As we move into schools opening during a fourth wave of Covid, the IPCC report to the UN on the climate emergency, Haiti and Afghanistan, many people are feeling overwhelmed and despairing.
In our Sunday community classes in September, we’ll explore from a trauma and nervous system lens how to actually implement the wisdom in the many cliché’s about hard times. Into every life some rain must fall. Hang in there, it will get better. This too shall pass.
“The peace we are looking for is not one that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos.” Pema Chodron
I was thinking back to my situation of the summer ten years ago. My mother had died the previous November, my siblings and I were at odds, the company I worked for had been taken over and my job would soon end, and I needed to leave my long term relationship. I was struggling, frustrated, angry and sad. My siblings and I reconnected that fall, my grief over mom’s death softened over the years, I left the relationship, moved to Nova Scotia near my son and family, and as my other job ended, developed the work I do now.
Thinking back to challenges in your life, what is your relationship to the events now? What were you dreading? What was your catastrophic thinking predicting might happen? How much of that actually came true? What strength and resilience came from those experiences? What was unexpected? What were the gifts?
Things change. Part of our resistance to change is that we fear that things will get worse and we will go under. As unsettled and chaotic as our situation is now, it can get worse. Things don’t always work out as we want. People die. Tragedies happen. That is true. We have no control over much of what happens in life.
We can feel desperate for things to be a certain way, especially when faced with survival level threats. In one week in March 2020, Canada and the US were hit with the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic that was already being felt in other parts of the world. We are experiencing death and loss in a way that this generation had not. Our lives abruptly changed.
We learn how fear hijacks our nervous systems in times like these – our own and those of others. Then just as many people were relieved to be able to visit family and friends and feel like the pandemic might be behind us, a fourth wave is rising. The effects of climate change are undeniably right in our face. We are afraid and heartbroken. Now what do we do?
A broader perspective helps us to balance the negativity bias of the survival brain. Life is hard. We live in fragile mammal bodies. We have strength as well as fear. Accepting our natural resistance to pain and fear of change gives us room for inquiry. Knowing our avoidance and coping strategies helps us to be more patient and kind with ourselves and others.
Keep returning to awareness in this moment. What is here now? What are the sensations and energy in your body? What are the associated thoughts?
The truth is, we don’t know what will happen next. Our brain will use every bit of evidence from the past to make predictions. Some may happen. Most won’t. And many other things will happen that we didn’t predict. When we are mired in survival responses of fight/flight/freeze, we feel disconnected and hopeless.
We know a lot about coming back into ventral vagal, a nervous system state of trust and connection. From here we have access to our higher level brain and our open, kind heart. We have space to pause and sit in awareness and presence. We are less afraid of not knowing what will happen next. We can bring our gifts in service to what is important.