, and emotionally. You may have noticed the effects of this depletion in your health (for example, muscle tension or back pain), your relationships (feelings of disconnection or greater tension), your creativity (having a hard time getting started on new projects), your ability to focus (brain fog or fatigue), or many other areas of your life. This is a good time to take stock. Before you charge into life, what areas of your life need care and attention in order to come back into balance? Noticing where you are out of balance can help you know where to commit your energy first as we proceed into re-opening. It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed when you consider what needs to be healed. This may be a time to get help. Consider: what support will you need in order to restore your balance?

What magical COVID stories have you experienced?

Last summer when we were just starting to re-emerge from complete lockdown I was taking a flamenco dance class. We’d been meeting on Zoom, but when the governor allowed group fitness classes to start meeting outside, we decided to have class at the condo community of one of my classmates. We had class under an enormous tree—after months of fear, it felt like being held by the earth. Our guitarist played for us, and other members of the condo community came out to watch us dance. Even a parrot (who lived in one of the condos) liked to sit outside and chat along as we clapped our hands and stamped our feet. The whole scene—the tree, the parrot, a group of women gracefully twirling with shawls to the beat of Spanish guitar—will be with me forever. A moment of pure surreal beauty in a time of fear and confusion.

This has been such an exceptional time, I imagine we all have such stories of startling beauty or kindness or surreality, moments of light in the darkness. What are yours? What will stay with you from this last year?

Fond memories of dancing under a tree

Who are you now?

I am deeply aware that my perspectives and my way of being in the world has been formed in new ways by this last year. We are always growing and changing, learning new things and evolving, but it seems to me like the the pace of that evolution must surely have accelerated for all of us in this last year. As I’ve reconnected with friends that I haven’t seen in the last year, I’ve sometimes found myself struggling to describe what has changed and who I am now. I am who I was… and yet I’m also not. I imagine we all may need to re-introduce ourselves to one another as we re-emerge. This isn’t a simple thing to do, as the changes may be deep and difficult to name. Who are you after a year of COVID? I hope that some of the reflections above might help you make a start at answering this question. You might notice that what has meaning for you has changed. You might notice that the way you want to live your life has changed. You might have noticed that the conversations you want to share has changed.

We often stay on the surface in our conversations—catching up on mundane things like the weather or our day-to-day activities—but I submit that this is a time when deeper connection is both possible and wanted, especially with those who you care about. If you are able, take the time to ask your dear ones about their struggles of the last year. Ask what has been meaningful for them. Listen deeply to their answers, and you might catch a glimpse of who they are now. I’ve noticed that this approach can also help to heal relationships that have been strained by the stress of the last year.

And if you aren’t ready for that level of listening—perhaps you still feel like you’re drowning—that’s OK. If someone else isn’t ready to share—that’s OK too. This is a time when we have a tremendous opportunity to learn about compassion, with ourselves and with others. Perhaps that compassion may also become a part of who you are now.

Join me in my next post to take a look forward. I’ll explore a few aspects that you may want to have in your awareness as we transition into re-opening to help care for your health and continue to cultivate meaning from the pandemic experience.

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