Raise your hand if you know who you are when you wake up in the morning
A “normal” day (used to) start like this: I wake up in the morning and I know who I am. By habit I move around the kitchen. I know where to turn and reach for breakfast items, assemble them in a certain order. I have always thought of this kind of habit as a great time and energy-saver. A collection of such habits convinces me more deeply than I normally admit that my world is secure and stable.
Emotional habits have a similar stabilizing effect. Heeding some familial pattern, I learned to “pull myself together” from an early age. This behavior has, no doubt, served me well when my inner or outer life has been disrupted in one way or another.
The body and the mind both love this continuity, happiest when we are in homeostasis. That sweet middle range between a world that is familiar with a dailiness that doesn’t trail off into boredom or sluggishness – and novelty that doesn’t take off into unbridled hyperactivity.
And this set of habits that underpins our sense of continuity also frees us to keep learning and growing. We master certain physical or emotional or spiritual skills. We go through developmental phases. We have learning edges!
Um, which goes in the bowl first?
These days I might find myself pouring milk into a cereal bowl only to notice I now need to sprinkle the cereal and watch as it floats on top. Yesterday I lost a pair of blue Skechers in the house. I looked around the base of every chair where I remembered sitting during the day, where I might have shed them. No luck. Hours later I saw them shoved deep underneath my drafting table.
When I went through my personal falling-apart, I also had the gift of time to slowly put myself back together
Even when I went through adrenal and job burnout at the same time as menopause, my daily habits did not suddenly abandon me in this way. At that time life around me was stable. Family life. My Jewish Renewal community, where we celebrated Bat Mitzvahs and mourned deaths. Access to a trusted physician. The food chain.
This stability protected and supported me as I recovered. They gave my feelings and thoughts a larger context. This stability gave me the further gift of a learning edge. I read. I wrote. I asked bigger questions. I got professional help. I began to see how my worldview and habits had not only brought a certain kind of success, but had also failed me. And how I then failed others.
Cue turning-point: all of this tuned out to be a blessed, life-saving developmental crisis.
Now we are falling-apart together, and time and survival pressures are on
Our human family is undergoing a series of irreversible and life-changing disruptions. Widespread job loss. Death without benefit of familiar rituals of mourning and burial. Needed medical treatments indefinitely postponed because of pandemic demands on our healthcare system. Structures of time and place all rattled. Unfamiliar, unknown, and beyond control.
Memes and emojis stand in for hugs and tickles. Touch lives now in the context of door knobs and surfaces. Our homes may be offices, day care centers, schools, yoga or dance studios and work-out spaces, or quiet havens. Hair dye is trending. Home-sewed masks are trending. Food shopping strategies are trending. Public health concerns are somehow seen to be at odds with economic stability.
All of life has become a learning edge, and we are exhausted as well as creative and generous
These events profoundly disrupt our sense of who we are as competent adults used to managing our lives, moving towards goals, progressing spiritually, and more or less containing and wrestling with our messy parts.
We are stressed, and enormously creative as we make do with what we have.
Online life is vibrant with wisdom teachers, writing venues, music, song and dance.
Commercial interactions, once I get past the automated system to a human being, are full of feeling and intimacy: How are you doing? Are you working from home? Is your family safe? Take good care, now.
I dress to cheer myself up, choosing from among clothes formerly reserved for professional settings to migrate from the dining room to my upstairs workspace.
I. am. learning. to. cook. meals. regularly. I don’t love it and maybe I will learn to. When I sit down to eat now, that’s all I do. I taste. I chew. I wonder – this food, where did it came from? Who might have raised and harvested and processed and transported and shelved it? I no longer ingest the news with my food, not even the comics.
There has never been a better time to question how my world got to be the way it is
As a woman who believes I am a good person doing good work. Who is white, and has work and is able to work from home, it has never been clearer that the business and stuff of my life depends on low-paid peoples of color, immigrants, refugees, and marginalized white people — our buffet of choices rides along on their limited ones.
There has never been a better time for those of us who now feel safe and protected and that that is normal, perhaps even a hard-earned right – to question how the rest of the world needs to be arranged for us to live our lives in this way.
Can such a contemplation render us something more than grateful?
I have to say that for me, I am only able to ask this question because I can touch into, and sometimes rest in, the Whole Cloth of a Reality that has not frayed or torn. Nor has its compassionate and intimate nature abated: an unfathomable desire to create, birth, generate, illumine, nurture. This world we live in is, as as the Tree of Life has taught me, a universe of relationship, relationship, relationship.
So I am brought to different Big Questions than I have asked before: I ask them of myself and I ask them of us as fellow-citizens, and even as voters:
Can we hold one another and together be held in Reality so that we can bear to let our identity fall fall apart? I’m not speaking here of a clinical break with reality. Nor am I speaking of erasing our cultural differences or history.
Can we slow our urgency to reorganize, reconciled there is no return to how life has been?
Can we re-order our values as we envision building anew?
Can we take shape around a different central story?
Can we wander lost long enough to begin to truly love one another?