In an online class Sunday morning I found myself with the privilege of being paired up to focus with a Chinese man, living in Wuhan at the time of the initial COVID-19 outbreak. Our previous class with this same group was around a month ago and that was when I first found out he lived in Wuhan, but told me today he had since been forced to relocate. He thought at the time that move would be temporary however now he does not plan to return (and currently he is not allowed to return because at present the city is on complete lockdown). He calmly stated that he had left his laptop at his apartment there thinking he’d have been back to retrieve it by now, but instead was only in possession of his phone to do the video session. We did not have a lot of time outside of the assigned exercise, otherwise I would have wanted to hear every last detail (while respecting his desire or lack thereof to recount difficult memories.)
(side note: Interestingly – to me, at least – that the following paragraph was the hardest to conceptualize and write, because it involves so much of my felt sense, which as Focusing teaches, is blurry and at the “tip of the unconscious,” so it is naturally quite hard to put into words.)
During the exercise – where we took turns focusing and listening and getting a felt sense of the “we” – I found myself being drawn to want to know how our society will make it through the pandemic. It felt as if he was a (the) expert and I needed to learn the ropes. And the image came of him throwing a rope to me, as if he’s in a boat and I’m in the ocean. Now writing this, in retrospect, there was something comforting in having him in particular be present to my experience. Like he was in a new boat for himself, but had already swam in this very ocean. In our shared space, that he was holding for me as I focused, he understood everything that I was going through. Even though China has handled things in a different way than the United States, it was this sense (false or not) that he represents that “light at the end of the tunnel” contained in so many therapy sessions of mine this week. In those sessions the light was an unknown. Here, he became a part of the light, and it seemed real, and felt hopeful and comforting.
There’s something that we will want turn to when we are confronted with a threat. The person in the boat with the rope is what came to me during that exercise. Other times I’ve focused over the last week it has shown itself as an anchor that represents a sense of control in the vast ocean with the waves higher than what I would be able to see over. The anchor is rooted into the oceanic floor, something that I can hold onto in the chaos (whether that is actually realistic that it can root into the ocean floor and provide the stability is of course arguable, but it was what came up for me.) It was something that I needed. It was as if he had already been rescued from the sea, and he was just helping the rest of us follow suit. So in our shared space, I was wanting to turn towards him at a time when I was feeling threatened.
There certainly have been days where I had been less hopeful than when I spoke to him. He followed up in an email about tips, which even though they were already known, still felt…reassuring. Maybe it’s that I am already doing the things he suggested, so this man who got out of the epicenter of the global pandemic must know what he is talking about, and thus, I am doing everything in my control. That is normally quite reassuring, as maybe there is something normal about these times: that if you have a sense of control (you don’t have to objectively have control, but rather just a sense of it), you can feel better.
But then I turned on the news. Well, that makes sense, because it’s something I have not even a sense of control over. I do have control over titrating the news though so I get just enough of what I need, but not too much to throw me right back in the ocean.