Is it really only a couple of weeks since I had lunch with friends in a nearby village before they went on to a theatre dinner and a show? Two days later the theatre – a hub for the local community – locked its doors. Four days after that, all restaurants and pubs were instructed to close. It will be a long time before we can engage in such simple pleasures again. It lingers wistfully in my memory.
Perhaps a similar moment marks the shifting of tectonic plates in your own social landscape? An event that you now realise drew a line between the ordinary and the extraordinary, and symbolises a before and an after?
During March, my experience of time altered. So much changed, so quickly, that time seemed to both concertina and become elongated. In part, this may be because I spent the first two months of this year in retreat, where time slowed and became spacious. Yet my friends also report a warping of time
In retreat, the shape of the days is stable and structured and, in conventional terms, very little happens from one day to another. This means that variations in thinking, mood, emotions and other inner experiences become more obvious. With very little external stimulus, it becomes clear that these fluctuations are self-generated. I learn to accept the volatility of my mind and to practise steadying it.
In contrast, in everyday life and work, a lot happens as a matter of course. There are calls on my time and energy, places to go, stuff to do, pressures to navigate, commitments to meet – usually at pace. It becomes harder to separate the impact of external events from my inner demeanour, preconceptions and expectations. It is easier to attribute my ups and downs to ‘out there’ rather than ‘in here’. It becomes more challenging to steady myself in the turbulence.
In recent weeks, the intensity of everyday concerns has ramped up, alongside a significant dismantling of all that is routine and familiar. It is bewildering. So much so that, as I tried to summarise the field of my practice in preparation for my coach supervision last week, I used the phrase: In the year of March…
In this ‘year’ of March, wave after wave of change has occurred, in both our daily lives and the very fabric of our world. The scope and speed of these events challenges our capacity to perceive their effect on us, mentally, emotionally and energetically.
It’s important to attend to this. In ‘Managing Transitions’, William Bridges wrote:
‘It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.’
He distinguishes between change events and the psychological process of coming to terms with their impact. For most of us, a year’s worth of change events happened in a few weeks, with little or no time to adapt emotionally and energetically. This transition lies ahead, as restrictions ‘bite’ and/or we truly grasp the far-reaching consequences of what is happening.
I had a small taste of transition last week. In a slew of announcements, there were two that made the new realities more palpable for me. One was beneficial and the other not, yet my energetic response to each was the same – a day of listlessness. Overwhelmed by the enormity of the Government’s interventions, my body signalled a need to acclimatise, similar to adjusting to altitude or recovering from jet-lag. This takes time and, thankfully, I was able to rest. Vitality quickly returned.
The option to rest and recover isn’t available to everyone. For each person with more time on their hands in lockdown, there are many more working longer hours with greater intensity than they ever believed possible.
So, what might assist us to avoid being ‘done in’ by transition?
As a starting point, whatever our circumstances, we might cut ourselves and others some slack. If we recognise that everyone is unsettled by these events, we may be a little kinder. We might also extend the benefit of the doubt to those shouldering the burden of making decisions in bewildering conditions.
In this march of time, my personal resolve is to try to not add to the turmoil. What is yours?