I am writing about what is now all around us, impacting all of our lives. You might be tired of hearing it as it comes from everywhere, creeps into everything. Precisely because it is now so ever-present and all of us need to deal with it somehow, is why it is good to reflect on what it means and how we can cope with this new reality. The crisis induced by the corona virus, impacting all humankind.
I wake up some mornings thinking that this is just a dream, that this is not real. And of course, the bright sun coming through the window and the innocent blue sky above help me to linger in this dream…but surely, shortly afterwards, I realize that this is real, this virus-ridden world is what we are living in right now. This is our new reality, however not our new normal. At least, I am accepting it to be for what it is right now, knowing that there will be a time when it is past us and when we return to peace, when things will shift again, for the better.
The beginnings – the unknown, the fear and finding freedom
I have got a first glimpse of this situation at the end of January, about a month before the virus reached The Netherlands, where I live. I have been travelling through Europe by train and have seen people popping up here and there wearing face masks. I witnessed a heart-wrenching situation in a store, where two elderly leadies almost got into a fist fight, because they could not get face masks. That morning the news were alarming people that the virus is spreading across Europe and they should not be vigilant, but prepare themselves. People stormed the stores and bought all available masks and these two old ladies, suffering from serious diseases, desperately wanted masks. Thankfully, the cashier could calm down the situation, by reassuring the ladies that there is no need to panic and directing them to other stores. For me, this experience showed that something is coming that can swirl up emotion and panic, big time.
When the virus emerged in The Netherlands, I also got swept away by emotions and the enormity of the situation. As a journalist-researcher type of person, I instinctively went and read / listened to / watched all that was to find about the virus and was following the news minute by minute. I wanted to get to know it, understand it, make sense out of it.
After a few days, as more and more threatening news came, I got overwhelmed and needed to withdraw as it started to impact me too much. I needed to take a step back, calm my system down and regain focus. Instead of being in anxiety and waiting for the next headline to appear, I gave myself time and space to get a grip on my reaction. I needed to first acknowledge what is going on and then to remind myself that I have a choice: I can decide how I respond to it. As in the quote attributed to Victor Frankl, this is where our ultimate freedom lies; whilst we cannot make the situation go away, we can choose how we respond to it.
Embracing the good – abundance and gratefulness
In all of the scary messages there were always a few with rays of light: how skyes cleared up due to less pollution, how people started to help each other selflessly. How people realized how much they actually needed and craved each others’ presence. How much people wanted to be outside, move around and enjoy nature, dance and sing.
In my latest post I wrote about abundance, that it is in all of us and still it is a mindset that we all need to learn. I would not have thought that I will be needing my own advice so soon and in such an extraordinary situation.
Abundance for me now is the name of the game. This is my basis these days. It is switching my perspective from what is going wrong to what is going right that helps me to cope. Abundance does not erase what is going on and it does make it go away that many people are ill and some of them are dying, that people are losing their jobs and livelihoods, that we cannot see our parents and grandparents and that there are feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and desperation. Seeing the abundance around me and in me helps me to fight and reframe these messages of scarcity. I work on it every day to see what is there, what is possible, instead of what is missing.
Abundance is all around me, in the awakening spring, its colors and scents; in the love and presence and understanding of my partner; in the happiness and innocence of our pet animals; in our home that is an island of peace and security and in my friends and family, seeking connection and support.
With this abundance comes gratefulness. Strangely, in these times of extremes I feel a new type of gratefulness that flows effortlessly. I think about how lucky I am, how lucky we are, no matter what is happening. How much we are able to do, able to mean to others, how well we are taken care of. I can now find millions of examples to be grateful for and it lifts my spirit. It gives me strength to be able to go through this situation and look for ways to help, to bring abundance to places dwarfed by scarcity.
Doing what you can do – focusing on what you can influence
It is powerful to think about all the good things in our lives and what we can all do in this situation. What I see around me is that despite the debilitating news, many people are taking steps to help themselves and help each other. People are doing something, turning to things that they have control over (like their relationships and how many rolls of toilet paper they have in their house), to manage the part of the situation that they can.
I believe that this is the behaviour or habit that Stephen Covey calls being proactive in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. Being proactive means that you focus your efforts on your ‘circle of influence’, the things that you can impact and change. In this crisis situation there is a danger that people will focus too much on things they cannot control (their circle of concern), like the decisions of others and alarming news from all around the world, and are wasting a lot of their energy and get into a depressive downward spiral.
I believe that we help ourselves and others most, if we remain proactive as much as we can and focus on what we have control over. The beautiful thing about your circle of influence is that the more you focus on it, the larger it gets. You dedicate more of your resources to topics that you can control, you pay more attention to how you deal with people, you take responsibility for what is important to you and this way you gain influence over more things than you had before.
So this is my take on life these days: focusing on choosing my response instead of reacting, looking for abundance, looking with gratefulness and remaining proactive. As they say that this will last long, we will need to prepare with strategies that help us to stay our course; I will be dedicating my next post to that.