Much of our society now is struggling to adjust to a new normal because of the COVID-19 impact. Heck, not just our American society but the entire world is struggling to adjust!
Anxiety is a common denominator for many—if not most—folks during this time.
I have some personal experience with adjusting to a new normal and want to share some of what helped me navigate that time and actually to grow as a spiritual being.
Almost nine years ago my crash course in having to adjust to a new normal began the day after Labor Day when I received a breast cancer diagnosis. I felt completely off balance for months, and I went through the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance—during my eight months of treatment and for many months after.
I remembering longing for anything that felt “normal.” I wanted to feel better physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. And I wanted all of that normal immediately.
But the deepest learning, the deepest lessons, don’t come immediately.
They take time.
We can’t adjust in a short time to our world’s being turned upside down. So we have to learn to deal with it little by little—day by day, minute by minute, and sometimes even second by second.
These are four activities that helped me transition into and through a cancer journey and then into a new life as a cancer survivor/thriver.
- Grounding rituals. I needed daily ritual to keep my feet on the ground, to keep me in my body, present to the present moment. I suggest something that involves at least one of your senses, preferably more. A ritual involving touch, sight, smell, taste, and/or hearing will help you stay in your body instead of jumping into anxious thoughts. My morning coffee had been a ritual, but I lost it when my chemo treatments made me so sensitive to certain smells that the smell of coffee was literally nauseating. But when that sensitivity passed, making and drinking coffee each morning was a grounding ritual for me. Throughout my treatments on the days when I didn’t feel completely rotten, practicing centering prayer (meditation) helped me tremendously. I already had a years-long practice, so it was easy for me to slip into that. But sometimes my ritual was merely getting present by following my breathing, being aware of the air coming in and going out of my lungs. As I waited for medical appointments, I would make sure to become very aware of my breath. It was amazing how that helped calm me.
- Limit stress-inducing information. Though I’m someone who usually loves researching lots of information on a topic, I consciously did not research breast cancer or my particular type of breast cancer. I even avoided finding out the stage of the cancer. I didn’t want negative thoughts and anxiety to overtake my healing process. I knew that I could go down the rabbit hole of negativity and hopelessness if I looked at online chat groups (where it seems the most negative of people congregate). I knew I needed positive energy. So I avoided research and instead focused on reading spiritual books and online articles. If it was positive and encouraging, I’d read it. If it was negative and/or hopeless, I did not.
- Savor the small. I’ve already mentioned my enjoyment of coffee, the ritual of a morning cup. I paid extra attention to many little things. I’d sit outside on cool mornings and listen to birdsong and notice the sparkling dew on the grass and enjoy the smells of autumn, and later, spring. I appreciated the softness of my cat who stayed by my side throughout my recovery (and she was usually one to lie just far enough away that I couldn’t reach her. During my treatments she’d lie on the floor by my chair so that I could put my hand down and touch her). When my second chemo took away my taste buds so that I could taste only sweet things and notice textures, I focused on those two, grateful for what I could enjoy. I also appreciated entertaining television that didn’t require too much thought when I couldn’t concentrate well. So many things that I had taken for granted became things I really appreciated. And that leads me to the last one.
- Practice gratitude! I found that big transitions are difficult but they also help us discover what’s really important to us. I found that there was so much in my life that was positive and healing and encouraging: a sister who was willing to come to take care of me, friends who checked in regularly, friends who offered help, a soft black cat, a comfortable bed, a house that was warm in winter and cool in summer, caring and knowledgable medical professionals. So many, many people and things in my life that enhanced it. When I focused on gratitude, everything was brighter, better.
Though this time of great change isn’t exactly like going through cancer, it is similar in that it involves adjusting to a new normal. And often the new normal is a lot better overall than the old normal. As much as I resist change, I agree with Richard Rohr.
“Whenever we’re led out of normalcy into sacred, open space, it’s going to feel like suffering, because it is letting go of what we’re used to. This is always painful at some level. But part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger. If we’re not willing to let go and die to our small, false self, we won’t enter into any new or sacred space.”
– Richard Rohr
Here’s to the new and sacred space that is being birthed right now. May we all find ways to be more comfortable with it—and even to welcome it!