New Year or Deja Vu?
Okay, I know, things are not the way we hoped they would be by now. As Omicron spreads and hospitals fill, it might seem like it’s 2021 all over again. But we have a choice in how we look at our situation right now.
First, it’s really not the same as January 1, 2021. Yes, this new variant is spreading like wildfire, but the symptoms are not as severe as the delta variant. And many of us are now vaccinated and even boosted, making the odds of us getting seriously ill or hospitalized much less likely. There are also new treatments now for those who do get sick, which is amazing when you think about the amount of time that has passed since the beginning of this mess. And although some regions are being shut down again, we now know that these are temporary situations, albeit extremely disruptive. The uncertainty level we experienced in the past, which is extremely stressful, is greatly lessened. We do need to remain cautious, but as long as we’re mindful, we can find ways to safely see loved ones and perhaps even celebrate the dawn of a new year.
What is the same is that we’re surrounded by evidence that things aren’t normal yet. That’s very disturbing to a lot of people. Unfortunately, and of course I could be wrong, I don’t think we’re going to go back to normal, if normal means doing everything the way we used to do it pre-pandemic.
I’ve recently heard estimates that by 2023 or 2024, things will be “back to normal,” but a) no one actually knows and b) this is probably not a one-time deal. The reality is that as we continue to encroach on animal habitats to make room for more people, we’re exposing ourselves to more viruses and that’s not a judgment, but simply the way it is. Some projections indicate that we will have this type of a pandemic every 10 years on average going forward. Considering how long it may take to get over each one, that’s not a lot of time in between. Add to that the changing climate and the resulting horrific weather events that we’re witnessing around the world, which are quite disruptive to “normal” life, plus the rapidly changing technology we’re seeing, and well, many of the old ways may simply be gone.
That doesn’t have to be a negative, but it does indicate that we need to be flexible in addition to resilient. It’s that time of year to try to guess what will happen, so here’s my go at it. We’ll work and live in a much more hybrid fashion, with less commuting and onsite activity in many sectors and much more remote work. Schools will have fewer snow days because they’ll be replaced with remote days, whether because of viruses or weather or any other unforeseen events.
Companies will change their physical logistics, offering more drop-in desks instead of dedicated offices. Many will no longer work five days a week in those office buildings, but drop in two or three days, working the rest of the week from home. We’ll fluctuate between going to the store versus having items delivered. Entertainment like concerts or movies will offer more than one option – view from home or attend live. More healthcare will be provided online instead of going into a doctor’s office or hospital. More in-home tests will be produced, for everything from screening for diseases to the virus of the year. Masks will become a common accessory in public, whether mandated or not, and future buildings will be designed to minimize crowding or with more outdoor space in mild climates.
Travel remains a mystery to me, so clearly I have no actual psychic powers, but I think we can assume it will change. It’s our globe-trotting that helps create global pandemics, so I assume there will be increased restrictions and some kind of proof of health status required at some point for air travel. Cruise ships clearly have a problem, so they’ll have to change how they operate in order to stay in business, although I admit I have no idea what that may look like. Instead of lamenting these changes, however, we can choose to be curious about what travel will look like in the future, and then, adapt.
Whether I’m right or wrong on any of the details, the point is, our lives have shifted into a new realm. In recent history we’ve transformed from the agricultural age to the industrial age to the information age, and we’re now at the beginning of what is being referred to as the conceptual age, where creation and innovation are the main drivers.
In looking back at other major disruptive events in history, there has always been a flourishing of innovation and improvements following these events, from the black plague in the 1300s to the Spanish flu in 1918 to World War II in the 1930’s and 40’s. Since we have the convergence of being in an age of innovation on top of a major disruptive event, there’s no reason to think the same will not happen now, but perhaps somewhat super-boosted.
Technology will continue to innovate to meet our new needs, from robotic food deliveries to more artificial intelligence to support remote work and socializing, and more. I suspect it will change in ways beyond that to areas we can’t even yet fathom to meet needs we don’t yet know we have.
A lot of these changes will produce more efficiency and convenience, once we adjust to them, but of course, change sparks fear. Regardless of pandemics or which age we’re living in, everything continuously changes and the key to remaining calm and content is to learn acceptance and to remain flexible to an ever-changing landscape.
If you stop and think about it at a micro-level, nothing is changing about our families, we’ll still have to work everyday because we’ll still have bills and obligations and taxes. We’ll still be entertained in some form, we’ll still get married and divorced, we’ll still take vacations although they may look very different, and we’ll still shop, because we are a consumer species. It’s just the way we do these things are changing, not the things themselves.
We could approach this phase in life as an exciting opportunity to witness a new age emerging that will become a new norm. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s just how it is and focusing on what was will only cause suffering. I encourage you to start the new year open to new possibilities, new opportunities, and to choose to be flexible and adaptable.
In every era transition in the past, great turmoil arose during these major shifts because people didn’t have the tools to cope with such drastic changes. We have a plethora of tools today, of which the most effective, of course, is mindfulness. By staying in the present moment, instead of worrying about the future, we can greatly reduce stress and stay healthier.
As life continues to swirl around us, changing in what seems like every day or week, we can stay the course. We can be mindful of how we’re feeling, be compassionate with ourselves as we experience discomfort, and be empathetic toward others that are struggling to adjust. We can also model mindfulness so that others can learn how to better manage their emotions and calm their anxiety regardless of what is happening in their external environment. Most importantly, we can look forward to our new world and the contributions we can make to ensure it is a better world.
As stressful as the last two years have been, I’m not only excited about our new normal, but I’m grateful for the lessons learned. I will never again take for granted the freedom to spend time with family and friends. I’ll never again assume I can have whatever I want whenever I want it. I’m definitely more mindful about waste, from food to paper products to water. And I’ll never complain again about the time it takes to meditate, hopefully, because that meditation is what allowed me to stay calm in the midst of a pretty fierce firestorm of change that we’ve all had to cope with. I’m also deeply grateful to you, as this podcast has allowed me a connection to a global population of people that are all seeking the same thing. A better life, a better world and a little bit of peace in the midst of chaos.
I sincerely wish you a happy new year and hope that we can continue to learn and grow with each other. Please stay safe and remember to be mindful.