Today’s blog is late. Moved to write, I got up at four, and while I finished before my usual 7 am posting time, I needed to sit awhile with this before pressing “publish.”
I think this might be, in part, why I’ve been having a hard time finding words, why I’ve been feeling fallow of late. Realizing this, admitting this, to myself, here, feels vulnerable. Yet it’s absolutely true. And perhaps in doing so, words might now come easier for me. I don’t know.
I do know, that when I walked Annie last week and I listened to Brene Brown’s podcast with Dr. Vivek Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States and author of Together: The Healing Power of Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, I felt a big penny drop deep inside. In mid-April, a month into the global COVID-19 lockdown, they talked about loneliness and its huge physical and emotional toll on social connection. Three months later and I’m feeling its price.
The early days of COVID-19, when winter hung on with its snow and cold, the days had not yet appeared significantly lighter and longer, I enjoyed the prolonged cocooning it invited. While odd to see few cars on the streets, and even fewer folks around, I felt comfortable and at home in the stillness and quiet that would only come during those occasional holydays or snow days when everyone stayed home. But now, four months later, into summer with its longer days, and our staged re-entry, I find it harder to navigate. Each week it becomes more apparent that life as I have come to know it, with its felt rhythms and routines, conversations and connections, is no longer, at least not yet. Too, the utter uncertainty as to what I might next conjure in the way of work baffles and confounds.
Grief. I’ve spoken of it here on this platform over the months.
But when I heard Dr. Murthy define loneliness as the gap between the connections that you need and the social connections that you currently have, I knew “I am lonely.”
Murthy describes three dimensions of loneliness to reflect the particular type of relationship we might be missing:
Emotional loneliness is missing that close confidant or intimate partner with whom you share a deep mutual bond of affection and trust.
Relational or social loneliness is the yearning for quality friendships and social companionship and support.
Collective loneliness is the hunger for a network or community of people who share your sense of purpose and interests.
“Loneliness is not a concept, it is the body constellating, attempting to become proximate and even join with other bodies, through physical touch, through conversation or the mediation of the intellect and the imagination.”
David Whyte, “Loneliness, ” in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, 2015
So despite, blessedly, having a loving, steadfast husband of forty years, and family including my healthy, alert, fully engaged parents, I feel lonely.
I have dear friends, near and far. We stay in touch. Yet, I feel lonely for the in person, physical, face to face, exchange of energy and ideas and feelings and smiles and tears and embraces. For that “mediation of the intellect and the imagination.”
Now living into a different age and stage of life, my felt sense of community has shifted. Those ready-made places and affiliations, conveniently arrived at through work, are no longer. So how to create new connections? And how to do so under these peculiar circumstances induced by the pandemic?
As I’m writing this, I feel my body sigh in relief, with recognition. And, too, the toll. Anxiety that hurts. Insomnia, most often for me early morning waking at two or three. Lethargy. Lack of focus. Aimlessness.
In the last few days, I’ve begun to talk about this.
I’m reaching out to friends to find ways to “safely” meet together, in real time, in our real bodies.
I have “professional” support. When I arrived home from three months living in Europe, culture shocked, rattled to the bone by family upheavals, destabilized with the news my position at work had been “abolished,” grieving the passing of our Lady dog, I sank. And from that place I reached out to make an appointment with a therapist I’d once recommended to friend. I knew I needed to take my own advice. I’ve been seeing her ever since. Ten times a year. Like a zen sitting – calming, soothing, regulating. Having myself worked as a therapist, and years ago been involved in analytic process work, I recognize how the practice has changed, now informed by research in trauma and its neuro-physiological-emotional impacts. That hour, with me and her, helps me show up well in this world. I smile imagining I’ll maintain this part of my self-care practice for the rest of my days.
“Allow your loneliness time To dissolve the shell of dross That had closed around you; Choose in this severe silence To hear the one true voice Your rushed life fears: Cradle yourself like a child Learning to trust what emerges, So that gradually You may come to know That deep in that black hole You will find the blue flower That holds the mystical light Which will illuminate in you The glimmer of springtime.”
