In a matter of mere weeks, everything has changed.
Covid-19 has changed us, both individually and collectively.
Along with the job losses, the smog is clearing. Alongside losses of life, there is also the flourishing of new life. We have been mourning and remembering how to bake bread; dearly missing the ability to connect with those we love the most while recreating new ways of being together.
There has been a great deal of treasure that has washed ashore during this storm.
Many of us have made dramatic changes to our lives, pivoting quickly to adapt to the ever-changing global conditions affecting all of us right now.
And although some of these changes have been deeply challenging, many of them have also called into question The Way We’ve Always Done Things.
Honestly, I have been worried, that, when all this is over, we’ll go back to Life As Usual.
If you’re anything like me, you might be wondering the same thing.
How will we harvest the good from this situation? How will we move forward differently?
Will we allow this experience to change us?
Radical transformation – the kind of change that changes a person – or a culture – from the inside out, calling you back to who you are and what’s most important to you – isn’t a given, even when we’re handed a catalyst for change as powerful as Covid-19.
But for those who are hearing The Call into something different, who are, as a result of Covid-19, hearing a loud-and-clear NOT THIS ANYMORE or MORE OF THIS PLEASE, there are steps you can take to begin to explore how to make meaningful, radical, and sustainable change to your life…
Be Here Now.
If you’ve ever done any wilderness training, you know this: if you get lost in the woods, don’t go crashing around trying to find your way home. Sit. Down. Stay there. Notice your surroundings.
Many of us are a little lost in the woods right now, and so it is during times of radical transformation – when it feels like the very tectonic plates of our lives are shifting beneath us.
And so it is that the first phase of navigating any major change is not to adjust to a new normal. It’s not to create a new routine, or new goals to accomplish. It is simply to notice what is happening for you, right now. What is true now?
Sit Down. Stay here. Notice your surroundings.
One of the practices I do with the women and mothers I work with is one I call “Five Things.” Here’s how it works:
Set a timer for five minutes. Write five sentences – just five! – that describe what is happening for you right now. The time and content constraint is key, allowing you to focus in on what really matters most. There is no wrong way to do this except to think about it too much. Let the words roll out of your mind and onto the page – you will undoubtedly be surprised about what shows up there that is asking for your attention.
With every major change in our lives, whether it is unbidden or desperately desired, comes grief and loss. Right now, so many of us are feeling grief and loss – and maybe a healthy dose of anger, too – about the things that have shifted in our lives. We are missing our connections, both physical and emotional, with friends and family. Many of us are missing the sense of purpose entwined in our livelihood, or are grieving the loss of best laid plans for businesses, educational pursuits, and other goals. A great many are grieving their ability to access the kind of self-care they require, like access to the outdoors, to wellness professionals, to time alone.
It’s a lot.
We tend to skip over the process of grieving what is no longer. We dutiful members of our capitalist society are deeply engrained to just keep swimming, to harden ourselves to grief, making plans and moving forward, staying distracted, lest we get lost in it.
But I’ve come to understand that there is no growth without the grief.
Sadness and loss is a crucible for what’s next, burning off everything that is no longer so that we can step into possibility. When we don’t tend to our grief about what we’re letting go of when our lives change, we often get stuck, forcing ourselves in the direction of forward movement and never quite getting there.
Here’s my advice: Honour your grief. This is my favourite way:
Make a “fearless and searching inventory” of everything that you are grieving right now. Everything that’s not working, everything you’re unable to do or be, everything you’re missing, everything you wish were different. Let yourself feel it all. If it helps to get the emotion flowing after weeks (months? years?) of bypassing it, listen to a song or read a poem that moves you.
But before you do all this, create a container for your grief. Give it some boundaries that say, “okay Grief, I welcome you. I want you to stay as long as you’re needed, and then leave when you’re done. I trust myself to know when that time has come. I know you will come back again, and I trust myself to greet you and see you off again, every time it is needed.” Maybe your boundaries are just this; maybe they take the form of a ritual that has a beginning and an end, so that you feel well-taken-care-of in your dance with sadness.
Steady yourself in the unknown.
In every time of radical transformation, there is a (usually deeply uncomfortable) time of not-knowing. In this liminal space, we say things like everything is up in the air.
Like grieving, this time can feel like it might swallow us whole, and so, like grieving, we tend to want to bypass it. Set some goals. Keep moving forward.
But just like we trust, this time of year, that the seeds and roots we’ve planted in the earth will come back to life and offer us their beauty and their bounty, it serves us well to trust that even when we’ve gone “underground,” when we don’t know what to do next and feel like we’re in limbo, there is rich life germinating below our awareness.
