Perspective is one of my top strengths; thank goodness during this time of quarantine and what feels like unremitting loss. The losses span our physical, financial, vocational, social, and emotional domains. This idealist and eternal optimist chooses to focus on what is possible and abundant when loss and grief seem to invade every nook and crevice of our lives.
The lessons of the last two years taught me to turn to what is constant and healing during challenge. This journey to find comfort during tragedy inspired the creation of the Foundation for Family and Community Healing, but my tools now fall short. Where I once found comfort going to coffee shops and floating among happy souls going about their lives, going to meetups to spend time with like-minded people, or spending fleeting and precious moments with loved ones, those options for solace are now unavailable.
Not only unavailable, but likely on standby for the foreseeable future. A vast future of isolation, even deeper than I experienced before, looms like an unsurpassable and endless chasm.
Into the darkness I fall.
Fortunately for me, I’ve been here before. The first time I fell, the fall seemed endless, the darkness absolute, the impact devastating. Each subsequent visit, and there have many of them during my lifetime, the falls have been shorter and less damaging, and I’ve gotten more agile about climbing out of the hole, humbled by the lesson regarding the consequences of my actions.
Consequences of my actions? What did I do to deserve this? Surely I did not create the conditions for or of the pandemic?
Of course not. But I created the conditions where I believed there were prerequisites for my happiness and wellbeing. Granted, human interaction is known to be a core requirement for our physical, psychological, and emotional wellbeing. But I have that. Facetime, zoom, Skype, phone. Seeing others from afar. All available to me still, yet a part of me just screamed, “that’s not enough!,” and in so doing, I create suffering for myself.
The current options will have to do for now. They are outside my sphere of control and to cling to what I once had only prolongs the inevitable and prevents me from finding solutions.
I know from previous experience that I can provide that sense of connection and contact for myself in other ways. The first time this happened was after my divorce, then after Chris passed away, then again when I moved back to Richmond. You see, I’ve been here before, and I have to keep re-learning the lesson each time a new variation of the situation presents itself.
First I take stock of my current situation, figure out the gaps, and find new ways to meet my needs. I just need to be more creative this time with the resources available to me. My solution is again to turn to nature and myself for company, connection, entertainment, and engagement.
Previously, short walks and sitting on the porch provided a sufficient level of comfort. Now, I have to take a more assertive stance for getting outside: longer walks, vary the location and route, sit on my porch, sit in my Florida room. When I’m being really present with nature, the birds talk to me and entertain me, the squirrels take me on their nut-hunting, acrobatic journeys, the bushes wave to me while they blow in the wind, the wind caresses my skin, the sky provides a technicolor backdrop, the flowers engage my eyes and my spirit, and the trees provide awe and comfort with their constant presence.
In other circumstances, I don’t think I would’ve admitted this, but I’ve taken my tree hugging tendency to a new level. Previously I would hug a tree to show my affection and gratitude for the shade, oxygen, wisdom, and generally awesomeness of the tree species. Now, I find hugging a tree literally comforting and reassuring, just like hugging a loved one. I’ve had to hug a few trees to find one that really wanted to hug me back, and now she’s a frequent destination on my daily walk. She lets me visit as long as I want, and I can savor the visit by sitting on her roots and enjoying her shade and her gracious hospitality.
For additional ways to deepen my connection with nature and trees, I turn to the books of wise and practiced nature lovers, such as LoraKim Joyner and Gail Koelin (Nurturing Discussions and Practices. Nurture Nature, Yourself, and Your Relationship), and Beth Norcross (Inside Out. Practices for Going Deeper in Nature), for guidance. Joyner and Koelin remind us to set the following intention: “I walk with beauty before, behind, above, below, all around and in me. It begins with beauty.” Feeling surrounded by beauty provides a sense of peace and inspiration, and reminds me that life can be beautiful no matter the circumstances.
Norcross describes an exercise called Take Me to the Trees, where she invites participants to explore the different parts of the trees and observe the tree’s connections to other species, the ground, and each other. In this way, I create active engagement in my visit with the tree, as opposed to feeling sorry for myself that I’ve resorted to hugging trees, worrying about what others think of me during my hugs, or ruminating about the future.
In addition to nature, I also turn to myself for company. Just like with nature, there is so much about our inner world that remains to be discovered, and the landscape is ever-changing. Do you feel you’re the same person now as you were before the pandemic? Understanding and processing these changes take time and energy, and revisiting the questions of Who am I? and What am I here to do with my short, beautiful life? are timely and important topics when our world is being turned upside down.
I imagine many of us have slid into the darkness too, either recently or in the past. By finding the light above, with lessons in hand, we can climb out with a new sense of determination, resilience, and purpose. We can forge ahead to create the future that we’ve always deeply and authentically longed for. By being one with the silence, our deepest and highest selves, and feeling a connection to all that is, we can restore ourselves to our rightful place and path. That is the invitation of the isolation and darkness. Nature is there to support us on this journey, and always has been. Accept her invitation and see where it takes you.
Written by Dr. Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert