Our previous ways of understanding ourselves and each other in Western societies are failing us during this pandemic. The on-going societal messages we have been exposed to for decades about how to be our ‘best selves’ and the overall focus on individual power as a goal have become meaningless as the impact of Covid-19 unfolds.
As therapists of the humanistic tradition, we have colluded with individualistic views and promoted concepts like ‘self-actualising’. Rather than attempting to understand what is – meaning how we are and how we relate to each other – we colluded with the capitalist/consumer/colonial obsession of what should be, what we should strive for. This never-ending goal of bettering ourselves kept us in denial about how much we depend on each other.
Working with others and noticing my experience, it is becoming clear that on top of recognising how much we need each other, we also need to confront how diverse our experiences are going through this global event. And although we are interconnected, we are all uniquely located. Our experiences of the pandemic vary largely due to our socio-economical positions, our privileges and oppressions, the imprint our traumas have left on us and our current context.
If you find yourself thriving through the pandemic, it is important that you acknowledge your experience as valid and not attack yourself for it, whilst giving yourself the chance to reflect on what privileges allow you to thrive. This can deepen your experience of your own situation and give you a sense of gratitude whilst connect you to others with sensitivity.
If you are not lucky or privileged enough to thrive and find yourself struggling, it is crucial you remember the context of your situation. It is never helpful to understand your struggle as something that only exists in the confines of your body but rather it exists on the boundary between you, others and the societal context your life is embedded in.
The day we collectively treat each other with sensitivity may not be around the corner, but we can begin to connect in smaller ways in our own contexts. There is diversity in our households that we can tap into. Not engaging with this diversity can lead to clashes as the illusion of sameness breaks down. Paying attention to it can result in more presence, intimacy and connection. But how do we do this?
1) Get a sense of your own diversity
Thinking of yourself as a plural rather than a singular self can help you hold your inner contradictions. To be able to meet each other with sensitivity, we need to develop an appreciation for difference. This is not possible without engaging with our own diversity. There may be a part of you that is still in shock and a bit numb and therefore feels somewhat peaceful and another part of you that feels teary and raw, and a third part of you that is enraged about how insufficiently we are being held by our leaders. Getting a sense of these differing parts in you helps you be more open to others around you as they voice their experience. When we are more open to each other, we begin to stop expecting others to have the same experience as us.
2) Notice the absence of connection, together
We feel distance with others almost instantly when it occurs. Often, we feel a pressure to only voice a problem when we already have a solution. This undermines an important experience that we need to have with important people in our lives sometimes. The experience of wondering together. One of the most significant activities a caretaker can do with a child is to be interested in their exploration, to wonder together. If we’ve not had a caretaker who appreciated our explorations, wonder disappears. We then get very used to leaping or attempting to leap through our experiences. As hard as it can be, see if you can notice out loud when you feel distance with someone. Try and do this to open something up rather than deliver something. There is a different tone to the latter that can sabotage your words even if your intentions were to initiate an open exchange.
3) Reclaim your body
You were shocked into a slower pace in isolation than what you may have been used to. The fast pace that our culture promotes means that we are more likely to be disconnected from our bodies. Living in a society that holds thinking superior to feeling is bound to leave us in our heads and makes us think of our bodies as objects. But intellect is a secondary process of understanding. And so, we need to connect to our physical support functions too. While you may benefit from it, you don’t need to do an hour of meditation every day to achieve this. Just become aware of your physicality for a few moments when you are in conversation. Get a sense of your weight, feel your feet on the floor, see if you can feel your spine. Notice if you can feel your skin on your shoulders or on the top of your feet. This kind of attention supports a heart-to-heart engagement rather than an intellectual power play.
As published on welldoing.org