By Judith E. Lipson, M.A., LPC
This pandemic is getting so difficult for so many! This is really not surprising! It’s been nearly 6 months since many began their sheltering-in-place practices. When the weather got nice, and school was over for “summer vacation”, there was an especially acute longing to get back to life – as we knew it. After all, summer is that glorious time when we travel with our families, by ourselves, or with special friends to escape the harried life of work and home responsibilities. Summer has become equivalent for many of us as the time for escape. But instead of getting the green light to take our escape, we were met with resistance. Some saw the resistance coming from the CDC, or their governmental leaders, while some recognized that this is a result of the impact of the novel coronavirus. Regardless, many see this as a time when one’s desires are being thwarted. And we don’t like that!!
In all my years of talking to people I’ve realized that one’s ability to shift and adapt varies. Actually, I will rephrase that to say one’s willingness to shift and adapt varies! One way to improve your adaptability is through equanimity. I’ve written about it previously, but I want to discuss it again in the context of COVID-19, and all that it is revealing to us socially, politically, environmentally, financially, educationally, medically, etc, etc.
I’d like to invite you to take a few introspective moments and look at “being uncomfortable”. This is not about justification that you have a right to your thought or feeling. We’re going deeper than that. Do you even have an awareness of the discomforting thought, feeling, or action? Or have you been so intent on avoiding the discomfort that you hadn’t even sat with it long enough to recognize it occurring? Identify what drives you, what troubles you, what ultimately makes you uncomfortable. In other words, what have you been avoiding or running from?
- Thoughts: i.e., “I don’t want there to be a pandemic.” “There really isn’t anything to be afraid of or react to.” “People aren’t going to tell me what I can or can’t do.” “I deserve this …… (vacation, experience, etc).” Those are only some of the possible thoughts that may have led to your discomfort. What are yours?
- Feelings: Anger and fear are the main emotions that people discuss. But I encourage you to go deeper. Is there frustration? Grief? Loneliness? Anxiety? Worry? Sadness? A sense of betrayal or injustice? Disappointment? Agitation? Feeling misunderstood? What feeling(s) are you experiencing? And have you been running from them?
- Actions: For some people, this is the easiest route to then access the rest. What action have you been taking that has provided you the opportunity to not have to feel the uncomfortable emotion, or think the uncomfortable thought, that you identified above? For instance, these are two extreme positions, but do you go into public with no consideration of the CDC recommendations? Do you stay home in your bubble when it is not medically required? What actions might you be taking that provide you an escape to avoid feeling the uncomfortable emotions or thoughts?
Now I would like to invite you to look at all of this a bit differently. Most folks’ experiences have led them to become wired to expect only the status quo, or that which was previously in existence. As a result, you may feel that you should avoid change. Change and discomfort, however, do not equal dangerous! So I encourage you to have a conscious inner conversation to reframe the situation and allow opportunity.
Seeking equanimity can help with this by providing you with a greater sense of peace during the challenging situation. (I think this pandemic qualifies as challenging! Don’t you?!) Equanimity is the acceptance of what is. As I explain to my clients, this type of acceptance doesn’t mean that you shout, “Oh goody! This is awesome. I love it. Bring on more.” No, it’s rather a type of acknowledging that what is … IS … for right now. You might still choose to make the inner changes (like acceptance, forgiveness, empowerment, etc), and/or seek to change the situation that you are not accepting (like racism, mysogeny, various inequalities, etc). Equanimity is the practice of finding the peace within your situation, which will ultimately help you to make the changes that you seek internally and externally, more effectively.
When you can experience equanimity you will find that there is less resistance in your situation. See if you can follow this visual: Imagine that you are looking at a ball. This ball represents the issue at hand – that really icky situation like COVID, or like your uncomfortable thought or feeling that you identified earlier. The situation – the ball – is bad enough. It’s already hard to to deal with. But now if you add resistance, you’ve just put a very large coating around the ball. The ball may now feel twice the size of the original situation. There is no need to add resistance. Remember, the “ball” feels like it’s enough of a hurdle all by itself. So remove the resistance, using equanimity, and allow the uncomfortable feelings to feel more tolerable and more manageable.
I want to address one last thing in this article. I stated in the first paragraph: “…there was an especially acute longing to get back to life – as we knew it”. I’d like to caution you about this concept. Change is normal. It’s part of our own personal development – you are not the same as you were in your childhood or teen years. In fact, approximately each decade of adult aging brings about changes. (You might look up Dr. Levinson’s Seasons of Life Theory to learn more.) Change is also part of society’s development. If you look back at history you see the identification of the industrial and technological revolutions, to name a few. I was alive during the civil rights era, the space race, and women receiving greater rights through feminism. What’s likely unprecedented is for us to live through these many current changes, with the onslaught of informational awareness, and to have so many changes occurring all at once during a global pandemic.
Certainly, our knee-jerk desire is for it all to go away, and to return to what we are used to. But we should not want to return to “normal”! We are understanding and recognizing more and more that what we saw as normal, the status quo, was inferior. We can do better. We deserve better. No one need settle for less.
So I urge you. Take a few minutes (with a trusted friend or professional, if needed) and look within. What have you been hiding from? Bring it to the surface. Look at it. Bring it into accurate perspective. Remove the layers of fear and resistance. Seek equanimity with it and within yourself. Then you will have the ability to make an accurate assessment of what you actually want to change and how to get there.
Take a few minutes and look at the changes that seem to be happening around you. Don’t rush to put things back the way they were, nor to create what you think it should be, because you may not yet know the best outcome for it to be. In Alcoholics Anonymous they understand the following: If you always do what you always did, then you will always get what you always got. These are important times and there’s no need to have a knee-jerk reaction to any of it.
Drop your fear and your anger. Open your heart to self and others. Seek acceptance of what is … as equanimity.
Judy Lipson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and educational strategist in West Bloomfield, MI. She helps clients of all ages who have learning difficulties, work or school related anxiety, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorders, and those who wish to Remember and Become ‘Who You Really Are’. Contact Judy at 248.568.8665 and firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit www.SpiralWisdom.net for more information.
This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to replace medical care.