This is Part 6 of a series – click here to read other Parts!
What concrete, tangible action steps can we take, as individuals and communities, to aid the Recovery Era, and the Greater Reengagement and Reimagination? What can help us move through the grief?
Drawing on many observations, conversations, research, and my community pandemic recovery work, I’ve identified ten basic practices we can all engage, to help move through emotions that come with the grief process. I call these the Ten Touchstones of Grief. These are grouped into two larger categories, based on two basic human needs. In this series we’ve already covered:
Now let’s turn to our second category:
The Need for Support Structures
As we covered in the previous articles, catharsis is essential to Recovery, Reengagement, and Reimagination. But it’s not enough. If we pursue only momentary cathartic release and resolution, without practices that can sustain it over the long-haul, we’re likely to keep finding ourselves back in the painful place where we started.
We have to address the underlying, lingering reasons why we need to move through numbness, despair, anger, and sorrow in the first place. And collectively, we need a clear, shared set of habits on which we’re mutually focusing our intention-setting and our passion. (We may also need new social programs and initiatives to manage the effects of this virus and prevent the next one. These too are support structures, but I’ll leave other writers to argue for them. In this series we’re staying focused on simple actions everyone can engage in, starting today.)
In other words, we must revive the supportive elements that give structure to our lives for catharsis to have staying power. And to find out what these are, we need only look at some of what we lost out on in the Pandemic Era.
Restoring a Sense of Time and Place:
Moving through Disorientation into Reorientation
Everyone on Earth underwent major disruptions in their everyday rhythm and environments during the pandemic. When the virus first hit, we were suddenly exiled from our spacious, consistent contexts for community, education, and work, and now confined to our homes, vehicles, and screens. While this new, streamlined way of life provided some conveniences in the short-run, we all felt the effects as time dragged on.
We became cramped and cut-off in our isolated little bubbles. “COVID-time” or “COVID-brain” became common, referring to our inability to string events together in a coherent way. For many of us, it was like we were experiencing the world through a prism, and after a while things felt hazy, directionless, and somewhat unreal. The sheer fact that we can designate these years as a distinct “Pandemic Era” – a relative discontinuity in history – speaks to our feeling of disorientation.
Even if it feels like things have stabilized again, it’s vital that we consider: Do we truly feel reoriented yet? My guess is we’re prone to keep cycling back into dizziness and dazed-ness, unless we proactively establish a renewed sense of grounding and regularity. How do we do this?
Reorienting to SACRED TIMES:
Our Lives as Music
We humans relate to time the way we relate to music. Please allow me a poetic parallel here...
For one, we thrive on a sense of rhythm in our days, weeks, months, seasons, and years, the same way we thrive on rhythm in a piece of music. Have you ever tried to listen to a song with a randomized tempo? It is the definition of irritating. On the other hand, when we do have a rough idea of what a piece of music – and our time – will hold as it progresses, it helps us focus. This frees our attention for creative expression; we can only really play music, and live deliberately, when there’s a steady supporting beat.
We don’t, however, like stultifying repetition – a homogenous pattern droning on forever is also a form of torture. Thus we thrive on novelty paired with consistency, seeking ways to diversify the melody of our lives even while the beat goes on. And while we may love to play several different instruments, each developing the melody in its own distinct way, we can really only play one at a time. So too with our lives: we can best appreciate our various experiences when they aren’t all trying to happen at once. We love wild differentiation throughout the course a song or a lifetime, but trying to pack too many notes into one phrase or too many activities into one moment makes for unsatisfying chaos and noise.
Finally, when we have a part of our life’s song that’s uniquely, extra-ordinarily beautiful, we want to feature it, give it the soloist’s spotlight rather than let it get drowned out by everything else. Celebrations, ceremonies, important anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays – these transcendent moments are what remind us that life is a sacred journey. In music and in everything, we want these crescendos.
So if this is what makes for good music and worthwhile time, how would we describe the impact the pandemic has had on these things?
