Lessons and Mindf*cks
Posted: April 1, 2020
I suppose I have been feeling more “existential” lately, which for me should read, “even more than I usually do.” A poem I read recently by Kristin Flyntz, titled “An Imagined Letter from Covid-19 to Humans,” struck me in a way: this virus has come to teach us lessons about ourselves. However, just because lessons can be learned does not mean that those learning should also have to feel blame and that this post is not meant as a blame-casting exercise. But, I have been sitting with this sense of lessons. I sometimes say to clients, in service of normalizing an experience they might be having, or to help them to process their own guilt or shame, that everything they know right now they learned from someone or something at some point in their life (note: this could be explicitly or implicitly taught to us). Everything we know is taught to us, by someone or something that came before us and learned the lesson in a similar way (which is why we see behavioral patterns passed along through generations in families, for example). So, a part of me feels deeply that this experience known to us as COVID-19 must be trying to teach us something. That is not to say that I think anyone is enjoying whatever learning process is taking place, and sadly there is a wide range of physical experiences during this time, so I am not here to say if you can not glean lessons then you have failed. But there is something to be learned about us as a whole, and as individuals, right? I could blog for days about where I think society as a whole goes awry. I bet many of us could do some version of that. There are many lessons available for society to learn at this moment. I’ll start and finish (but there's so much in-between) with capitalism, for the sake of this post staying specifically with the notion that health insurance companies have been making billions while restricting care and lowering reimbursement rates, a driving force behind hospital closures such as St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan and Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn (and others both in NYC and all around the country, but those are the ones that stick out in my mind). And now there is a shortage of hospital beds. There must be a lesson in there somewhere, right? Something like: is capitalist profit more important than public health? I'm realizing that the macro-lessons are not for me to try and solve right now. In fact, I’d argue that it quickly becomes a futile process, because without substantial organizing efforts (even more challenging in the age of social distancing), it will result in feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. We have relatively little control over the macro issues the virus is supposed to be teaching us about, and so homing in more closely on that which we have less control over will induce anxiety. Where I do have the control is in the micro sense: within myself and the lessons I can glean from this experience. And there is a good chance that there is enough to deal with in the micro. However, staying with the micro is where the dangerous trap (otherwise known as the mindf*ck) comes at me like a ton of existential bricks. Because that lesson – that desire to minimize panic and existential dread through being mindful of the micro and holding space for that which I can control (that within me) – sounds like if done in isolation could lead to an unintended consequence of increased selfishness and emotional isolation, and decreased healthy interdependence. And then I'm back to perseverating on the consequences of everyone staying with their micro on the macro! So instead, perhaps as I am being mindful to what I can control in myself, and my own grief process, that I include those who is involved in my life, my community, my support system. I've been spending a lot of time sitting with the ideas of grief and how it manifests in me, and what I need to do for myself to move through the stages of grief. I might need to remind myself of the the ways in which I can help others through my work, or how I feel helpful when I check in on older members of my family, or provide knowledge or guidance or support for others if they are struggling. However, if I do include others in my process, I must remember for my own self-care that I can’t control how they receive or process the information I give them, but rather that I can control my process of giving to others, and feeling good in that space. So the take away lesson for me in a nutshell: shift to the “micro,” but one that also includes others. Oh, and try not to think too existentially…but there would definitely be reasons for doing so. Peace, safety, love & light to you.