If you have been keeping up with all that has transpired since the first time you heard the word coronavirus then I am guessing the next few words have also been heard ad nauseum…unprecedented, quarantine, flatten the curve, new normal, now normal among others. Even if you have chosen to avoid the local and national news, I think it is safe to say that we are all feeling the weight of what has transpired over the past few months.
Whatever has begun to feel normal for you since the first stay at home mandates, I hope that you have found a way to balance the uncertainty with things that are certain, things you can count on. You may be asking, “what can I count on when everything else around me feels shaky and uncertain?”
I want to take you to a place where you can momentarily set aside the worries of the day. Rest assured they will wait for you to return, but when you are back you will have a choice to make. Do you want to carry all of them, or would you like to leave some things behind to lighten the load? The choice will be yours.
If you are reading this and don’t have enough time to devote to this exercise, bookmark it and come back to it when you have 20-30 minutes to dedicate to YOU.
To begin, find a comfortable, quiet place where you can sit or lie down. This could be in your home or outdoors, the goal here is to find a place where you will not be plagued by the demands of the day.
Once you have settled into a place that feels comfortable close your eyes if it feels safe to do so (if you would prefer to keep your eyes open then find something around you to focus on during this exercise). While you sit or lie in your chosen space, notice the movement of your breathing, how your chest and abdomen rise up and down as you breathe. Take a moment to breathe intentionally, take a deep breath in through your nose, now hold it for a count of 4, then expel it forcefully as if you were blowing out 50 candles at one time. Continue to breathe in and out this same way for a count of seven intentional breaths.
As you settle into this breathing pattern imagine that you are sitting near the shore at the beach, take in the sights, smells, and sounds around you. Do you see the tide, is it low or high tide? Are there shells all around you or the foam of the water as it rolls towards you and away from you? What can you smell, the saltiness of the air around you, sunscreen, or the scent of the water mixed with sea life and algae?
What do you hear as you sit on the shore, the sounds of seagulls, children playing at the shoreline, maybe it’s the lifeguard’s whistle? Perhaps you hear the sound of a fisherman casting out his line and reeling in the slack, or the sound of the tide roaring towards you?
What are you feeling while you sit by the shore? Is the sun hot making you sweat or warming you because there is an autumn chill in the air? Can you feel the grit of the sand beneath your toes, does it feel good or do you want to brush it away? Is the sand wet or dry, sharp with the edges of broken shells, or weathered smooth?
What are you aware of inside your body as you sit taking in all that your senses are sharing with you? Do you feel peace in this moment? Or are you feeling a pressure inside of you that is trying to pull you out of this moment and back to your to-do list? Accept whatever comes without judgment, then gently bring your attention back to the seashore.
If you are feeling peace stay with it for as long as you can, enjoy this time to yourself with an awareness that you can leave at any point, you are in control! If you are feeling the pressure to return your gaze to the needs of the day, allow yourself just a few more minutes by the shore. This time, as you watch the tide come in and go out, I want you to imagine that the tide is holding the many cares of your day. Each time the tide comes in it is bringing you the different demands and concerns that are trying to pull you away. Maybe it’s an errand, or a work deadline, perhaps the kids need you for something, or last night’s argument with a friend or spouse has inserted itself into your “me” time.
I want to challenge you to watch as these demands roll up and then recede with the tide. Try not to focus on any one demand in particular, instead try to focus on what you are feeling inside as you “see” the demands, but do not interact with them.
The objective is to experience what is pulling you away without allowing it to completely consume you. Attach no feelings or priority to the demands, instead try to turn inward and ask yourself, what do I need right now in this moment? Where do you feel this need in your body, what is it trying to tell you? When you can find a word or image that connects with what you are feeling go ahead and open your eyes (if your eyes have been open, try to move your focal point to the larger space around you). Take a moment to write down or commit to memory the word or image that came to you. Then spend some time with that word or image to process it. Maybe you could even write it down somewhere so you can return to it as needed.
As you move back into your reality and away from the imagined seashore, use what you have learned about yourself. Decide what burdens you need to carry and what burdens you may be able to let go of. The word or image you discovered may reveal the answer.
In each day we have many moments, some we can control and some are controlled by the needs and demands of others. As we continue to adjust to the changes that the pandemic has brought with it, it is important to find time to anchor yourself in the reality that many things are beyond your control.
Life getting back to “normal” or some semblance of normal seems to be the goal for many right now. As you wait, I challenge you to rest in the things you can rely on. The sun will shine tomorrow as the birds sing songs of celebration welcoming another new day. You can meet the new day with the concerns and worries borrowed from yesterday, or you can start anew and embrace whatever comes your way with a spirit of wonder. As the day closes the summer cicadas will herald in the dusk of nightfall giving way to the fireflies as they flicker up, down and all around signaling the end of another day.
What will you do with the space between dawn and dusk? The possibilities are endless!
*Take this exercise with you: If you have a recording device, take a moment to record yourself as you read aloud today’s visit to the seashore, or create an escape of your own by choosing a place that feels peaceful and life-giving to you. Get creative and enjoy some quiet time to reflect and restore whenever the need should arise.