Here in the Chicago area of the U.S., we are reaching the time of year where it gets dark very early.
Sometimes I turn a light on in my living room now before 4 p.m. because it’s become so dim. From my windows, I can see Christmas lights strung on the balconies of the condo building across the way, decorated trees lit up through the windows, and (my favorite!) the occasional dog or cat peering out.
I know some people find the darker times of year depressing, but I appreciate it when daylight ends earlier. It seems to me to be an invitation to reflect, to hush, to go within. And in this particular year, 2020, maybe more of us than usual are needing such an invitation.
During the pandemic, my partner and I have taken to longish drives on the weekends. I have come to appreciate, even to relish, these drives, which at first felt like acts of desperation (there’s nowhere to go!). Now they feel reflective to me, a shared activity between us where we simply notice. We listen to music on these drives, too (I rediscovered Fleetwood Mac!), and there is a quality of really listening, because our purpose is not to get anywhere. We are simply being, appreciating.
After these drives, more often than not, I feel renewed. And because we are covering more ground in the car than I would on my walks, I feel more connected to community-at-large, my place in the bigger picture, as the landscape flows by. It’s a good way of getting “out of myself” — noticing the specifics of the world around me — when I feel too “in”.
In that same way, during much of the pandemic I have been feeling too “out”. Is this true for you, too?
Less alone time and more coaching clients for me has meant more natural focus on others, and in many ways this has been very, very good. I’ve felt honored and blessed to be a part of a support system during this time for the lovely souls I work with, and it’s felt more important than ever to recognize that we all share this experience of being human, and that any issue a client I work with is experiencing is not solely “their own” — it is, in its essence, a universal thing, a part of existing on this planet.
And, for my introvert self, sometimes all this “out” is a challenge. I need to make sure I’m getting the alone time, the “puttering time,” that fills my creative well, that allows me to recharge and replenish.
That means that there are ways in which I’ve given myself permission to really slow down during this time.
Despite a couple of decades of practice of giving myself this permission, I have to say that it took me several months to recognize I needed it more than ever. A part of me kept exerting pressure to “keep to my usual pace”, with this particularly prickly voice within me piping up to utter things like, “You already go way too slow! And now you think you need to go even slower??”
Here is where I know that the “you need to speed up!” voice is not mine alone and part of a shared experience of being human (at least in U.S. culture): I have this conversation with clients a lot. The idea that they may need to move more slowly, to let some things go, triggers all sorts of fears. What if there won’t be enough? What if I won’t be enough? Who will I be if I’m “slacking off?” What if I can’t keep up?
We talk about how this fearful voice is trying to help, but the voice ultimately doesn’t feel helpful.
We talk about noticing this fearful voice as a part of us, not the whole of who we are. It’s simply one part, often a young one that didn’t quite get its needs met way back when.
We talk about ways we can calm this voice, ways we can reassure it that we are okay, and we’re choosing a new way, a kinder way, to be in relationship to ourselves now.
Clients often say they are relieved to realize that this fearful, critical voice is just one part of them — just a voice within them — and that there are other, calmer voices within them, too. They’re just more used to focusing on the fearful voice.
As Kristin Neff teaches in writing about self-compassion, it’s vital to find equanimity when we are working with a part of ourselves that is fearful, that is suffering. We don’t want to overidentify with our suffering, but at the same time, we don’t want to dismiss it and pretend it doesn’t matter.
That fearful voice may have an important message for us — it’s just that, often, that message is amplified because the voice is so loud and demanding.
It can drown out other, quieter, less frenetic voices, like the voice that might say, “Hmm, yes, this is challenging right now, but we’ve faced big challenges before and figured out ways to handle them.” Or, “I’m sensing we need to rest for a while, and when we return to this issue refreshed, we’ll see it from another perspective.”
I notice that, although that frightened, frenetic voice really jumped out for me as the pandemic set in (and of course it did, why wouldn’t it?!), I am choosing to listen more to the calmer part of me, the part that knows the whole of me is capable of seeing creative solutions I might not have seen before.
And as darkness falls earlier these days, I accept the invitation to move inward and rediscover calm and quiet and the wisest part of me (who is also, by the way, quite fierce about setting boundaries around her time and energy). This will look different ways at different times, but it’s the underlying feeling of replenishing, of recharging and renewing, that tells me I’m on the right track.
For now, I am setting an intention to choose to respond when I notice a trend in my behavior of automatic reacting.
I am reminding myself that I can always access mindful presence, regardless of what I am “doing” at any time.
And that, if I am in a situation where I am really struggling to access mindful presence, I have permission to remove myself from that situation if I can. If that’s not possible, I can work toward acceptance of the situation. (And by the way, acceptance is not the same as resignation to things that are unjust! We can be in a state of acceptance of what is, and still take action toward the good.)
How can you welcome moving inward this season (whether your daylight hours have shortened or not!)? What permission can you give yourself to move inward and reconnect? How does this work for you right now? I’d love to hear from you.