The Pandemic as Noise
In the Pandemic Era, we lost our rhythm, our ability to predict well what’s going to happen. What would this schoolyear, the holidays, this quarter, or tomorrow even look like? We lost orientation to these regular patterns of time that structure our lives, orienting instead around the unpredictable number of COVID cases and ever-uncertain headlines. It took a long time for the tempo of our days and weeks to become relatively predictable again, and we’re still not quite there with our months, seasons, or years.
Additionally, we lost the melody along with the beat. With the jarring new realities of working and learning from home, social encounters and entertainment restricted to screens, and an eye always on the news, it became harder to recognize distinct activities and truly absorb our experiences. With everything bleeding into everything else and with such split attention, it became harder for us to focus or tap into creativity. And therefore, despite never knowing what was going to happen, we also missed out on the novelty that comes with concentrated exploration of new pursuits. Instead there was a kind of false novelty – too much and yet too little was happening all at once.
On top of it all, we missed out on the special occasions that animate our lives: the graduations, births, weddings, funerals and memorials, important birthdays and holidays. These are the mile-markers that keep us from getting lost on the journey of our lives, the crescendos that shape the song into something memorable. Without these especially sacred moments, our lives have lost a sense of definition.
Together, all these things made the passage of time feel more like noise than like music.
So how do we now restore rhythm and focus, novelty and creativity, shape and memorability to our lives? How do we find the beat, the melody, the definition of our song, and start playing beautifully again?
What We Can Do:
Changing Our Tune
I believe we start by reclaiming the transcendent, musical moments. We need a spiritual shock to the system, a hard reset that reminds us that our time is truly sacred. In other words, we need to reacquaint ourselves with ceremony.
This means hosting Transitional Ceremonies – designated times for individuals and communities to process the Pandemic Era and move into the Recovery Era – as I laid out earlier in this series. As far as a template for such a ceremony, you can simply work through the Lessons from the Pandemic ebook alongside others – a Recovery Era book club or Post-Pandemic Experience (PPE), if you will!
It also means approaching special occasions in our lives – like graduations, births, weddings, funerals and memorials, important birthdays and holidays – with more intentionality than we ever have before.
It probably also means establishing national and international COVID-19 Memorials and Memorial Days.
Commemorative events like these will be our most potent tools for reorientation, kickstarting the musicality of our lives once again.
Once we ceremonially restart the music, we can then regain the melody and the beat, which again, we must also remember as sacred.
We’ll be best served by first experimenting with a variety of spiritual practices that interest us. These could be anything, from the small and simple – a minute of undistracted silence, a word of prayerful gratitude – to the large and involved – like a retreat, class, or program.
Then we see if we can establish the optimal rhythm for the ones that suit us best. We ask: what do I need on a daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, and annual basis to feel grounded?
This is how we unlock our focus and creativity, and keep it unlocked. Here are more of my recommendations on how to find consistency and novelty in spiritual practices.
If this all sounds a bit daunting, remember that in any of these cases, you don’t have to do it alone!
You can join ceremonies and spiritual practices convened by other people, and by existing organizations and institutions. There are all kinds of faith and learning communities out there, hosting all kinds of experiences. These can help you get started, and may even offer you a long-term spiritual home.
And at the very least, you can invite a friend into what you’re doing, or tag along to what they’re doing.
We’ll all need to help each other rediscover a sacred orientation to time. Together, we can ensure our lives are soon full of rhythm and focus, novelty and creativity, shape and memorability – beautiful music – again.
Stay tuned for Part 7: Support Structures – Sacred Places!
If you’re looking for more practical insights before then, check out the Lessons from the Pandemic Hub on my website. And if you’re looking for ways to help the Recovery, Reengagement, and Reimagination effort ASAP, share that Hub page and share this blog with people you know, especially if they’re struggling with these things or are a leader who can make a difference in your community.
Works Cited, Further Reading
Bard, B. (2023, March 21). Guide for the Grief Journey: Ten Touchstones. InVocation. https://invitedinvocation.com/grief-journey-guide
Bard, B. (2022, February 8). Simple structure for your spirituality – part 3: Exercises for finding consistency. InVocation. https://www.invitedinvocation.com/post/structure-spirituality-exercises-finding-consistency