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We do not grieve that which we do not care about. But sometimes it is only when the quotidian has been taken from us do we realize how much we loved our ordinary life before the loss. When it is gone, we wish we had praised it more. We wish we could savor that which we once took for granted.
Navigating Our Grief
How do we navigate our grief? We must first find a place to sit with that which is broken. This is going to be a slow and difficult journey. How can we fortify ourselves for the long night ahead? Below I offer some pragmatic notions that may help to build a vessel to hold our grief. These are not meant to be prescriptive. This is not a list of more things to do when stuck at home. They will not all be useful or useful for everyone, but perhaps they are of use to some, as they have been for me.
• Rituals. The routine rituals of our life create a container for our emotional and spiritual experiences. For many of us, our routines created the structure that supported the rest of our internal lives. With that stripped away, we are called to create new rituals. After many years of good intention, I’m finally meditating most days. It could be taking the same walk around the neighborhood each afternoon, or a bath with a couple of candles at the end of the day.
• Meditation. Meditating allows us to notice what we are feeling and thinking without having to act. Meditation need not be elaborate or extensive to be helpful. Some people find meditation easier with guidance, and apps such as Headspace and 10% Happier are offering free subscriptions to health care workers at this time.
• Routines. Keep a routine. While I can go to Zoom meetings in my pajamas, the loss of routine has disrupted the momentum of my day. I feel better when I get showered and dressed each morning, even if I’m not leaving the house.
• Movement. Move the body. For many, our exercise routines have been disrupted by the shelter-in-place orders. I can no longer swim my laps at the YMCA. Some of my favorite beaches are closed. It’s easy to become sedentary, but our bodies need movement. Most of us can still go for (socially distanced) walks, or do yoga or pushups in our living rooms. The “soft animal of your body” wants to move. Let it.
• Get outside. My body craves fresh air, sunlight, and movement. My kid teases me that I’m like a Golden Retriever that needs to go for walks. It’s true. Fortunately, even with the need to shelter at home, I can still get outside and take advantage of some of the open spaces that exist where I live. Make a point of building outside time into each day, even if it’s just reading a book in the back yard or on a balcony.
• Intention and action. Before bed each night, choose one thing you will do the next day that you feel that you need to get done, that will leave you feeling like you accomplished something useful. This could be a simple as folding the laundry. Also, choose one thing that you will do that morning that is pleasurable, such a calling a friend or taking a walk. Then, when you wake up, do those things first. Allow them to create a momentum for your day.
• Balance inside and outside attention. Curiously, with our usual outlet for outside attention (other people) removed from us by our need to shelter in place, many people have turned to the internet, the news, and social media for contact with others. While this has many benefits, it’s also easy to become pulled into a world in which we are constantly checking our email, Facebook, and the news to see what has happened next. This action, especially when it becomes compulsive, takes our attention away from our inner world and leaves us anxious. Be sure to carve some time out of the day where you are not available and spend that time in whatever reflective practice that works for you, be it meditation, listening to music, or walking.
• Appreciate beauty. I’ve long been a photographer, but often only found beauty in things that were new to me or grand in scale. Since the COVID-19 shutdowns, I’ve slowed down enough to notice beauty in the small things around me. Some friends and I have taken to social media to share the beauty we have found around us in the form of music, words, and images. Beauty salves my soul in a way that nothing else can.
• Stay socially distant but emotionally connected. The sudden loss of our day-to-day, in-person connections has highlighted how important other people are in our lives. Make a point of reaching out to others and prioritizing conversation, even if it’s over the phone or on video chat. I really miss hugs from my friends, but a smiling face on the other end of the screen is a reasonable substitute for the time being.