I remember last year writing the final newsletter of the season. I struggled to figure out what to say to an audience that had weathered so much and yet had to rally themselves to transition into another year of challenge and ambiguity.
Déjà vu. Here we are again.
How much can people take? Two years of COVID and isolation. Costic division. Housing scarcity. Inflation. Recession. So many losses.
Understandably, the amount of complaining is spiking. I've watched people complain in a myriad of locations and circumstances – from around the table at Thanksgiving to dinner parties and work events. Bitterness is bubbling over, and I feel it in myself sometimes.
Are you surprised to see my highlighting of these depressing themes? Does it feel like a downer? I see that but I also know that the only way out is through, and pretending not to be sad and pissed and burned out and exhausted and grieving will never ever relieve one of those states. Especially in the world of work where we all have become GENIUSES at faking it.
What we all need to hear, softly and with a loving tone, is how logical and expected this response is to all we have been through. And then, once validated, we can take some easy steps like the ones below to fortify ourselves once again.
The first antidote to the negativity is to give yourself and others witness. Suspend the need to be cheery or positive and let yourself step all the way into how uniquely awful this has all been. Do you realise how many subtle threats are draining your energy even now? Do you acknowledge the toll the last three years have taken? Have you wrapped yourself in self-love and gentleness to scratch the surface of soothing these depletions? I’m working on my healing as we all should be.
Be Sad about the Sadness
As an extension of the above, allow yourself to feel the sadness for what the world has suffered. That small mom-and-pop diner you loved that was forced to close. For the older people whose only human connection is still Zoom. For the many many kids whose future trajectory will be different because of this time. For your own dreams and goals and business plans that will be forever on an altered timeline. Stop using forced optimism to block you from facing these losses. Addressing grief is the way to process it.
Be A Little Buddhist
There is one book I’ve turned to many times in the low points of life called When Things Fall Apart by the magnificent Pema Chodron. This book is an insider’s go-to for riding out the hardest parts of your life. In the book, Pema teaches a counterintuitive practice called Tonglen (taking and sending) that I’ve practiced on and off for 30 years. It’s hard to grasp because it's the opposite of what we’re usually taught: breathe in goodness and light and breathe out the bad. In Tonglen you reverse that. The instruction is to breathe in the hard, the unwanted, the bad, to draw them into you and accept them so deeply that you embrace them. Then you breathe out goodness and light and optimism imagining sharing them with every person who is in pain or in a similar situation. Imagine you are in a room filled with soot and you have a magical ability to metabolise and remove the dark, gritty air just by breathing it in, with no harm to you. This is the image I use for Tonglen. I encourage you to try it and to pick up the book for deeper instruction.
John Kotter, the change guru, said that each of us has a certain number of “Change coupons” and when they are used up, we can’t operate at our best. Most of us have gone far beyond using up our change coupons and are scraping the bottom of our resources. So, this New Year, aim for average. Work out a little but not more than you can. Let the house be lived in. Ease up on the resolutions. Let the laundry sit a bit longer. This is not the time to whip out your impressive self and set a 5:00 a.m. alarm.
Tired people need more white space and less stimulation. So next time when you want to reach for a podcast, Ted Talk, or any other audio format of self-improvement- take a strategic pause. See if a little silence might be more soothing. You can get back to being more-fabulous-every-day when you are truly ready. Or simply choose music over self-improvement. I notice a profound difference in my mood when I abandon intellectual pursuits in favour of the music that brings a smile to my face.
Be Grateful Anyway
It’s a tried-and-true mood boost to find things to be grateful for. But when life feels like everything is crashing around you, it can be a bitter pill to sit down to a gratitude list. Mostly it’s because you are aiming too grandly. Don’t try to force yourself into gratitude for the big-ticket items in your life that may or may not feel satisfying right now. Go small. Really small. Hands-around-a-warm-cup grateful. Born-in-a-country-not-at-war grateful. The-temperature-in-this-room-is-comfy grateful. That’s all you need to get to.
And of course, my dear friends, make some extra white space for yourself. The oxygenation of an under-scheduled day will help you slip into a gentler gear and that moderate pace and increased ease will clear emotional tension, thereby allowing you to face more powerfully what’s next in your life and your next year. Hugs to you all.
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