The past two weeks have been a tale of two valleys for me.
Both valleys began with falling, deep into darkness, and both involved lifting up, to new heights that were outside my previous realm of possibilities. Although the journey has not been easy, I trust that it continues to be a necessary one for me to experience.
The reality that we have all been handed overnight has felt jarring. Everything has changed as life has asked us to change quickly and in ways we would have never imagined.
Working from home, if we are fortunate to still have work. Engaging and entertaining children the entire day, every day. Spending all of our time with the same people, in very close quarters. It is natural to feel unprepared for this new reality that we did not ask for. In Man’s Search For Meaning, a story of the author’s experience in WWII concentration camps, Viktor Frankl shares, “It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life”. The two valleys that I have started to experience are part of a journey of transformation and perhaps evolution. From asking “what do I want from life?” to ask instead “what does life want from me?”.
The First Valley
What feels like lifetimes ago was a mere two weeks ago, when I fell deep into the first valley. I was still in New York City and on a warm early Spring evening, went to a friend’s play reading in midtown. We all greeted one another with waves, smiles and the occasional namaste instead of the handshakes and hugs that we were accustomed to. Several dozen of us, sitting next to one another on plastic chairs, crammed into a small studio space. What felt like a normal “New York experience” at the time now appears like a mortal sin reflecting back on it. After the play reading, my friend and I shared a bite at a nearby restaurant. That was the last meal I had at a restaurant and will be for a while to come. We talked, laughed and cried together as we told stories about our everyday lives, shared past memories and future hopes. As we parted ways after dinner, we accidentally gave each other an innocent hug. And were immediately in shock, as we realized we had done something that we were not supposed to do anymore. That was the last time I hugged a friend, and will be for a while to come. Once back in my apartment, sitting on my comfortable couch, I checked my phone for the latest Coronavirus news. New York City declared a state of emergency. I stopped reading and stared blankly ahead, as if someone was sitting there, as my mind began to process the implications. I only had to read a few more sentences on my phone to confirm the decision that my heart had already made. I had to leave New York and come back home to Canada to weather this storm. At the time, little did I realize how fierce this storm was going to be. In this moment, it continues to torment and destroy the new ‘ground zero’ of this global health pandemic. The next few days, back with my parents in Canada, I started to fall deep into darkness as I struggled to make sense of all the sudden and simultaneous changes in my life. My physical space was changed. The routines and communities that I had become accustomed to disappeared overnight and I now was left to redesign my lifestyle. The connections were rewired instantly. My laptop became the only window into my business. My parent’s television was now the only window into the world. And my phone was the window to connect with friends. Feelings of fear, anxiety and stress passed over me, day and night. Sleeping more than a few hours continuously was an impossible task. As the time I spent in meditation increased, I became even more aware of how I had been feeling. Awareness did not discriminate.
Once I became aware of my own suffering, everything changed.
First, I stopped identifying with it. The fact that I was experiencing anxiety in these moments did not mean that I was now an anxious person. Next, I accepted that reality was different now. Once I had let go of what was, I could then make space for what could be. That is when I began to reframe my relationship to this moment. I had a choice and decided to see the goodness now present in my life. More quality time with my parents. More clarity and less distractions on how to direct the business. More space to meditate and practice yoga. More intentional effort to connect with friends. With acceptance, I started to regain a familiarity, one that I didn’t realize how much I valued. This is how I lifted myself out of the first valley, to a new height filled with possibilities that previously I was blind to. I finally began to sleep through the night again. And then everything changed.