John O’Donohue, “For Loneliness,” an excerpt in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008
Loneliness. One of the hidden, insidious impacts of life during this pandemic. Even more so. Because of it.
Paradoxically, I know I’m not alone with loneliness. So, let’s not suffer this one alone. Talk about it. Reach out. Get help.
I love our Annie dog for her daily nudging to get outside and walk – her, me, us. Like clockwork, come early afternoon she’ll fetch me. Typically finds me sitting at my computer so it’s easy to put the full weight of her head on my arm to signal, COME. She is patient and knows it might take a minute or several, and I have a commitment to her, to come.
We’ve had a cold start to spring, with lots of snow, and this week, temperatures well below freezing, and well below that with wind chill. Frankly, oddly perhaps, I’m grateful. Because this prolonged winter with its invitation to cocoon, might help us all “stay home” and do our personal best to contain this, as yet, incessant spread of COVID-19. Yesterday afternoon, another brilliant blue sky sunny cold day, Annie and I were the only ones on the path through our bit of urban nature, the golf course five minutes from home. It’s spacious, lined with trees – cottonwood and aspen, mayday and spruce. It’s quiet enough to hear waxwings twitter, sparrows chirp, and now the returning geese honk. And it’s open enough to see wide expanses of sky and clouds floating overhead.
Lately, with the sun higher in the sky, we’ve taken to sitting on a bench at one of the tee-offs. I help Annie up and nestled in the crook of my side, with my arm holding her warm, we sit together and take in the view, breathe in the scent.
Lately, I find myself praying – to the sun and the moon, and the stars and clouds, to the sky and the trees and the wind and the birds, to the god of my being and beyond. Sometimes silent, but often out loud, with Annie as my witness, I say “thank you” for as much and as many as I can remember in the moment. I speak my worries. I ask for guidance and help to stay present with the “bigness, muchness, fullness”of these unraveling times. And I ask that my life be my prayer.
“It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.”
Mary Oliver, Redwing, 2008
“And I pray….my life is a prayer more conscientiously now.” I first spoke these words in an email to a dear friend a few weeks back. It just came, in the moment, fingers pecking at the keyboard. I paused. True, and what does this mean? How does one live one’s life as prayer?
In a first draft of this post, I had a list of things that I’m doing. But when I “winnow to essence,” the simplest, truest response is notice, name and thank people being and bringing their best to the world. Be kindness. Be.
“It is a great gift to yourself and also to the world… to get settled inside yourself, to know what it is to befriend reality, to figure out how to stay soft.”
Krista Tippett, On Being, 2020
There are moments when this hardly feels enough. When I hear of friends living on the brink, doing all they can, moment by moment, to recreate business plans to stay afloat. Or those who have been laid off as community services shutter. Or learn it’s a distant family member stuck on the cruise ship no port had permitted safe harbour until now, wondering if her spouse, diagnosed positive, will make it home, alive. Or read the text from my “sister” in Germany, she in self isolation with a chronic respiratory condition, but on the phone day and night with her team of pharmacists to ensure the best care for their community, while frantically sourcing medicines that are fast running out.
Then a wave of sadness.
Then a deep breath to remember this is my offering. It comes from my deepest regard and kindness. With the highest intention, for the good of all.
It has to be enough.
“Enough. These few words are enough. If not these words, this breath. If not this breath, this sitting here. This opening to life we have refused again and again until now. Until now.”
Today, sitting around our home, still in my robe and slippers at nearly noon, with not a thing needing to get done, I realized how much my interior state is still one of having to do something to feel purposeful. Just sitting there (oh the judgment with typing “just” and what that connotes), looking out the window, sipping a coffee, and I’m feeling this pressure, this nagging urgency to get going, get doing.
“To do something to feel purposeful.“
As a kid, it was always about staying one step ahead so as not to get in trouble. Hyper-vigilance became my m.o. and like most qualities, it has its double edge. On one hand, an ability to quickly scan and sense into the field, to notice, to decide, and act, or not. Very helpful in lots of places. On the other, an ever-present heightened awareness that can quickly become anxiety. Not so helpful when it takes over and leaves me lagged and jagged in its wake.