So what do you do when you don’t know what’s next? Get really good at holding yourself here.
This is a time for exquisite self-care and for ritual. I talk often with my clients about building a nest in their self-care and ritual practices. Like a mama robin, bring in twigs and strings and ribbons of infrastructure that support you. Feel like you need to write it all out right now? Get yourself a beautiful notebook and pen, create a consistent daily time when you feel most creatively energized and work with the people in your life to make that time non-negotiable. Make sure there’s tea, or coffee, or hot chocolate. The point? Create self-care and ritual that feels undeniable. By doing this, you create consistency and steadiness in a time when everything else feels ungrounded.
And also? Begin to learn what your inner knowing looks, feels and sounds like. The way out of the unknown is to know. And, I have found, the only way to truly know is to put down the books, close the browser, and turn inward. Create space for your knowing, on long walks or journal entries or hot showers. Begin a dance with your intuition, taking note of the times when you “randomly” have a thought or idea or sense about something, and then notice if and when that is validated. Choose to call it knowing rather than coincidence and you’ll be well on your way. Attuning to your inner knowing will ensure that your senses are heightened, and you won’t miss the clarion call of “what’s next.”
Be the change.
It’s true what they say, you know: every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
(I’ll just pause, and let you reminisce about that high school dance or singing with your best friend while driving back roads in your dad’s car).
When your transformation has been well-tended, shifts in a new direction begin to happen almost without your conscious awareness. A creative wellspring might reveal itself in the shower one day, and you can barely dry yourself off before your hand is flying across paper, jotting down ideas. A new sense of energy may bubble up, like the nesting instinct in a woman who’s about to birth, and you may find yourself engaged in a new project or connecting with an old friend.
It’s tempting, as you notice shift (finally) beginning to occur, to take the bull by the horns and get going. But remember, your intention is to step into new, uncharted territory, not to go back to old ways. And when you’re in new, uncharted territory, you must walk slowly, testing each footstep, making a map along the way.
This is where I am famously fond of Tiny Experiments. Rooted in complexity theory – the theory of how complex systems, like human beings or governments, make change – tiny experiments are all about making tiny changes that help you learn more about yourself. Tiny experiments are also known as “safe-to-fail” experiments, which means they’re small enough to be very doable, and that, in fact, failure is a desirable outcome because we tend to learn more after failure than success. Learning is key. Complexity theory tells us that meaningful change almost never happens in broad, sweeping strokes, but rather that we must nudge our way toward what feels good and true, amplifying what works along the way.
And so, begin. What tiny experiments would you like to play with on your way to radical transformation? Maybe, if you’ve got career change in mind, you could revisit your resume, or spend an hour mapping out a business plan. Maybe, if you want to shift into a more sustainable self-care practice, you could look up a few phone numbers for counsellors, or look in your closet for your old hiking boots.
When I say “be the change,” though, I’m not just being cute and quoting Ghandi.
I mean it quite literally: many of the changes we make in our lives are examples of “doing change” – they are behavioural shifts that we enact and through the alchemy of willpower and a commitment to our to-do lists, they sometimes become habit. Sometimes.
But deep change happens at the “being” level. It happens not when we pencil self-care into our calendars, for example, but when we believe ourselves worthy of care.
This is what makes you a complex system, and Tiny Experiments so very important: this isn’t about setting goals and crossing things off your to-do list, it’s about learning more about who you are, and who you’re becoming.
Two weeks ago, I offered some free coaching to subscribers of my mailing list who wanted some support with the changes that were happening to their lives as a result of Covid-19. After donating over a week’s worth of coaching hours, I found that half of the women I spoke to were activated, ready to use the opportunity of this radical transformation in our collective to make change in their individual lives and communities. The other half of them felt as though they were gestating – laying low, either willingly or kicking-and-screaming-style.
Please know that if you fall into the latter category, you are far from alone. And know – trust – that although you may feel confused or apathetic or afraid, all of these feelings are slowly catalyzing into something that you can make meaning of, like a bud beneath the surface of the soil, this fallow time will serve you. I promise.
If you would like support with navigating the changes that are happening for you right now, please don’t hesitate to reach out and book a free half-hour consultation call with me.
Tomorrow, Wednesday April 15th, The Spiral Way virtual women’s circle will focus on grief, loss and release during the processing of radical transformation. Each month during The Spiral Way we explore a different aspect of the stages of transformation I’ve talked about in this artice.