This is an uncertain time for all of us in so many different ways. We don’t know what to expect with each moment, how deeply the pandemic will touch us or not. We don’t know how the world will be different when the pandemic is over; many of us are suffering with the illness or caring for a loved one with the illness. Many of us are also concerned about loss of livelihood. We may compare our suffering with others in either direction, whether we have more or less suffering, but this doesn’t truly help us feel better.
We don’t know why this is happening or why good people suffer (although I am asking myself these questions every day). Philosophers and theologians have debated these questions for millennia without clear resolution. Let’s focus instead on how to cope with what is happening, because wishing it weren’t here won’t change it (even though I wish it could!)
As Hagrid said in Harry Potter: “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.” Or as Jim Morrison said: “Take it easy baby, take it as it comes.”
Open- heartedness in difficult times
- Fear makes you want to curl up tight. Instead, you can allow the fear in and make room for it in your body. Try to open to it rather than contract your body and emotions in response. It will pass through you more easily and you will feel differently. A quote from the book Dune says: “Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing, only I will remain.” You will remain, that is what is essential.
- Make room in your heart for whatever is there. Tara Brach a psychologist and meditation teacher often talks about putting her hand over her heart and focusing her attention in her heart space. Try making room for whatever is there in your heart. I find this to be a very powerful meditation.
- Notice how strong you are. Try to notice ways in which you are strong and have dealt with difficulties in the past. Notice all the resources you have at your disposal now such as relationships and communities that you can rely on for support. Know that you are stronger than you think and can deal with more difficulties than you think. When you fear something bad happening, you are doubting your own power to cope.
- Accept the things we can control and the things we can’t control. We all wish we could control the trajectory of the pandemic and what it will do to our lives. Accepting reality rather than fighting with it will help you feel more peaceful. Also, since we can’t control the outside world, focus instead on what you can do to help yourself and others. Also, know that this too, like everything else, shall pass.
- Don’t blame yourself. Whether you have gotten sick yourself or passed along the illness to a loved one or any version of that, it’s not your fault. Blaming yourself gives you a false sense of control in thinking that “if I blame myself I can prevent this from happening again” or “I can somehow time travel backwards and undo it.” These thoughts will only cause you suffering and are not true or fair to yourself.
- Focus on others. It helps to put your focus on others. Notice the medical heroes who are putting their lives on the line to help others. Or a person shopping for her elderly neighbor, or family members who are stepping up to help those that are sick; they are heroes too. Thinking about the helpers helps you to focus on the positive. Thinking about what you can do to help others takes the focus off of yourself and feels better. Helpers are acting with great generosity and open-heartedness, which ultimately feels good to the giver and receivers of their kindness.
How are you coping? Please let me know. Email me at Ilana@IlanaRosenberg.com
Ilana D. Rosenberg, Ph.D.