In this article, 4D’s Katie Churchman is discussing the diverse range of pandemic experiences. Maybe you’re sad, happy, frustrated, jealous, hopeful. And maybe that’s okay. As opposed to labelling them in a binary way- right/wrong, good/bad- can we sit with them in the grey space and see what they’re trying to say?
I love the sentiment behind ‘we’re all in this together’ and I certainly sense more appreciation for community in my own local and global networks. Tom Moore- the 100-year old war veteran who raised over £30 million for the NHS is a great symbol for this shared sentiment. His efforts- walking 100 laps of his backyard with a walking frame- captured the hearts of people all over the globe. Yet just because we are sharing similar sentiments with our global neighbours, it doesn’t necessarily mean our emotional experience of the pandemic is in any way the similar. Even if someone is having a similar external experience- regarding finances, space and social contact- their internal system might be impacted in a very different way.
Social media has- for a long time- been a comparison trap. When we see the edited version of our friend’s #amazinglife we may find ourselves feeling a little less good about our own. During the pandemic, we may find that some of these impacts have been heightened. Even though we know, on some level, that it’s been edited and tailored to create a certain impact, it’s hard not to feel less than adequate when you learn about your co-worker’s perfect home-schooling routine, super organised house, and the fact that she ran a half-marathon last Thursday (just for #fun!). You may be thinking ‘how is she thriving while I’m struggling to [X]’ (you can fill in the blank.)
Well firstly, know that everyone in your network will be dealing with some sort of challenge. To quote Elizabeth Gilbert from her recent TED Connects talk, “I think you would have to be either a sociopath or totally enlightened not to be feeling anxiety at a moment like this.” We’ve all been challenged differently by this uncertainty and change. So whether we choose to show it or not, we are human, and we’ve all found different parts of this hard.
I know some people who are completely overwhelmed and exhausted juggling multiple roles- perhaps as a mum, manager and- as of 6-weeks ago- a home-school teacher. And yet at the other end of the spectrum, I know people who are incredibly lonely and struggling to fill their time. The breadth of experience is massive.
All of these challenges are related to Covid-19. And yet they are all vastly different. So try not to compare your response patterns to others. There’s no ‘right way’ of doing lock-down. This is unfamiliar and uncertain territory for all of us and we’re all trying to work through it in the best way we can.
It’s one thing to talk about the diversity of experience in the world around us. But there’s also a real range of experiences and emotions going on within us. I know I’m not alone in feeling like I’m riding a wave of emotions: one day feeling positive and energized, then the next I’m feeling hopeless or guilty that I’m not feeling more grateful for what I’ve got.
When the negative emotions show up what we can do is lean in with compassionate inquiry. We can lean into the hurt, anxiety or anger and softly find out what it wants. There are many ways of stepping into this sort of internal inquiry and a practice I am enjoying at the moment is Byron’s Katie’s 4 questions.
Katie- known for her international bestseller ‘The Work’– has a wonderfully straight-forward approach to self-inquiry: “If I can teach you anything, it is to identify the stressful thoughts that you’re believing and to question them, to get still enough so that you can hear your own answers. Stress is the gift that alerts you to your asleepness. Feelings like anger or sadness exist only to alert you to the fact that you’re believing your own stories.” When you believe your stressful thoughts – or any negative thoughts for that matter– you will suffer, in one way or another, sooner or later.
Instead of ignoring or feeling overwhelmed by these negative thoughts, we can choose to get curious and interrogate them with Katie’s 4 simple questions:
- Is it true? – this is a yes or no answer. If yes, move to question 2. If no, experience it as a no for a moment and then move to question 3.
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? Dig deeper.
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe your thought? How does it show up in your body? What’s the impact it has on you?
- Who would you be without that thought? Notice what is revealed.
“A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.”
– Byron Katie
Lean in with compassionate inquiry and find out what information is arising. What does that part of you need to feel safe and secure? Get curious, be kind and try not to judge what comes up. Just notice.
You are enough
Whilst I’m impressed by the creativity that has emerged from the crisis, I’m somewhat tired by the endless drive to fill this time with something worthwhile and productive. No, you don’t have to write a book, or get a 6-pack, or learn how to cook like a Michelin star chef to use this time effectively. Right now, doing the normal things, like getting up, getting dressed and making breakfast should be heralded as big wins. Small victories in a sea of change.
It makes me think of James Clear’s book ‘Atomic Habits’ and his idea that tiny habits are the ‘compound interest of personal development.’ Whist admirable, big goals focus on ‘winning the game.’ Whereas a ‘system of habits’ focuses on continuing to play the game. This is why good habits often don’t surpass their goals. For example, we train for a 5km run, we run a 5km, and then we stop running. Further still, goals don’t separate the winners from the losers. Everyone entering a competition or interviewing for a job has the same goal: to win the race or to get the job. The difference between the best of the best and everyone else is that the former has a system of habits that support the big goal.
A goal might set you off in the right direction. But it’s the small daily habits- or the ‘Atomic Habits’ as Clear likes to call them- that create real and meaningful change. So ask yourself: do you want to run every day during lock-down or do you want to be a runner beyond the pandemic? And do you want to write a book during quarantine or do want to become a writer? It’s a subtle shift but it’s difference between doing something in the short-term and becoming someone in the long-term. And right now, I do believe we’ve been given a rare opportunity to create new habits. But start small. Keep it simple. And stay consistent. What’s the smallest viable step that you can take towards your big goal? Maybe it’s a walk around the block. Or drinking a glass of water as soon as you wake up. Whilst these small habits may seem inconsequential in the short-term, they build up over time. As Clear says: “Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it.” And here’s the math: “If you can get 1 per cent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 per cent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero.”
Writing for 10-minutes each day might not seem like that much. But times that by the number of days you’ve been in lock-down and it starts to add up…
One Pandemic. A Million Experiences.
This is true of the pandemic and life in general. Even if we had identical lock-down situations, we would still experience them very differently. Because we aren’t the same. Our external and internal worlds are so different, and the challenges vary drastically.
With that in mind, can we step-in and embrace this diversity of experiences, within ourselves and in other people? We’ve never walked a mile in someone else’s’ shoes. And equally, they’ve never walked a mile in ours. So, I leave you with a revision of ‘we’re all in this together’: Can we all be in this together with whatever shows up? Can we honour the diversity and hold the paradox within…?
The pandemic is so many things. There’s so much goodness showing up and there’s much to grieve. And just like life, it’s not one ‘thing.’