“The pandemic is the worst thing ever.” “The pandemic is the best thing ever.” While the truth is much more nuanced than either of these statements, one leaves me feeling like Eeyore and the other more like Tigger. It is incredibly sad to think of the sheer volume of people no longer walking this planet as a result of this tiny virus, and all their families left behind, as well as the people in the bottom of the privilege ladder who have been inordinately impacted. After all, “we may all be in the same boat, but not the same deck” (as social justice educator Victor Lee Lewis would say). I don’t want to glaze over the devastation wreaked.
At the same time, we humans are presented with a unique opportunity to witness our inherent connection to the Earth and to each other, and to decide if the way we’ve been going about life is really working out so well from both happiness and planetary sustainability standpoints, and for whom (e.g. the ‘lower decks’ of the boat). This opportunity to slow down and reconnect with a more natural pacing of life, notice and greet our neighborhood trees, and heck, even breathe cleaner air than we’ve had in a long time are just some of the gifts presented in our current state.
Where we land on the tragedy/opportunity continuum in any given moment is our choice. Even in the most desperate of circumstances, we have the power to choose our beliefs. Every thought that rolls through our mind can lean towards peace, ease and happiness, or discord, dis-ease, and isolation. It might not seem like we have much choice, sure. The cultural (and inherently patriarchal) conditioning most of us have grown up with would point us towards staying small, accepting our lot, believing only that which is before our eyes and nothing else. I’m not arguing to disregard facts, or to delve deep into conspiracy theories that point at a mysterious ‘other’ to blame our current challenges on (another outcome of patriarchal habituation).
What I am saying is that in moments of suffering, grief, pain, anger or anguish, we can tell ourselves a story about how awful it all is, and perhaps then reach for our preferred “numbing agent”, be it booze, TV, mindless phone scrolling, or worse. Or, we can say, ‘this situation sucks, AND I demand to see the blessing.” Or, “I don’t like what’s happening AND I recognize that growth is often uncomfortable.” The stories we tell ourselves create our reality. “Yeah yeah yeah, I’m not here for this power of positive thinking mumbo jumbo,” you might be saying upon reading thus far. I invite you to notice that inner narrator, whatever it’s saying. That’s the first little step towards liberation.
Sometimes the narrator is so quiet it’s impossible to decipher the words themselves. I’ve found listening to my body sensations is key to unlocking these stories from the subconscious. When I notice the vice grip feeling around my throat, nausea in my belly, or tightening around my heart and chest, my body is alerting me to something important. I can choose to listen, or not.
Conditioning would tell most of us there is no choice. “It is what it is.” In English common vernacular, there are a million ways to eschew responsibility for our choices That somehow we didn’t have choice at all: the bank closed. The friend was late. Traffic. (See pages 7-8 here for more on this). So, believing in the myth of powerlessness makes perfect sense even from an English linguistics perspective. We couldn’t help but believe these things, especially as small children utterly dependent on our caregivers for our very survival. Yet, regardless of external circumstances, if I say, “I get to decide what to make of this situation”, I have a bit more power. And don’t we all want to feel empowered?
Autonomy is a core driver imparted to every person I’ve ever met. There is this false either/or paradigm here, too. Either I exercise my autonomy, or I fit in. Whether it’s to be acceptable to our family, friend group, job, neighborhood, community, country, or society at large, the desire to belong is strong. That is the tension that pulls us away from choice, sometimes not even consciously. Byron Katie speaks of this very thing in the Work with her questions to ask about the stories we tell ourselves. Paraphrased, “Is this thought true? How do I know? Can I really know? What happens when I believe this thought? Who would I be without this thought? What might I think instead that feels better?”
The conditions of the pandemic provide plenty of opportunities to decide what to make of things. “All the things I cannot do plain sucks.” Sure. Or, “Wow, here are all the things I can do.” The former thought leaves me sad, powerless, small. The latter is expansive with possibility. Sure, none of us signed up for this circumstance. And here we are, so how do we wish to be in spite of it? For me it’s a work in progress. Yet each time I reach for choice and claim the bigger thought, the more empowering idea (even if it’s about the tiniest thing), I find greater ease and more capacity to withstand challenges when they arise, and I invite you to give it a try! Where in your life would you like more empowerment and what new thing might you tell yourself to point you in that direction?
Cassidy Meeks is our guest blogger this week. When not writing blogs, Cassidy leads the Youth and Family Ministry at Unity Minneapolis.