Emerging from the pandemic

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June 23, 2021

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Image: Filipe Resmini Iaya, Unsplash

Over the past 15 months most of us have spent a lot of time cocooning and now, at least in most of Europe and the US, it’s time to gradually emerge. We haven’t turned into butterflies, but many of us feel that we’ve changed during this challenging time. We are longing to return to “normal life”, but what is normal? Life is one-directional; we can’t just erase what we’ve experienced and go back to how things were. Many of us are feeling fragile and vulnerable and need time and space to discover how we want to engage with the wider world. Transformation can be painful; we are often leaving parts of ourselves behind or have experienced losses. Some of us may need to go through a process of grieving, but it’s important not to get stuck there.

While the pandemic significantly disrupted our lives and triggered enormous amounts of stress and anxiety, it also offered us an opportunity to reflect on our lives and priorities. Being confronted with the imminent risk of illness and death—to ourselves and/or to those we love—always directs our focus to what matters most. Sheltering at home forced us to turn inward, at least physically. Our habits and schedules were interrupted. Our face-to-face contact with others dropped dramatically. The pace of life slowed down for many of us. We were compelled to come to terms with a new reality and reorganize our lives. Not every coping strategy was healthy, but many were. I choose to focus on the healthy ones I would like to carry forward, and invite you to do the same.

To reap the benefits of this experience, we need to reflect on what we’ve gone through, what helped us cope, and to integrate what we learned into our expanded, wiser selves. I believe in the tremendous power of questions. Our minds are extremely cooperative and will give us answers to any question we ask ourselves. If I ask myself, “Why is my life so difficult?”, my mind will focus on that and offer me a list of reasons that will make me feel terrible. If I ask myself, “What am I grateful for?”, I will get an entirely different list that will generate a sense of gratitude. By consciously choosing which questions we ask ourselves, we can direct our attention, shift our perspective and put ourselves in a more positive, resourceful state. I am not suggesting that we deny or repress negative or difficult feelings. For example, we may reasonably be feeling some anxiety about how to stay safe and about how the ongoing pandemic will develop, especially with news of highly transmissible variants.

There is no doubt that we live in an uncertain world, and that we have major challenges to address, and that all of us who survived the pandemic can be grateful that we are alive. I am, every day. I also feel tremendously grateful to the scientists who developed effective vaccines and to all of the people who made it possible for me and many millions of others to be vaccinated. And I realize the crucial importance of ensuring that people in less fortunate circumstances, particularly in low-income countries, are able to get vaccinated too. The pandemic has made more obvious huge inequalities that we urgently need to address. All of us need to be in our most energized, resourceful, and generous state to begin to address them.

Facing our vulnerability can make us feel weak or empowered, depending on how we respond. We are mortal and life is fragile. The pandemic has reminded us of that. But if we ask ourselves what we have learned, what is important to us, what makes our life meaningful, where we want to invest our energy, how we can make the world a better place, we will enable ourselves to emerge stronger from this experience and will have more energy to support others.

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