E PLURIBUS UNUM: RECLAIMING OUR CONNECTIONS WITH NATURE AND OURSELVES
Updated: Jan 24
A small, invisible life form – which knows no creed, nor race, nor political affiliation - has come to our cities and towns. It has made inroads in every state in the nation and around the globe. It is a pandemic, from the Greek pan (all) + demos (people) - meaning it discriminates against no one, no matter where you call home.
Within the span of a few weeks, the way in which we live our lives has been upended. Things we took for granted require entirely new levels of focus and attention. Disinfecting every surface is a newly ingrained habit; proper hand washing is now, thankfully, de rigueur.
HOW IS THIS UNCERTAINTY MAKING US FEEL?
There are many reactions occurring in living rooms and kitchens across the globe right now, each of them somewhere on Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief spectrum. Depending on your individual situation, you may be in denial or anger, have moved on to bargaining, are just depressed, or are contemplating some form of acceptance.
Despite these concerns, hope is also rising. Hope is a universal human emotion that comes to the forefront during times of anxiety or fear. Is there a way to be fearless, to lead with hope instead? How can we banish our anxiety when our adversary is invisible, whether a virus or a personal concern?
Let us recall how far we have made it as a species. Over centuries we have crafted practices that allow us to calm fears of what might happen next: philosophies, faith, science, and more. These practices help by building mental resilience, meaning, and purpose into our lives.
RESILIENCE, MEANING, AND PURPOSE: A PATH TO WELLNESS
By mastering fear and embracing hope and reason we release ourselves from the anxiety feedback loop. Easier said than done, you say? Yes, it takes practice, as does anything you desire mastery over. Nietzsche spoke of not only accepting what fate hands us but loving it. How many of you can honestly say today that you “love” what has been placed in your path?
Remember, only you control your mind. You can choose your reaction to any bit of adversity. Train yourself with this new habit – respond to adversity with reasoned choice. “I can’t change this situation, so how can I ‘love’ it or turn it to my advantage?” This is how you begin strengthening the resiliency muscle.
So, what’s your training regimen? Aaron Antonovsky, a sociologist who studied salutogenics (solutions focused on health), said there are three core elements to building resiliency in yourself: comprehension, manageability, and meaning. Let’s examine each element further:
1) Comprehension is your ability to understand what is happening to you - personally, situationally - at present. Either alone, or with the help of others, being able to wrap your mind around the challenge and understand what is at stake is the first step in building your internal resilience.
2) Manageability is the next step in building resilience. By having a clear path forward on how to manage your adversity – what choices you will make, what are your next steps - you are giving your brain a set of reliable tools it can access for any future encounter. We humans are elastic in our ability to adapt to new circumstances. Reminding ourselves of this ability, that we’ve been here before; that we CAN manage anything the world tosses our way, is key for a resilient life.
3) Lastly – and this is the differentiator of a health-focused approach – is the ability to find Meaning in our circumstances. Building meaning can take many avenues. Some find meaning in belonging: to a group, to a cause, to a family. Some find meaning in stories – inspirational, truth or fiction, fairytale or fable. Transcendent or awe-inducing experiences can also produce a sense of meaning, along with feelings of altruism.
Meaning can also be derived from exploring our sense of purpose, something humanity has done for eons. Contemplative practices like meditation or forest bathing can help us think through these eternal questions. Why are we here? What is happening to our culture? What will the future look like?
Purpose can also come from actions that serve something greater than yourself. Explore ways to strengthen the relationships within your communities. Serving others – both human and more-than-human beings – is a positive step forward in an environment where we may feel disconnected, bolstering that much-needed optimism.
By consciously moving from behind our screens to in front of them – physically engaging with other persons and the more-than-human world by listening, conversing, and eventually, touching again – we will reignite the curative power of connection.