In one sentence we’re already arrived at a contradiction. The pandemic era is full of these, and one is that on the micro level of environment we are often existing in a vast expanse of sameness. The natural opportunities for spontaneity are less present (even as that has perhaps shifted for some since the beginning of my writing this piece), at the onset of the pandemic all but the most deep relationships seemed to fade into the background. This made sense then, there was a need for depth because of the emotional toil of the time. There was less small talk because we were at home or at least restricted in activity.
Our social skills tell the story, because we don’t remember so well how to be in unfamiliar relationships and conversations. We also hold the tension between mourning and moving forward; it seems strange to talk about anything else when the world is on fire, and also as Lama Rod Owens might say, we need to actually consume this grief rather than letting it consume us,
Meanwhile, there has been enormous change happening across almost every metric: Socially, politically, environmentally, and personally. Our world is, I believe, forever changed from the last two years; or I should say, I don’t believe that “before” is available anymore. There’s rapid change, and there’s an overwhelming sameness. When you’re standing in place on the earth, it’s easy to forget that you’re actually hurling through space at unimaginable speeds.
I’ve been experimenting recently with recreating acquaintanceships and new friendships. Asking that person to a zoom coffee date, having a brief conversation with a stranger at a concert (a new remembering for me), traveling to another neighborhood and wandering around without a plan. With this I’m strengthening the muscle of tolerating disappointment too. The “new friend” who doesn’t write you back, the outing that wasn’t so interesting, or even the plans we made and had to change because…things are unpredictable these days.
Disappointment is like a sleeper wave, there’s a lot of focus in the psychological literature on loud and boisterous “negative emotions” such as despair, rage, jealousy, judgement, and shame, but over the years I’ve seen repeatedly in my work that disappointment can come out of nowhere and take you down if you’re not anchored. It can also be a huge deterrent for taking necessary action and risk. What’s so strange about this is that avoiding disappointment never really works. You can try, but it creeps up even if you never take the action. Desire itself creates the potential for disappointment. It’s a very normal human emotion that is the natural consequence of dreaming and wanting but we often view it as a personal failure.
Chasing novelty might not be the most important of tasks ahead of you right now, but it’s all too easy to become overly serious to the point of becoming detached from magic. It’s difficult to have fun if you’re not surprised, and engaged in the unexpected. Fun is underrated as a form of self-care. Fun and Joy are important even when grieving, they do not cancel each other out. I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of my self-care is more “relaxing” or “satisfying” than it is fun. Maybe you can relate?
I remember a conversation a few years ago (before the pandemic even!) where I shared that I don’t drink or go to bars, and the person said “so what do you do for fun?” And I thought, “what do YOU do for fun?” But really I was feeling a bit defensive as I pondered “what is fun as an adult?” Do I remember fun? When did I become such a serious person?
I’d like to say I’ve recaptured fun and silliness quite a bit since then but these last two years it hasn’t been easy. Letting go becomes more challenging as we get older. What any given person considers fun varies tremendously but surely the element of surprise, spontaneity, and pursuit of the unknown leading to something wonderfully unexpected are some of the necessary qualities.
Play is another theme that emerges, along with creativity. And specifically, Free Play, without an agenda or focus on a result/product. How do you play? How do you manage disappointment and expectation when trying be in flow?
I like to think that when I frame my experience as me being responsible for my actions and my willingness and what happens as a result is out of my hands, I am willing to take more healthy risks and accept disappointment- but this is easier said than done. We live in a free will universe, but everyone else has free will too. Being more willing and open doesn’t automatically mean that you avoid the struggles and disappointments of life. Free will doesn’t mean that you can control your environment or that fairness and justice prevails. It just means that on the deepest personal level, we always have choice, even if we don’t like the choices available. We can find novelty even in familiar environments if we really look for it instead seeing what we already believe.
I am approaching this idea as a preparation for working with the energy of the upcoming equinox. If the solstices are a pivot between opposite movement in the year, the equinox is when that shift starts to really accelerate and we feel it concretely. Indeed in January we are technically moving towards spring but it doesn’t really feel like for some months. All this movement in the dark and out of sight is happening before it explodes into the foreground and has a life of its own. The physical manifestation of rebirth and change.
Combing through my fears, asking myself where I’m holding back because I don’t want to be disappointed or fail, or where I’m holding onto past wounds instead of integrating them, becomes a point of preparation for the crescendo of expansion that permeates the northern hemisphere’s spring into summer. We are also in the midst of Pisces season and preparing for the new astrological year which begins on 3/20, the Equinox. Pisces offers an opportunity for dreaming, flexibility, and visioning, but it can also illuminate themes of isolation, melancholy, and rumination. Finding the balance is the difference between perseverance and stagnancy.
What are those lingering themes from the last year that need tying up for you?
Where can you invite yourself to soften into willingness, curiosity, and possibility?
And how can you maybe, in spite of whatever difficulties are currently present for you, find a little more space for joy and excitement in spite of it all? Or perhaps, honor to need to find it again?