Then as an adult, both in my professional work, and spiritually seeking nature, I read and espoused tomes on finding the elusive work-life balance of purpose, meaning, values aligned engagement, so on and so forth. Titles, many of which remain on the book shelf, and which continue to attest to its selling and seductive power. Still doing something to feel purposeful.
Now, it seems those very words, phrases, steps and stages to which I aspired are backfiring as I sit in this new now place of having an expanse of wide open time and space in which to do, to be anything I wish to do, to be. I realize it’s always a matter of interpretation, and I’ve truly appreciated the authors and thought leaders from whose books and words I’ve gleaned much, but I’m wondering, yet again, the extent to which this too, is conditioning premised on a core belief of being flawed, and not enough, just as I am? Of not trusting a deep inner balance beyond myself? I wonder how much this is a ruse we’ve all bought into, the striving that becomes driven, the discipline that shapeshifts to bullying. The way we keep ourselves and others in line making, doing, getting and growing.
“All day long you do this, and then even in your sleep…pan for gold.
We are looking to find something to celebrate with great enthusiasm,
wanting all our battles and toil and our life to make sense.
‘I found it, I found it, I found it!’ a hermit once began to shout, after having spent years in solitude, meditating.
‘Where?’ a young shepherd boy near by asked. ‘Where?’
And the hermit replied, ‘It may take a while, but I will show you. For now, just sit near to me.’
All day long we do this with our movements and our thoughts…pan for gold.”
Hafiz in Daniel Ladinsky, A Year With Hafiz, 2011
It’s been over seven years since I “retired.” Never was and still not comfortable with the word, I didn’t miss a beat before quickly launching myself into a consulting practice. I admit my drive was in part fear driven. Within two weeks I’d designed my professional web presence and had contracts. While still the fall to early summer rhythm I’d been used to for twenty-five plus years, it was more spacious, and seldom was I driving in lousy weather. I continued working with people I loved, offering myself from the place of vocation, best described to me by Frederick Buechner and John O’Donohue:
“Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” ―
“That edge where the individual gift fits the outer hunger and where the outer gift fits the inner hunger.”
John O’Donohue in Angeles Arrien, The Second Half of Life, 2005
If taxes are an indication, 2018 was my best year ever. And then with provincial budget cuts, contracts suddenly weren’t, and others were curtailed, so that by late last fall, work as I had known it came to a sudden halt. While not surprising, even feeling an almost secret deep gladness, I realized this seven-year cycle of work post “retirement” had come to completion, and would look different here on in. I wouldn’t be “hunting” for work. I’d be content with what came my way, trusting in enough. I’d use that refined ability to scan, sense into, notice and follow the energy to God knows where, even if it was to nowhere and nothing.
While my head was making sense of it all, in December, my body responded with a month plus systemic virus, infecting my physical senses, sinuses and lungs. “Perhaps I was detoxing?” offered a wise friend. Yes, and resting.
“In the first state of rest is the sense of stopping, of giving up on what we have been doing or how we have been being. In the second, is the sense of slowly coming home, the physical journey into the body’s uncoerced, un-bullied self, as if trying to remember the way or even the destination itself. In the third state is a sense of healing and self-forgiveness and of arrival. In the fourth state, deep in the primal exchange of the breath, is the give and take, the blessing and being blessed and the ability to delight in both. The fifth stage is a sense of absolute readiness and presence, a delight in and an anticipation of the world and all its forms; a sense of being the meeting itself between the inner and outer, and that receiving and responding occur in one spontaneous movement.”
David Whyte, “Rest” in Consolations, 2015
Hesitant to give over completely to Whyte’s synthesis, I know intimately the truth of his first and second stages. Resonating with “slowly coming home” given my 2020 word. Reclaiming myself from the bullied over-riding of my body’s need and knowing. Rediscovering trust. Restoring faith. *Recalibrating, again, into this new now. But first, to pause and rest.
*Recalibrating – In 2011, friend gifted me this word to describe my inner process when I returned home after three months in Europe. It’s a recurrent life theme about which I’ve written or referenced over the course of those years since: