Befriending the DarknessPosted on: September 2, 2021, by : David
Strategies for coping with lockdown
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
[J.R.R.Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring]
One of my Facebook friends posted that rather timely quote yesterday. I read it just after I had heard the rather gloomy lockdown forecast from Premier Dan Andrews. Hoping for news of some tangible easing of restrictions, some spark of light, I was confronted with the reality of a lengthening lockdown, of what felt like deepening darkness. I was a little surprised by the depth of my disappointment. I was dealing well with the constraints of lockdown, even enjoying some aspects of the less frenetic lifestyle, but this felt different – more serious, more unpredictable, perhaps even unfair. I tried the ‘well-there-are-people-much-worse-off-than-me’ line of reasoning, but that didn’t ease the frustration, the sadness, the sense of loss that the lengthening lockdown evoked within me. It was helpful at that moment to read the wisdom of Gandalf!
Out of that wisdom, I began to reflect on how we might best manage these times that have been given to us. I share my thoughts with you in the hope that they may also speak to your predicament.
1. Acknowledge the struggle. It’s OK to feel however you are feeling about all this. Disappointed, sad, angry, frustrated – it’s neither surprising nor inappropriate to feel these things. Bored, irritable, lonely – that’s OK too. Relaxed, comfortable, safe and secure – own those feelings if that’s where you are. There is no right or wrong way to feel about this unique and unchartered experience we are sharing together, but it is healthy to simply acknowledge and accept whatever feelings do come and go as we journey through it.
2. Befriend the darkness. One of the great themes in writing about spirituality is ‘the dark night of the soul.’ It seems that we are living through a collective ‘dark night’ experience: there is no clear pathway through these unsettling days. But that doesn’t mean we have to live in fear of them. Most of those great spiritual writers describe the ‘dark night’ experience as a time of transformation and growth, of developing self-understanding and spiritual awareness. So take courage, befriend the darkness and ask not ‘why is this happening to me?’ but ‘who am I becoming because of it?’
3. Maintain connections. Sometimes when life is challenging we are tempted to withdraw, to isolate ourselves until the storm passes. That is, of course, even more likely when the risk of COVID and the constraints of lockdown compel us to be isolated. So it is important to be intentional about maintaining connections to people and networks who can help remind us that, despite some indications to the contrary, life does go on. Make a phone call, jump into a Zoom gathering, shoot off an email, get out for exercise where you can see other people doing their thing. Be creative in the way you maintain your connections to promote your own wellbeing and to contribute to the wellbeing of others.
4. Create space for fun. Even if you don’t really feel like it, try to do something special for yourself each day. Treat yourself to a good coffee, watch your favourite movie (or Collingwood replay), do a jigsaw, read a book, eat cake (maybe not every day …), start a new project – do something just for fun to reward yourself for your bravery and resilience in facing up to these challenging times.
5. Attend to your soul. Perhaps this is a thread that runs through all the above strategies – as you go, be sure to practice the sort of mindfulness that nurtures your inner world, your spirit. Be alert to the wonder of creation as you walk, cultivate curiosity as you ponder what’s going on around you, notice the little things and the big things to help keep perspective on the big world of which we are part. And for those who hold to a faith in God, remember the assurance that God is with us in whatever we experience, not as an external interventionist force, but as an intimate, indwelling presence that sustains our courage, our resilience, our hope in every moment, and grants us the wisdom and grace to deal with whatever life throws at us. Take a moment or two of stillness each day to anchor yourself into that nearness.
Well, that’s where my train of thought went yesterday! I hope it might encourage you as we journey through this time that has been given to us.
Take care and go gently!