Tuesday, 23 June 2020

After Covid

As we are slowly easing out of lockdown, it may be the time to take stock of how we can move forward into a new normality that benefits everyone. Lulu Sinclair talked in a recent blog about this having been, for many, a time of reflection, for being rather than doing, and for questioning choices we have made in the past so that we can move forward with less destructive and obstructive "baggage".  

There are, of course, many others for whom this has been a time of great deprivation and loss and it is impossible at this stage to assess the long-term mental and physical health consequences of this lockdown period and what effect the lack of schooling and social interaction is going to have on our children at such a formative time in their lives.  

This has been a pandemic that has discriminated in its behaviour: it has favoured the rich and targeted the poor, and it is almost inevitable that the children of already deprived families will suffer significantly more than those from better-off backgrounds, just as their parents and grandparents are likely to have suffered more from the virus itself. 

It has also been divisive in setting power and privilege against vulnerability and oppression, which has led to a strong undercurrent of feelings of injustice and victimisation and, I believe, added weight to the protests and civic unrest in of support Black Lives Matter. And while this is, without doubt, an extremely important, urgent and essential cause, the truth is that ALL lives matter, and it feels to me that, if we can learn anything from this universally catastrophic experience, it is to value life itself, in all its forms, regardless of race, colour, class, or creed, and this is to include living in harmony with our natural environment. 

This period of lockdown has perhaps given us more insight into what we truly value and at how bereft we feel to have been deprived of things that we have been used to taking for granted. And one of the most important of these is, for many, the need to feel a connection with people, and especially those we love, and to be able to feel some significance or purpose in our own lives. It has called on reserves of resilience and many have found new resources in music, art, nature and meditation - to find a comfort that Carl Jung* might have described as helping us to tap into a collective unconscious.  

But some have not been able to access new resources for themselves and, going forward, perhaps it is a time to consider that building resilience could be a very formative and constructive contribution to the way we educate and bring up future generations.  

Recent research** has shown that teaching children outdoors, using the natural environment as a tool and focusing on process rather than on outcome, has not only improved the performance of children in the classroom, but also increased mental health and resilience. Are there lessons here for us all?   

A final thought with regard to anxiety: this is often closely related to uncertainty and fear of a negative outcome.   If we had all known that we were going to be hit by Covid-19 in March as we were hopefully celebrating the arrival of the New Year on 1 January, I don’t think many of us would have found it possible to continue with the celebrations.  

People who suffer acute anxiety are living with a similarly catastrophic narrative hanging over them on a constant basis, the only difference being that it is hypothetical – the dreaded “what if”.   

It seems a sad waste to overshadow your life in this way, especially as we know that more often than not, the "what-ifs”"are very rarely as bad as we had anticipated and that we generally manage them much better than we had feared.  

Surely we would be able to live more peacefully if we had confidence in being able to cope with a given situation than spending our lives fearing or trying to avoid the risk of something that may not happen anyway.

*Carl Jung: Swiss Psychoanalyst and Psychiatrist (1875-1961)
** Forest Research:  O`Brian, E.; Murray, R. (2006);  www.forestschoolassociation.org         

Photo 1 Nick Fewings on Unsplash  
Photo 2 James Eades on Unsplash
Photo 3 Jamie Taylor on Unsplash

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Let It Go ... Let It Go

Are you a determined person? Are you someone who prides yourself on getting a job done, on never giving up, on staying loyal come what may?

Or are you a person who might persevere a little less than others (let’s not say fall at the first hurdle), someone who is prepared to put so much effort into a project but not much more than you consider worthwhile and can walk away, with barely a backward glance?

Someone told me recently that they had just marked their 40th wedding anniversary. I congratulated them, saying how impressive it was, particularly nowadays. 

“Oh no,” she said. “I’m not married any more. I was just telling you it was 40 years since I got married.”

The dreams of marriage 
That threw me. Why would someone be marking - re-marking - on an event that happened decades ago and which I imagine might be something of a sore point?

Sometimes a date triggers a memory, reminding us of an occasion that was important to us at one time. It could be a wedding, a birthday (if it’s ours, that one usually stays with us throughout life) or maybe an anniversary of a death of someone dear to us. But, as the years go by, the dates that once were important to us because of a particular meaning, fade a little, particularly if the marriage has ended.

So, the sharing of this 40th anniversary troubled me. What was behind it? Had this lady moved on at all? What was her present life like that an event of so long ago remained so real that she was remembering it in detail all these years later?

We discussed it further and it seemed as if her wedding day had encapsulated all she wished for in her life. Her early family history had been difficult and she saw the marriage - launched by the joyous occasion of her in the starring role on the wedding day itself - as the beginning of a new life where all painful things would end and she would thrive and grow and all her dreams would come true.

There's a time to hold on
Unfortunately, as so often happens when one person is looking to another to change their world and make everything all right, she picked the wrong groom. He was not the right person to be the repository of her dreams and it was obvious to everyone but her that the outcome was not going to be good.

At this point, I would suggest the response from a “healthy” adult would be sadness, disappointment, maybe anger, guilt, rejection (depending on who instigated the break up) and perhaps anxiety about the practical aspects of the future. After a period of time, however, I would expect the person to pick themselves up, brush themselves off and start all over again.

You may notice I have used a number of well-known phrases. Bear with me.

Most of us are taught such sayings at a very early age and sometimes we swallow them whole. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again (determination pays) ; you’ve made your bed, now you must lie on it (be stoic in adversity); the early bird catches the worm (the go-getters get the prize), and so on. Some of the phrases we swallow whole as children move with us into our adult lives, sometimes to our detriment.

It appears my real-life Lady of Shalott suffered from an excess of proverbs in her childhood and had taken them too much to heart. She remembered a great many of them.

And a time to let go
She told me one story from school in which one teacher said she would never be good at sewing. Another teacher - who knew the girl better - said: “Ah yes, but you haven’t reckoned with her determination.” The delighted schoolgirl took the story to heart and marched into adulthood believing determination could conquer all. Unfortunately, the downside of that was, when her marriage failed within a few years so did she.

This particular person was unable to put her past to rest, even with support from friends and those in the family who loved her. That, unfortunately, had tinged her life with wrong choices and sadness and the anniversary brought it all back.

We spent a long time working on these internal beliefs, sharing her reflections on her  observance of the not-the-marriage anniversary and allowing her to understand that lives do go wrong despite the best of intentions, disappointments happen and mistakes are made.  She is still working on this but tells me she feels a little lighter. I am hopeful of a happy ending to this story, albeit perhaps 30 years longer than I might have wished.

My own reflections on this leave me feeling the key is recognising we are not always to blame and, even if the mistake is ours, we need not believe we are a lifelong failure because of it. Perhaps the best way to make amends - if there is a need - could be to learn from our past and use that knowledge to try to live a happier and more fulfilling life.

Grieve, by all means. Mourn for your lost hopes and dreams, but not for too long. Not for 40 years. Move on.

That brings to mind another saying: “It’s never too late.” That one’s a good one. Worth remembering.

By: Lulu Sinclair

Photo 1 by Ben Rosett on Unsplash
Photo  2 by by Beatriz PĂ©rez Moya on Unsplash
Photo  3 by Chip Vincent on Unsplash
Photo  4 by Ashley Bean on Unsplash