How can we create new hope when our world is in chaos?
BY JAMES GUAY, LMFT
As we enter a New Year in the midst of a worsening pandemic, how do we hold space for hope and possibilities? Our lives have been upended in 2020 and we’re still in the midst of increasing infections, deaths and stay-at-home orders. It seems things are getting worse before they get better, post-vaccines. 2020 has been a year full of collective grief, suffering, loss, trauma, violence, polarization and continued oppression. It has shed light on the best and worst in our shared humanity. It’s been a massive reckoning in multiple ways.
One of the things we’ve had the opportunity of learning from 2020 is that we can’t force certain changes. We can’t force ourselves to feel or think differently than we do. We can’t force life to be different than it is. We can’t force others to change their behaviors, let alone their hearts. We can’t force life-altering viruses to change on their own accord.
“Let’s operate from an understanding that we all have inherent worth and value, regardless of what we accomplish, what we look like or how much money we make.”
In response, we’ve already heard our fair share of toxic positivity and calls for increased productivity that seem grossly unaware of the state of the world and our natural responses to them. We’ve been told to do more, take greater risks or be on call 24/7 for our jobs, if we still have them. And we’ve found a plethora of other ways to cope with subsequent anxiety, depression and hopelessness. Many of these coping mechanisms also exacerbate the very struggles we’re trying to address or add new ones to the list.
So what’s next? How can we create new hope when our world is in chaos?
First we need to set the necessary internal conditions for hope and change.
Counterintuitively, this means recognizing and accepting exactly where we’re at today. We don’t have to like it but we need to allow it to exist as it is before we can create change. Forcing unrealistic expectations puts the cart in front of the horse. If we lead with judgment we also set up unnecessary roadblocks for progress. When we’re operating from a place of shame, embarrassment and criticism, we tend to dig in our heels, get overwhelmed or deny what’s really going on out of defensiveness and self-preservation.
Instead we need to begin with radical acceptance and allow things to be as they are. This enables us to see things more clearly and better address what’s going on. For example, when we acknowledge our grief and where it comes from, we can better attend to it with care. We can let ourselves actually feel the substantial losses we’ve experienced in 2020 without denial, minimization or obsession. We can give ourselves time for our reactions, be with our experience without trying to fix it, and from this well attended place, explore new updated ways of being and doing.
Next we need to slow down with mindfulness, curiosity and compassion.
This approach organically leads to accomplishing more than we otherwise would have, while staying better balanced and enjoying the process more.
Slowing down and being mindful takes us off autopilot to see more clearly the lay of the land. What’s working well? What needs some alterations? What would we like to integrate into our lives? When we ask these questions of ourselves in a mindful state, we give permission to explore what’s most meaningful for us. We begin to let go of what we believe we “should” be doing based on real or imagined external pressures. We leave space for what organically feels right to us based on who we are and what connects us to our passions and priorities in life.
Popular New Year’s Resolutions involve physical exercise, diets and income — all three that have been greatly impacted by this pandemic. When we base our worth and value on these external standards of beauty and financial wealth we all suffer. We end up contributing to a community that perpetuates a constant pursuit of “success” that never fully eventualizes or feels satisfying if it does. We neglect other aspects of ourselves and each other that is of value. We monetize and dehumanize each other in ways that separate us and lead to further disconnection.
Instead, let’s operate from an understanding that we all have inherent worth and value, regardless of what we accomplish, what we look like or how much money we make. Let’s work on our core inner strength that is generous, kind and uplifting toward ourselves and others. This takes strength, courage and lots of practice but it sets us up well for living anew.
Lastly, we need to continually develop a better friendship with ourselves.
It’s from this caring relationship with ourselves that we can create realistic and achievable goals that are in better sync with where we’re at and what’s most needed.
From this place, we can recognize — with kindness and greater objectivity — if we’ve been too sedentary or need to slow down. When we work on liking ourselves, we naturally want to take care of ourselves by getting better sleep, nutrition, exercise and social support. This becomes a snowball effect where one thing adds to another and intrinsically motivates us.
Redefining our lives in 2021 means being a better friend to ourselves and more compassionate with others. If 2020 has taught us nothing else, we need more compassion, less hate. This needs to include setting better boundaries, fighting for social and racial justice, as well as recognizing our common humanity and fundamental needs for love, safety and belonging.
It’s time to update our internal software programs, not go back to old outdated ways of being. Let’s co-create new ways of being and doing that operate better in 2021.
James Guay, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (#39252), has provided individual and couples counseling in private practice since 1999. A former elite Gymnast and life-long lover of nature, he focuses his social justice activism for the LGBTQ population. Digital content available at: www.livingmorefully.com.