Anchors Rather than Answers
No one knows for sure when this pandemic will be over. When it will be safe to eat out, get your hair cut, visit friends without masks, attend a live football game or a live concert, when students can sit in a classroom with fellow students again.
For some, coping with so many uncertainties and having no answers has led to a kind of stoic enduring rather than enthusiastic planning for the future, even a form of existential ennui.
Anchors are what keep boats and ships from drifting when they are out in open water, without horizons or moorings. Anchors are what keep people from drifting into malaise or despair when the normal markers of a life – visiting relatives over a summer vacation, Labor Day picnics, the blessed return of kids to school and friends – have gone missing.
I’ve suggested five anchors below that will help any of us stay alive and engaged as we continue to do the best we can while making do.
1. Stay pro-actively engaged rather than passively enduring
As Dr. Seuss has taught us for generations:
Being in a slump is never much fun
And un-slumping yourself is not easily done.
Stay active in your body:
Walk along the beach, ride a bike, climb some stairs for good exercise, pull some weeds every day. Mix it up for interest and variety. Invite family and friends to join you for companionship and motivation.
Participate in an online yoga/fitness class at least twice a week; continue the practice on your own another twice a week.
Do the household chores – making the bed, folding the laundry, cleaning up the toys, taking out the trash – with an appreciation that you are engaging, not pooping out and plopping, in ways that give the energy of fulfillment of purpose.
Stay active in your mind:
Read a good book (or two)
Do a mind map, keep a journal, start writing a memoir
Share poetry with friends or start a social distanced by open-minded book club.
Stay active in your heart:
Email 7-15 friends, sharing with them what they mean to you, what you appreciate about them, and ask them to return the favor.
Schedule regular Zoom calls with friends; the energy and the psyche get a lift all week knowing you’ll be connecting soon with a friend or close relative.
Decide where you want to invest your volunteer time or contributions on behalf of voter participation in the upcoming elections. (I’ve already emailed folks about WinWisconsin; you’ll have your own preferences.)
Stay active (peacefully) in your soul:
Commit to a morning sunrise meditation every morning for two weeks; anchor in a deeper sense of well-being that underlies the current chaos and upheaval.
Sit quietly on a favorite bench in a park and reflect on all that you have to be grateful for.
Visit a local botanical garden and expand your view of the complexity and inter-connectedness of all of life.
2. Create structures and routines
Dan Siegel, M.D., suggests that our brains work best when they are FACES – flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized and stable. We’ve had a lot of practice being flexible and adaptive during this pandemic. Being stable is essential, too, and structure and routines anchor us in some stability.
An example, creating structure and routine when done every week:
Monday – sharing the rose-thorn-bud practice with family and friends. Each person in turn sharing the rose – the highlight or most satisfying moment of the day. The thorn – something difficult or disappointing. The bud – the hope or intention for tomorrow.
Tuesday – board games, chess games, jigsaw puzzles, in person or by Zoom. (This works better for kids and cousins than you might imagine.)
Wednesday – mid-week movie night; a wealth of choices available now on the internet. I’ll plug one more time the wonderful Now More Than Ever playlist of concerts and dance performances from Cal Performances at University of California-Berkeley.
Thursday – cooking up a new recipe for a culinary adventure – or relishing the treasured pasta/pizza/dessert that is comfort food for all.
Friday – a virtual wine or beer or cheese or chocolate or ice cream tasting party. It does take some planning and is more fun if everyone keeps track of the results, but deliciously worth it.
Saturday – a be-bopping dance party in the living room or safely in the neighborhood street
Sunday – reading the good book, sharing the good poetry, doing a mind map for the coming week.
3. Plan for the future (even for later today)
Anticipating something enjoyable or pleasant gives us a little hit of dopamine, the brain’s way of keeping up motivated and enthused
Making a plan happen also activates the dopamine, giving us a sense of reward for our accomplishment, starting us on an upward spiral
Plan an outing – walking a neighborhood or driving through countryside you’ve never been in before. Doesn’t have to be distant or for long, just something new.
Plan a larger journey – having a destination like a state or national park, even for a day, gives you a sense of movement, engagement, adventure, and reminds you that you can make good things happen.
4. Deepen connections with people
Human beings are social beings and human brains are social brains. We need safe and resonant connections with other people to remember who we are and why we want to be alive. We don’t do so well when we feel isolated and alone.
The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.
– James Baldwin,
Take time to deepen the connections with people important to you. A long phone conversation, meeting outside on a warm, sunny day, sharing what’s deeply important (even if unsettling) and sharing what’s even deeper than that – glimmers of meaning, purpose, contentment.
I gave a eulogy at a Zoom memorial service this summer. The gathering of community to honor the life of someone who had touched and inspired us all was both more intimate and more transcendent than I possibly could have imagined.
5. Deepen the practices of awe, gratitude, joy:
I’ve posted before about Plowing through the Day with Gratitude. Especially in these times, being grateful for everything that is going more than all right.
The Cloud Appreciation Society delivers stunning images of clouds from all over the world into my email inbox every morning, whether I can see a cloud through the fog or smoke where I live or not.
You can experience glimmers of joy in many moments throughout the day. And when it’s not a prism of color reflected off the dish soap in my kitchen sink, or the antics of my cats chasing each other through the house, or glimpsing a bee busily feeding in the abelia bush, I turn to the “good news” posts and videos like 100 Year Old Man Raises $40 Million for Health Care or the cute animal videos like Tiny Glimmers of Joy and Love Build Resilience, Too that make me laugh until I cry.
We can do this. We are doing this. And this reminder from last week’s post When You Find You’re Weary…
My Advice to You
– Victoria Erickson
My advice to you
Is to soften
Into the discomfort.
Know that it’s gifting you growth.
Fuel, and grit.
Whatever it may be
that you’re claiming this year
as your desire and dream,
I wish you the comfort within the discomfort.
The stillness within the unease.
The softening withing the stretch.
I wish you the match
that lights and revives the fire
to keep you going.
Because you can.