Of course it’s not going to be a normal holiday season this year. It’s 2020.
I keep a framed copy of a quote by Wayne Dyer on my desk that says, “Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” He wrote this long ago, but it’s been the perfect reality check for me throughout this year. There shouldn’t be a pandemic. There should be a national strategy to protect us from getting sick or dying. There shouldn’t be shortages of PPE and test kits. There should be more help available to the millions of people out of work. There shouldn’t be a toilet paper shortage, again.
The truth is, there is no should or shouldn’t. There is only what is. This is not the first time that humanity has faced a global challenge and it’s not the first time my own country has been in crisis. But when we look at our circumstances with judgment and an attitude of how terrible it is that these things are happening to us, we lose sight of our own participation in the creation and fueling of these events.
I’m not speaking of blame. There are lots of theories about Covid 19 originating from a wet market in China, but we don’t really know if that’s where a bat infected another animal which then spread it to humans or as some believe, if it was created in a lab, or if it happened somewhere else altogether. And it’s not the point. It doesn’t matter where it happened. It matters how it happened because it’s in the how that we gain knowledge and grow from this experience.
Brene’ Brown states that blame is the discharge of shame, so I tried to think about what the shame could be related to Covid and recognized that perhaps it’s a matter of personal responsibility. As a species, we haven’t been very mindful of our impact on the planet. We’re to a point that we can no longer deny global warming and over-population in the world, but we still try to ignore it. Covid has been something we can’t ignore and it’s probably not unrelated to our lack of enthusiasm towards changing our lifestyles to better support the earth. We’re crammed into spaces in various parts of the world to the point that any disease can rapidly spread, but we’re also crammed into those spaces with a lot of animals and exposing ourselves to bacteria and viruses that our bodies have never dealt with before.
During this long shut down, I’ve noticed some feelings of shame come up. How do I generate so much trash for one person? After a few years of using my own grocery bags, which by the way occurred due to a law, not my own higher consciousness for the environment, switching back to plastic bags from the stores generated some shame for sure. As plastic bags have piled up in my home, two questions emerged: what am I going to do with all of these plastic bags that are so terrible for the environment and why do I buy so many groceries? Which of course led to a realization of how much food I waste.
I’ve also noticed some shame arise related to the dismal handling of the virus in the U.S., along with the environment, social justice and more because I’ve noticed I do a lot of judging about what the government “should” be doing. But what have I done to contribute to these outcomes? I vote, but that’s about it. I don’t get involved in politics or movements or risk much of anything to stand up for any of the issues I actually believe in.
I’ve also felt some shame about being an American over the past year. I don’t think we’re necessarily an evil empire but our policies clearly have a negative impact on a lot of people around the world. I could say that it’s not my fault. I can’t control the government. But am I contributing to the problem? Sure. I want my goods, from electronics to toilet paper, readily available and as inexpensive as possible. That desire alone drives our entire economy that in turn impacts workers here and abroad, as well as policies that impact countries with resources we want or need, living conditions abroad and I’m sure many other ramifications I’m not aware of.
The purpose of this reflection is not to beat myself up, but to simply observe my own behaviors and resulting shame that if not processed can indeed lead to blaming others for the state the world is in now. Most importantly, observing and reflecting on our individual roles within our larger society is how we identify what we can learn which in turn can lead to how we can improve our conditions versus sitting back and blaming others.
If this pandemic has brought to light even one thing that we can take away as an important learning it’s that we are not just individuals. We are connected across the globe and our behaviors impact others. We have no choice but to start holding ourselves accountable for our own actions and to understand that we cannot ignore our impact on each other and the planet. If people are suffering in one part of the world, we are at least partially responsible. If our air is polluted in one part of the globe, it ultimately affects all of us. If conditions are unsanitary in one country, resulting calamities could spread to the entire population. We have to start thinking more globally and longer-term/bigger picture rather than focusing solely on our own immediate desires. We have to accept responsibility for what we contribute to the conditions everywhere.
Just that recognition leads me around to gratitude. I’m not saying I’m grateful for the virus by any means. But we humans avoid change whenever possible and the pandemic has put us in a position that we don’t have much choice. It’s given us an opportunity to spend months looking at how we live, how we interact and to think about what we might want to change about our lives, both at an individual and a societal level. We tend to make changes only when we’re forced to, so perhaps we needed to be forced to consider what needs to be changed.
I’m having Thanksgiving for two this year. Is that normal? No. But is it bad? Only if I choose it to be, and I don’t. I’m grateful that I’m going to have a quiet day, where I can enjoy cooking without the pressure of time and without the pandemonium and distractions that come with having a house full of people. I will have the luxury of really focusing on what I’m grateful for and the time to really reflect on just how abundant my life really is. I’m going to indulge in attempting to make my grandmother’s roll recipe. My grandmother, who I am still deeply grateful for to this day, made rolls that were lighter than clouds and rich with buttery flavor baked in. There was no real recipe. She would say, add as little flour as possible, not add 2 cups of flour. Punch the dough down gently. Add a little warm water. After many failed attempts at replicating her rolls over the years, I gave up because who wants hockey pucks on Thanksgiving? But this year, since it’s not normal, provides me the opportunity to try again without the pressure of impressing guests. If they’re hockey pucks, so be it, but only I will know. And perhaps I’ll crack the challenge this year and bring back a Thanksgiving tradition that I enjoyed for the many years she was with us in this world. I’m grateful for that opportunity.
While 2020 has been undeniably stressful for most people, it has been full of blessings, too. I’m very grateful that I haven’t caught the virus, for the healing of those I know who have, for the slowdown in what I now see was too frantic of a lifestyle, for all of the people in my life that I miss terribly which I might have been taking for granted before, for the recognition that I need to pay more attention to my contributions toward conditions that cause harm, as well as my contributions toward the greater good.
I’m grateful for recognizing that the world needs more compassion. When I find myself judging or blaming others, I can replace that with compassion for others. We’ve had a rough year and we’re all doing the best we can. Do we fall short sometimes? Yes, we do, because we’re human. But we can all practice being more compassionate, and perhaps patient, with those that are struggling more than we are.
I’m grateful, too, for the reminder that life is messy and unpredictable. It always has been, but this situation has certainly brought that fact to the forefront. If I focus on how things should be, I will indeed enjoy no peace. I’m grateful that I can mindfully accept that life is not happening to me, but for me, and that I contribute to the outcomes both big and small. I don’t know all of the changes I might make yet, but the first step is simply the recognition that some things need to change. It looks like I’ll still have plenty of time to contemplate that, so I’ll be grateful for that, too.
Thanksgiving and the upcoming December holidays will be different this year. But different doesn’t mean bad. Different gives us a new perspective and can provide new possibilities to learn and grow. Different can shake us out of old habits we didn’t even realize were running the show. Different can lead to greater awareness of our own actions and behaviors that may be fine or may need tinkering. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a learning opportunity.
What will you learn this holiday season? I sincerely hope that you can find gratitude for whatever you learn and can use it to improve your own life, as well as others.
I hope you count your many blessings over the weeks left in this crazy year. And I hope you’ll give some thought to how your actions affect others. Wouldn’t it be a miracle if we all focused just a little more on the well-being of others in addition to ourselves? We could actually end 2020 representing the true meaning of the holidays – loving and giving to others. I think that would be a blessing for all of us.