My clients, colleagues, friends, and family members seem to be trying—with great courage—to achieve a sense of normalcy with Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, work reports, homework, and tightly manufactured schedules. I own that I have fallen into the trap of taking on more writing with the assumption that now, without work travel, I have more time to get things done.
WHOA—pause and take a breath! As someone who has experienced crises in both my work and personal life, and who has listened in support to others in crisis, it is a slippery slope to think that just buckling down and being productive will be your answer until things get back to normal. Are you one of the millions around the world, from the C-suite executives to elementary school teachers, asking the big question:
“When will this be over?”
The answer is never.
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History shows us that global catastrophes change the world; witness the Spanish flu, the Great Depression, and other historical moments in the last 100 years alone. This pandemic is no different. Whether the COVID-19 crisis is over in a few more months, a year, or even longer, our lives will never be the same.
Some posit that we are in a VUCA world: Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, and Ambiguous. Our brains are not set up to thrive in an environment like this. Our reactive brain, centered in the amygdala, wants to keep us safe. So, with any sense of fear or threat, it sounds the alarm and ignites a fight, flight, or freeze response. This is our default reaction, but it isn’t a good match to what is going on now. Throwing our entire selves into lots of activity or obsessing about our endless “to-do” lists for work and home can be a form of denial, delusion, and avoidance. Action is often a defense mechanism against letting difficult information into our personal world. Alternatively, there are other ways to respond that are better matched to our current situation. These responses require self-compassion, silence, reflection, and time to be in the best possible service to ourselves, other people, and the earth that supports all life.
Perhaps the best spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical response is finding ways to prepare to be forever changed.
“….What we’re experiencing now is a new pathway to awaken us to our new narrative. Light is coming to open our hearts. Our heart is the whole universe. This is Taku Wakan Skan Skan, our Lakota concept for the Universe….Mitakuye Oyasin is the principle that everything is related and connected. We are moving away from a cerebral, intellectual concept of the Divine, and moving toward consciousness.” -Basil Braveheart, Lakota Elder
I am a human being, too, with strengths and weaknesses, and I find myself bumping into parts of my being as I live my days. As an indigenous woman, mother, and wife with decades of consulting and leadership training around the world—and as someone who endured nine years of childhood abuse, economic poverty, and race and gender inequality—I know that individually and collectively we cannot only survive this, we can also end up with new muscle, awareness, and an ability to thrive.
Whether you are the leader of your life, family, or business I offer these thoughts as a starting point for you and for those in your family and teams at work:
Security. Consider yourself fortunate that you are experiencing anxiety as a result of the crisis, as opposed to being in denial about this global pandemic for weeks or possibly months. This is a good time to focus on the basic needs that keep you well. Listen to the World Health Organization and local state health professionals about the best ways to keep yourself and those around you healthy. Remember that all human beings need breath/oxygen, rest, water, good nutrition, and community to thrive. More meaningful than a frantic productivity plan, this is the core of a personal self-care plan and can serve as a model for your family and work colleagues. Allow yourself to be aware of all the other “I shoulds” that are spinning in your brain and let go of what “I should” be doing right now.
Provide for your own care, family care, and care of your workers. Talk with them about your emergency preparedness plan because they need to be included in your thinking and to have insight into what may happen. This will also impart a sense of belonging because they are acknowledged as an important member of the community. Social distancing and virtual work should not mean social isolation! We are choosing to adhere to social distancing to actually be in solidarity with others; every day you are choosing life for yourself and for others. It is also a good time to remember that you are not alone; this virus is attacking everyone and scientists around the world are collaborating to find a cure.
Also, remember that those who are most vulnerable due to economic, social, education, and health inequities, along with first responders (fire, ambulance, grocery workers, truck drivers, nurses, doctors and more), need our support and care, too. Find what calls to you. In my neighborhood, people are delivering lunches to hospital workers and supporting community organizations that provide food security and housing. Also, every night at 8:00 P.M., people go outside and howl to send the message of love to all of those who are serving us and those whose lives are most disrupted in their vulnerable situations.
Acknowledge That You Are a Whole, Authentic Human Being who has all kinds of skills and abilities to perform at higher than survival levels. You can congratulate yourself for getting some virtual work accomplished, finishing a good day in home schooling, and accomplishing your self-care goals. And, you can also slow down to observe your thoughts and your behavior, laughing at yourself when you exercise and then eat a huge piece of chocolate cake, feeling both skillful and inept when you support a colleague in completing a report only to find that you can’t locate the form to fill out your taxes, flowing into both industriously scrubbing your kitchen and then crashing on the couch for a nap. You can give yourself major credits of self-love and competency as you try to figure out the process and forms to get unemployment insurance or support to keep workers employed, even when it doesn’t easily flow or you are frustrated.
You are now focusing on considerable internal change—allow yourself to ease into this important spiritual, mental, and emotional shift as it’s one that requires humility, patience, and self-love. Human transformations are not pretense or performance; real human transformation will be off-course as much or more than it is on-course; it will be honest, raw, clumsy, childlike, hopeful, beautiful and divine. There is also the realization in this process that you never do anything alone; there are loved ones, co-workers, strangers, scientists, nature, pets, and family members that are right there with you. People will be slower or faster than you, experiencing different versions of the journey—let go of that comparison.
This pause in our busyness, in our routine patterns, in what home-and-business-as-usual means, can be an opportunity for real growth and realignment to what you are and who you are inside. Let this time change how you think about your relationship to yourself, to other people, to pets, and to nature. In the indigenous world view, there is a term in Lakota, “Mitakue Oyasin”, which means “All My Relations”, that recognizes that everything—people, nature, the earth, and the spirit—is related. Everything is part of one intimately interconnected family.
As all of our ancestors learned from the crises they endured, we can allow this global pandemic to guide us in shedding patterns that no longer serve us, to build strength and courage, and to fuel bold new ideas for a thriving, life-giving world for all humanity.
Embrace a New Normal. This means leaning into our ability and openness to learning and growing every day. As leaders of our lives and of our communities, we can choose to both acknowledge the real suffering and loss that is being experienced and at the same time, we can allow that we have created some new resilience. We are training our brain to deal with change, to not insist that comfort have such a high value, and to realize we are alive and truly capable of learning and becoming.
Regardless of how long this or new struggles remain, we can choose to live with hope in our individual and collective ability to rise. Our future will be different, but we will be ready. We will have different family connections and ways of caring, and we will take on new models of business and new ways of working that we may not even imagine at this time. We are realizing the power of “we” in this pandemic and remembering that “we” are part of the Hoop of Life. In the process, we will help each other and step up to fulfill our awakened purpose and serve this beautiful world we call home. The his/her story we are writing right now will be a gift to ourselves, each other, our children’s children, and the children of other species.
Anita Sanchez, Ph.D., Aztec and Mexican American, is a transformational leadership consultant, trainer, speaker, coach, and author of the international bestselling and award-winning book, The Four Sacred Gifts: Indigenous Wisdom for Modern Times (Simon & Schuster). She bridges indigenous teachings with the latest science to inspire and equip women and men to enjoy meaningful, empowered lives and careers. For more information and to download the free song that is based on the book, visit www.FourSacredGifts.com. For information on Anita’s leadership, diversity, inclusion, and unconscious bias training, see consulting website www.SanchezTennis.com.