Where does change come from? Change is constant, with different people continuously making important life shifts all around us. The timing for them is usually independent and varied, so that there are always losses, moves, divorces, and births, but unless we are immediately connected to them we may not think much about them. Right now, life is different. We are all sharing a common experience of change, all around the world. It is a time of strong outer changes, which will undoubtedly fuel inner shifts that last beyond these immediate weeks and months.
We are learning, all-together, about how shifting conditions in the outside world precipitate changes in our inner world. When the world around us moves in a dramatic way we have to reorient. The top five major “life stressors” reveal just how strongly the physical and social environment influences our sense of well-being. The most commonly described life stressors are:
- A Move: When we move to a new city or a new house, we must learn all about the new place—where’s the bathroom, where does my bed go, where is the grocery store, a haircutter, dentist, gym? Most of us have not physically moved in the last month, but our surroundings have changed. Our physical worlds are smaller, even if they are familiar. Everyone who is in a lockdown or sheltering in place has had a major shift in physical environment. We are all experiencing a physical reorientation.
- A Job Change (or loss): Many people have lost their jobs. Many more people have had their job move to their homes. Schools are cancelled, events, concerts, gatherings, celebrations postponed or done in isolation. The way we orient usually through our activities has changed. We are all experiencing a required reorientation of our activities.
- A Change in Relationship (such as a divorce): Our connections with others are dramatically different in two ways—on the one hand we are cut off, unable to connect to our community and friends in the ways we love best (zoom meetings and social media are not the same). On the other hand, many people are now continuously at home with those who share their home, all day and all night and all weekday and all weekend. We are all experiencing a social/relational reorientation.
- A Major Illness: many people have been ill in this time, even gravely ill. Illness makes us reorient to our body. We can’t do the things we normally could, we don’t feel the way we normally feel. And even if we haven’t been ill, we have for sure all been thinking a lot about the possibility of becoming ill. Illness, real or imagined, changes our trust of our body. Contagion changes our trust of the other. We are all experiencing a reorientation of trust.
- A Death (or a birth): at first a few, then more, now many have died, and more of us will die with this illness. The unpredictability of life feels very acute. We mourn those who have passed. We think about death, worrying about the death others, fearful about our own mortality. When life feels short, suddenly finite, prioritizes come forward. What are we doing with out time. What is most important. We are all experiencing a reorientation of priorities in life.
Under normal conditions, overlaying several of these together at any one time (such a move, a job, change, and an illness) will predictably overwhelm any one person and lead them to feeling anxious or depressed. Right now, though the intensity varies greatly, we are all of us, all around the world, working through aspects of all five of types of major life stressors. It is no wonder that everyone is tired right now.
Is reorientation only about loss? No, it is also about renewal and learning. Losses are clearly known, because they relate to the past and we know the past very well—we can think about it, we remember it. Renewal and the emergence of new learning are harder to identify in the moment because they are so new.
Physical reorientation happens every time when go through an inflammation. When we get a fever we physiologically inflame, break down, detox, and heal what does not belong (like a virus). COVID-19 is pushing us to all inflame and reorient right now, at the same time, through all of these shifting life circumstances, whether or not we have a fever. We have collectively been so focused on the medical risks of the illness that I believe this larger shift is hardly known or seen, but it is coming.
What are the common qualities of emergence? Inwardly feeling that we need to find a new way of being in the world. That change, which comes after initial reactions and grief, is proactive—we begin to sculpt a new life. Those renewal capacities are strong, but quiet. They belong to our will forces which are connected to the future, not to thinking about the memories of our past.
As outside the fruit trees blossom, birds sing, leaves sprout and the earth warms, let’s listen for that newness. There is fruit yet to come from this experience, not only loss. This is an important opportunity for moving forward and making a change towards better health and well-being. You can read an example of how this can be done: Support for Weaning off of an Antidepressant.
Be well, take hold,