“If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path.”Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart
If this pandemic had happened five years ago, my response would have been far different. I would have doubled down on trying to control everything. I would have suppressed any “bad” feelings by keeping extremely busy. And I would have judged myself quite harshly if I couldn’t maintain productivity levels on all fronts.
If you’ve read recent posts, you’ll know I was heading down that road. Thankfully, the world served up lots of (“tough”) feedback which I decided to let in. I have been adjusting what I am doing and how I am being to become more peaceful and effective. We practice conscious leadership for moments like these, when it feels like the ground has slipped out from under our feet.
The conscious leadership practices helping me most right now are about control, feelings, acceptance and responsibility. Sometimes I have to come back to these practices hundreds of times a day to help me stay on track.
What’s in my control?
I know I don’t control the weather but I must at least control my thoughts and emotions? Nope! Learning this was a game changer.
My thoughts happen. I CAN decide whether or not to believe or act on them but I cannot prevent the thoughts from coming.
My feelings arise continually. I CAN decide whether to suppress or allow them but I cannot prevent feelings from happening.
How crazy is it that I sometimes try to control others’ thoughts and feelings when I am not in control of my own?
Getting really clear on what’s in my control and what’s not, is helping me a lot in these trying times. When I practice letting go of all that is not in my direct control, I feel more peaceful, focussed and effective. I am also able to be more courageous and compassionate.
Getting up close and personal with my feelings
I have cried more in recent weeks than I usually do. I have also been raging mad at times. And I have also felt more alive, creative and joyful in moments. All of my feelings are more intense right now. Five years ago, I would have been searching for happiness like it was my full-time job. I would have done my best to suppress my sadness, anger and fear. Today, I am somewhat better at allowing things to happen. I trust that my feelings will change quickly to something else and something else. Sure enough, it works.
“Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility,” says Susan David, Harvard Psychologist and author of Emotional Agility. In her TED Interview on resilience during COVID-19, she suggests that we make our feelings really granular to help us feel our way through. Knowing I feel overwhelmed (fear/anger) can help me look for a small pocket of control. Knowing I feel lonely (sad) can help me reach out.
Blame vs Responsibility
Guilt is something else I feel at times right now. It’s really a form of self-blame. Our clients bring it up a lot. Interestingly, guilt is usually a composite or cover for core emotions like sadness, anger and fear. Saying I feel guilty for my comfort when others are suffering so much, can be an excuse to stay stuck versus acting. Emotions are full of wisdom if we ask them what they are here to teach us:
- Guilt, what are you here to teach me about what I value?
- Anger, what are you trying to tell me about what is important to me?
- Fear, where do I feel like I am harming or not helping enough?
- Sadness, what am I actually longing for?
Instead of talking about my guilt and avoiding facing it, I can learn from it. Then I can take responsible, generous actions when I am ready.
When I write in 2025, I’d love to be telling you that I no longer see opposites like loss and gain in such a binary way, that I meet everything equally. We’ll see. For now, I will practice letting go of control, I will feel my feelings, and I will accept myself over and over for being so human during this pandemic. And I’ll take my 100% responsibility where I can to be in service of my family, my community and our broader world.
What about you?