If you’re ever in an airport, you might find yourself stepping onto one of those moving platforms to shorten the time to get from one place to another within the terminal. You might even walk along the moving platform as you would strolling down a corridor. If you’ve ever tried to keep the same pace, even a slow one, as you transition from moving platform to non-moving land, you have probably experienced that momentary ‘whoa’ as you strive to regain your balance and your world swiftly grinds to a slow crawl around you.
In a way, such is the feeling of disorientation that many people have felt as our world has slowed in the face of COVID-19. We are going along, doing what we do, and then everything slows down, jarringly so, and collectively we are forced to adjust to a new pace of doing things.
Or perhaps while in the middle of that moving platform, on your way to wherever you are going, the power goes out, and the platform just stops. And there you are in the middle of that platform. Reaching the reluctant conclusion that the forces that were pulling you along no longer work as they usually do, and that the platform is not about to start moving any time too soon, you might be reminding yourself of some things and reassessing other things, such as, one, where are you going; and, two, how are you going to get there?
We are capable of addressing these and many other valid questions that help us to re-calibrate our inner compasses. What is more challenging is to address these questions when they seem to fly at us all at once. So when life won’t dish them out one at a time, we need to take a moment to say to those questions: Line up, one at a time.
With that start to a new organization, a new way of considering things, we can try new approaches—not in a haphazard approach, but in a systematic, step-by-step way. Think of it as a recipe for comfort, safety, belonging, and fulfilment in a less-than-ideal situation.
When a recipe calls for, say, baking something in the oven, the first step typically is to preheat the oven. That’s the step that gets the right environment ready for the baking once everything else is put together. Let’s heat up that oven, metaphorically speaking, preparing our environment to create something new. What does that mean in practice? It means bringing things back to basics. It means preparing our environment so that we can consider and explore relevant questions with a view to gaining clarity and calm. Once ready, then we can ask the right questions and explore them in helpful ways so that we can make something new out of this situation we are in. To even entertain the idea of exploring those questions, without that preparatory step, would be like gathering and combining all the ingredients to make banana bread and placing it in the oven…without turning it on.
Granted, it can be challenging to bring things back to basics in the face of acute distress, such as when payments need to be made, when we are separated from our loved ones and unable to connect as we truly want to, or when we are faced with grief and loss more directly. Rather than approach this with a ‘yes, but’ attitude as in yes, things are difficult for you now, but do it anyway—which can come across as utterly dismissive—let’s say ‘yes, and’. Yes, it is difficult, and this is a way to help alleviate parts of that difficulty.
To start, be aware of the breath. To say ‘focus on the breath’ implies effort, which implies success or failure. Take both success and failure out of the equation by not focusing: just observe and notice. Let us be aware, not trying to shape the breath, not putting effort into breathing in any particular way. If your breath is relaxed, notice it. If your breath is not relaxed, notice it. Practice this once a day or more than once a day, for a breath, then for two, as you gradually work your way up to 20 or more breaths. This is the ‘step one’ to always go back to if you notice feelings of overwhelm happening. It also may help to consider the idea of Carla Ardito, a therapist based out of New York City, who says, “Learn how to exhale, the inhale will take care of itself.”