The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own. ~Willa Cather
If we turn away from our own pain, we may find ourselves projecting this aversion onto others, seeing them as somehow inadequate for being in a troubled situation. ~Sharon Salzberg, Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection
Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves. ~Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
We cannot have a world where everyone is a victim. “I’m this way because my father made me this way. I’m this way because my husband made me this way.” Yes, we are indeed formed by traumas that happen to us. But then you must take charge, you must take over, you are responsible. ~Camille Paglia
Many of us across the globe are staying home in an attempt to flatten the curve of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. We aren’t leaving for work or play. We are within our four walls every day of the week, almost every single hour – with the occasional exception to leave and get groceries or other necessities.
This can have us all a little stir crazy. Developing “cabin fever” as we are also trying to manage the stress of the present along with any old traumas that may be activated right now because of what is happening both out in the world and with our own friends and families.
The stress, frustration, and grief centered around the present moments mixed with the same around our past wounding, can lead us to not always being our best selves.
We don’t have much control over the current global pandemic. We can each do our own part to try to flatten the curve and stay home as much as possible and to practice physical distancing when we are out and about. And that is all any of us can do.
This lack of control may have us agitated.
Add to this all our usual distractions aren’t available to us – sports broadcasts have halted, bars are closed, as are restaurants and retail stores. The ways we avoid, ignore, and stuff down our feelings; the ways we avoid dealing with our past and current hurts, pain, and trauma – they are mostly gone.
This leaves us almost no other choice than to sit with our own stuff.
This too, can be highly agitating.
In our own agitation we may find ourselves being short with others. We may find ourselves picking fights. We may find ourselves stuck in a cycle of blame and shame – blaming another for how we are feeling and acting while also feeling shame around how we feeling and acting.
We are in an unprecedented time. This can be a time of healing – if we allow it to be. This can be a time to begin to learn to sit with our own uncomfortable feelings (emotions and their physical sensations) – if we allow it to be. This can be a time of learning and practicing breaking life long and generations old patterns and cycles of harm – to ourselves and others — if we allow it to be.
Many of us are in a heightened state of activation. This true. It is also true that even with this, we are still responsible for our actions. For the ways we treat those close to us. For the ways we show up, for ourselves and for others. For the ways we use this time, when all our go-to distractions are unavailable.
And while many of us are in a heightened state of activation, it is also true that many of us are in a heightened state of softening. That our hearts are breaking open even more, that the remaining bits of our hard armor are falling away, that we are in this time gently shifting into new ways of being with each other and with ourselves.
And it is true that for many of us, we are moving back and forth between heightened activation and softening.
As we move through these challenging and unprecedented times, I invite us to come back into our bodies, to be present to the myriad of conflicting and complimentary emotions and physiological sensations we are experiencing. I invite us to seek out new ways of being with ourselves, to find ways to break old harmful patterns and cycles. I invite us to soften, to become gentler, with ourselves and others. I invite us to find ways to inner peace within the outer chaos. I invite us to nurture, to provide loving care, to ourselves and others.
I invite us to a new way of being in the world. One that gathers together in community, even when we cannot physically gather. One that cares for one another instead of only looking out for ourselves. One that shares in the abundance instead hoard out of fear of scarcity. One that guides us to peace and love and joy as well as creates space for feeling, processing, and allowing the flow of upset, loss, and grief.
Let us all be a part of a global revolution of change. To acknowledge our fear and to do it anyway. To step into the unknown, with open hearts and open arms -for ourselves, for others, and for our planet.
This essay was originally published in my weeklyish newsletter on April 4, 2020. It has been revised and edited for publication here. To receive my most recent essays, subscribe here.
In Embodied Writing :: Relating, relationships, and trauma we will be exploring how trauma impacts our relationships and ways that we can begin to break (often generations old) patterns and cycles. You can learn more and register here.