The Second Valley
After a few days of productive work and a few moments of lightness, I fell into the second valley. The darkness became clear to me late one night, when I woke up at 2 a.m., with thoughts of concern and feelings of helplessness racing through my mind and body. That night, I had no option but to get up, stay up and sit with racing thoughts and feelings. That is when I recognized that even though I was okay with this new reality, and those around and close to me were okay, the world was not okay in this moment. And my consciousness was not okay with that. The weight of the health crisis, that continues to spiral out of control with the impending economic crisis looming, continues to feel heavy. Later that day, we would see the financial markets have the single largest drop since the 1930s and the economic crisis became official. As I shared in my reflection last week, a third crisis has now been born, a social crisis. “While no one is immune to the impacts of the health crisis and the financial crisis, there are segments of our society that are particularly vulnerable. They always have been, however we will become more acutely aware in the coming months of just how much more susceptible some are. The homeless population, those incarcerated, the aging and elderly, gig workers and the entire service industry are only a few of the segments that will experience more suffering than most. The disappointing truth is that these segments collectively make up the most. Furthermore, our health care system, our educational institutions, our earth’s climate and our ecological environment are all under extreme stress, which in turn places stress on every segment in society, rich or poor.“ At the depth of the second valley, I connected with the sobering truth that I am in the minority, not the majority. I was born and raised in first world countries. I am living in a spacious and comfortable home with my loving parents. We have access to all of the resources we need to sustain ourselves for a long time and have countless financial, social and mental safety nets.
Few have the good fortune that I have and I cannot take credit for any of it.
My relatively good standing in a moment of global crisis is not from my doing. It is a result of the collective actions by so many other people. Those known to me, like my parents and their parents, and those unknown to me, like the teachers, scientists, doctors, labourers, bureaucrats, architects, engineers, lawyers and so many more. It is as if all of humanity conspired together, knowingly or unknowingly, so that I could have the comforts, securities and fortunes that I have. This understanding fills my heart with even more gratitude for humanity and fills my mind with the strength to be of greater service. This is how I start to lift myself out of the second valley and move from feeling hopeless and helpless to feeling hopeful and purposeful. Passing through the second valley has helped me see a wider realm of possibilities, for myself and for the future of humanity, from new heights that I didn't know existed.
My days and nights are now getting filled with thoughts, conversations and actions, using whatever skills, capabilities and resources that I have, to be of service for humanity.
The first valley is a journey to accept and adjust to a new lifestyle. Work from home. Home school kids. Close quarters with many people. While it is important to make sense and peace with these sudden changes, I ask that we do it quickly and not obsess over it or get stuck in it. This is not a crisis of learning how to fill time or kill time while in lock down. There is a global health pandemic that has triggered an economic crisis, which has triggered a social crisis. We will each awaken to the severity of these crises in our own way, in our own time. Looking outside my window, everything may look calm, peaceful and quiet. I may understand intellectually that people in far away countries are dying by the minute right now. I may hear of outbreaks in cities that I once visited. I am now hearing of friends who have lost their jobs and of the first positive cases showing up in the health care organizations that I support. Soon, people I know will begin to test positive for this virus and even more people that I know will be victims of the economic tsunami. The second valley involves connecting with the global human suffering from these waves of crises.
To climb out of the second valley is to redirect our capabilities and resources outwards versus inwards.
There is a third and fourth and fifth valley ahead, that I have yet to experience. However unpleasant and distressing these valleys may be for me personally, they are part of the journey of transformation and evolution. I accept these valleys with open arms. My heart continues to go out to the front-line health care professionals who are fighting this war, often under equipped, to keep us safe. They have no choice but to put themselves and their families at risk, for our safety and well being. If you are reading this reflection, chances are that, like me, you are in a place of privilege. Know that you had very little to do with that. What life is asking of me, and of you, is to find ways to be of service. Now.
A bit more to share: Recent reflections: Hope For The Future Of Humanity Fear In The Face Of A Global Pandemic Meditation: over the new few weeks, I’ll continue to host live meditations weekdays at 9:30 a.m. EST on this Zoom link. Guided meditation recordings are now available on FindFocus.Live. Year Zero: a series of recorded conversations about the future of humanity, as we transition from B.C. (Before Coronavirus) to A.C. (After Coronavirus). Check them out here. And you can subscribe friends to my newsletter here.