By Jean Skeels
We wake up suddenly and realize we are in one of those movie scenes that I am pretty sure exist in multiple shows, films, or perhaps just in my imagination.
A film where one or more characters somehow drag another character, while they are in an impossibly deep sleep, all comfy and serene in their bed, down to the water and sets them off to sail in a pond, lake, or other body of water—a classic gag. So now here we all are, in our collective sleep, warm and cozy in our calm tranquil beds, and the next thing we know we are jarred into a new reality, one of cold water, a too far away shore, and the clearly unstable boat of a water logged mattress that is failing by the second.
We are going in. There is nothing we can do to change what is happening. Safety is gone, control has vanished, we are confronted by the darkest force of our worst nightmares, powerlessness, and to top it all off we definitely can hear a menacing laugh track somewhere off in the distance (or maybe that’s just me).
Once in the water we are pounded with relentless waves of desperate questions.
What do we do now? How do we survive this? Where do we go for shelter? Who will we be? When will things go back to normal? Will it ever be the same again? Will I die? Will the people I love die?
Feeling powerless is one of the most difficult and fear producing realities we encounter in this life. We spend so much time and go to great lengths to maintain control, or the illusion of it, holding on tightly to the dream that we are steering this ship. The truth is that we do have some control over our lives, but far less than we believe we do, and it is inevitable that one of these days life is going to toss us in the deep end on a leaky raft with no paddle.
We all will have to wrestle with powerlessness and the truth of no control at some point in our lives as individuals, in our families, and personal communities, but right now we are having the rare experience of an expansive, global, and intense situation of struggle. We have lost of control over so many parts of our external environment, and we are tossed head first into a great disruption, the ways we would normally meet our days and each other has been upended.
Schools are closed. Restaurants, bars and many places we gather are shut down, and we are told to stay in our homes and keep our distance if we need to go out. People are suddenly out of work, and the economic damage is going to be painful. Plus we are all faced with the fear of a spreading illness, one that that is new, has very limited treatment options, and can be deadly. One of our deepest most fundamental fears has swept over us, our fear of death, and it is palpable even if we don’t talk about it.
Coronavirus has dragged us out to stormy seas with no map to guide us. We are in uncharted territory and it is frightening. Our sense of control has been stolen from us.
Where do we take refuge is this chaos? What can we rely on? Where is the life raft?
All is not lost. There are things we do have control over. There is a way to get back to shore. What these circumstances cannot take away from us is our ability to become deeply present, to land on the ground of our innermost intelligence, creativity, connection, generosity, compassion and most of all, love. No circumstance can destroy the heart of us.
It is also true that conditions of extreme uncertainty like this, where we feel our very lives are in great peril, that death may be nearer to us than we have ever felt before, can bring out the worst of who we are as human beings. There has already been hoarding, heated arguments about how to handle this, and anger over perceived violations. Fear and panic often breed violence, and there are those who will take advantage of the chaos, and those who will be quite humanely, acting out in self preservation mode. But even if many people give into the most base parts of themselves, we must not give up on us.
We can start looking around and taking in the ways people are showing up for each other, the generosity of care, the ways this is bringing us together even though it is asking us to stay apart.
I see essential services being provided with incredible bravery and stamina, medical workers, grocery store employees, police and fire fighters, scientists, and so many more working tirelessly to get us through this. I see people offering to deliver things to at risk neighbors.
I see people in the helping fields sharing videos, writings, and many resources online and often free of charge. I see a flow of information to help people with kids suddenly home from school. I see art and poetry and cooking and all kinds of beautiful creativity springing up and all around. I see videos of people leaning out of windows or going out on their front lawns and singing together, others of people dancing. Joy, love, beauty, and goodness are very much alive and well.
Empowerment lives in connection and we are connected despite it all. That is our nature. That is who we are.
Feelings of powerlessness might also impact us at this time if we become sick, if people we love become sick, if our mental health is adversely affected, if we already are disabled or chronically ill and now have to add in new layer of complexity, or if we just feel tired, disoriented, and our usual energy and capabilities seem to decline. It is okay to not be okay.
To not be able, to step back, to rest, to make space for our personal needs and to step up and in when we can, and in ways that respect our own health and well being.
Most of us are inclined to identify with the things we do and to see our worth and value directly connected to those things. Now is a good time to reinspect our relationship to doing versus being. Our expectations of ourselves will be challenged and compassion will be key. There will be time to help others stay afloat in the current and there will be times when we need to be supported. Allowing ourselves to receive support might be new and uncomfortable but it will be vital that we take turns as needed so we don’t all tire out at once. It looks like this will be an endurance event, not a sprint.
We will need rest and time to regroup and recover.
Compassion will be key as we work our way through this trial. Compassion for ourselves and our limitations, for when we get down, frustrated, angry or whatever ways we might feel and act out. Compassion for others as they do the same.
We can hold boundaries and still be compassionate.
We can choose who and what we invest our time in without needing to control or direct how others are showing up in all this. If someone we are in a relationship with is acting out in harmful ways, we can choose to be in dialogue with them or not, but it is not our responsibility to try to manipulate or fix anyone. If someone is endangering themselves or others we can direct them to resources or in extreme cases call in resources to create safety, but we must let go of the illusion that we can transform anyone else. We can’t do anyone else’s work for them, and no one can do ours. We won’t do any of this perfectly. We can only each do the best we can.
The fundamental truth of this is, here we are. The situation is what it is.
We can’t wave a wand and make it go away, but we can pay attention, we can find ways to be generous with ourselves and others, we can learn a lot about connection and being both open to receiving care as well as giving it, we can focus on our feelings instead of pushing them away. We can feel what we feel and work to become more conscious of how we are being affected and how we show up. There is an enormous amount of potential for what we can grow out of this time of great difficulty.
We are alone together right now, but the together is where our power lives and it is the force that will guide us back to shore.
Jean Skeels is a full time mother, writer, yoga teacher, photographer, and end of life doula living in a small town called Grand Marais MN located just south of the Canadian border in the Superior National Forest on the shore of Lake Superior. She writes a blog called Magnificent Mess and has been published previously by Entropy Magazine, Elephant Journal, and Rebelle Society. She can be found on Facebook and Instagram @jmskeels
Editor: Dana Gornall
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