The Power of Practice

We are living in unprecedented times. Schools are closed across the country. Non-essential businesses are shuttered. Broadway has gone dark. Primary elections are being postponed. The Olympics have been moved to next summer. And hundreds of millions of us are being directed to stay in our homes. All this in the hopes of limiting the spread of a viral pandemic. All this to help flatten the infection curve and thereby save lives. 

Life is changing before our very eyes.

When wars or bombings or acts of terrorism occur in far away places, places across the ocean, it’s easy to distance ourselves from the emotions that the people in those far away places must be experiencing. Terror, anxiety, panic, desperation. It’s easier to avoid the pain of empathizing with these fellow humans by scrolling past the devastating images on social media. I say this because I have done it myself.

Right now, we are getting a glimpse of life-changing events here at home. We are feeling the anxiety and panic in a very real way. The 9/11 terror attacks on our soil were also life-changing. Yet, at that time, people were encouraged to come together, to unite as one country fighting for safety and for freedom.  

During this crisis, however, we are being asked to stay apart for weeks on end. We, in this pandemic, are needing to come together, even as we are being encouraged – even required – to be physically distant from one another. This feels different. 

When I turn my curiosity inward to observe my felt experience these days, I notice that my emotions are constantly shifting. First, I might feel relieved that I am able to work from home at this time, though I miss seeing my co-workers in person. Next, I feel intense worry for my friends who are nurses, working on the front lines of this healthcare crisis. And I may feel content that I am doing my part to make a positive difference in the lives of bereaved people who need support, albeit by phone. 

Then, when I check my email or read the news headlines, I tumble right into anxiety.

Sometimes the anxiety is manageable with a good distraction in place, like petting my dog or connecting with someone on the phone. Sometimes I collapse into myself, and I forget that I am going to be okay. At these times, I know enough to mentally run down my list of coping mechanisms. The harder part is uncurling my limbs and implementing these skills in real time.

This harder part is likely why, in the last weeks, I have forgotten how important my writing is. Intellectually, I know it is important. Yet engaging in the physical act of writing is when I truly feel its power. When I’m curled up in an anxious bundle, I’m not physically writing. At those times, the power of the practice recedes from my awareness. 

In making the superhuman effort to drag my anxious body to the computer, I’m slowly learning that writing is a lifeboat for me. It is allowing me to language and process my inner experience of outer turmoil. It’s helping me to identify and process my emotional reactions to the pandemic and to the fallout that is to come. 

Maybe writing gives me a greater sense of control. Perhaps it gives me purpose. It may also be a throwback to when I wrote in order to work through early trauma experiences.

It occurs to me that writing is allowing me to transform a collective trauma experience into something creative, powerful, perhaps even hopeful. My intention in this writing is to help express a shared experience. Visual art, dance, poetry, music, all have the power to do this, too. What creative medium do you engage in? 

Thanks for hanging in there with me on this introspective journey. Take good care of yourselves.


Mari - 3.23.2020