By Dr Wayne Dodge MD, MPH, DipC
In these unsettling times, we have choice as to how we react and/or respond to our unsettlement.
There are the usual recommendations – which I heartily endorse:
- Practice your grounding. Whatever you do to invite yourself to ground – breath, yoga, running, prayer, etc – do more of it, more intentionally. If I am grounded I am more likely to ‘respond’ than ‘react’.
- Intentionally create routines. Social distancing, working from home, cancellations of social events – these all interrupt our standard routines. Human brains love pattern and routine. Create new ones for the interim – and stick to them (as long as they’re working) no matter how ‘silly’ they might be. And be thoughtful about stopping routines that are not working (like watching the daily news).
- Keep the big picture in mind. There have been pandemics before (1918 influenza, 1955 polio, etc.) – and yes, they are serious with serious consequences – and we muddle through. This is the equivalent of Ben’s (one of The Haven’s founders) definition of faith: “Faith is the felt assurance of the continuity of life.” (not, by the way, the assurance of the continuation of MY life).
- Get enough of the right information. Choose your source of information carefully – and if monitoring the news is ‘feeding’ the anxiety rather than grounding it – take breaks. And keep your critical functions sharp differentiating what is FACT versus what is opinion. And if opinion, evaluate the source for reliability/expertise.
- Have fun. I find it heartening to see the pictures of people playing their instruments on their balconies while in isolation. The situation may not be fun; there is a great deal of tragedy in it; AND there is no reason to avoid whatever fun that can be milked from it.
And there are multiple additional recommendations circulating the internet.
One recommendation that I’d like to suggest that is not so prevalent is:
- Embrace the anxiety
Many of the recommendations that I have seen on the internet seem to be focused on avoiding or diminishing one’s anxiety. In the spirit of Margaret Wheatley, I would encourage honoring and embracing whatever anxiety you have in the moment. Breathe into the anxiety and experience it – hopefully with someone else, even if at 6 feet social distancing. Write it in journaling or poetry. “Two chair” it (a psychotherapeutic technique that we’ll share a how-to on soon). Whatever is likely to be supportive of your process. If I simply try to avoid or suppress the anxiety, I believe it will certainly bite me back in some way.
Exploring it deeply is one of the last things I wish to do in such times – AND, if I do so, I find additional room for what else is possible. The anxiety does not remain ALL that I can see/feel.
These are existential times – and the existential question remains – ‘Will I stand forth INTO life – or stand back or stand out?’
Choosing to stand forth is for me the gateway into my ‘agency’ – as I am invited to be active (and remember that Witnessing is an active stance as well) in the world. So, in this time of uncertainty and anxiety, I strongly recommend looking for what I can DO that may have a positive impact on the situation. And take the courage to DO it.
This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Angela Y. Davis:
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
How are you standing forth into life right now? How are you accessing your agency?
About the Author:
Wayne Dodge MD, MPH, DipC has been associated with The Haven since 1981. He was the Clinical Director of an 18-practitioner Medical Clinic and administered the AIDS program for a large medical organization for 15 years. He has led Come Alive, Living Alive 1: Self Awareness, and Haven-Style Theories & Practices of Transformation (formerly: New Horizons: Phase III). With Gwen Ewan, he co-created Self-Compassion and a series of programs on Haven skills. He is a proud grandfather who is enjoying retirement and spending time in Seattle with his husband and partner of more than 30 years.