The intensity of the last year has pushed all of us into reexperiencing our fears and traumas and finding supportive survival strategies.
Now, as we are (hopefully) coming out of a pandemic, we are still in a healing process of adjustment, recalibration, and settling.
The unarticulated question throughout this time has been, “what makes you feel safe?”
There never was a one singular “normal.” We are being taught to find our own unique thread of self-love and self-care to feel safe, confident, resilient, and emotionally and intelligently able to adapt.
We are all uniquely wired.
We all live individually storied lives. What triggers our fears and traumas is not the same as our siblings or our neighbours. It’s not even the same as some of our closest friends or partners.
And, what helps us feel safe is also a unique set of rituals perfected over a lifetime. Perhaps, it is manicured nails and coiffed hair, flashy new devices or a brand-new vehicle, reading tarot cards or being vegan.
For some people, safety is careful conformity to collective rules, while for others it is individual rebellion. For some, it’s relying on the authority of scientific and medical information, while for others it’s trusting in natural wellness solutions. For some, safety is in a smile, or a hug, and social contact, while for others safety is found in keeping a distance from people .
For each of us, safety is signalled and negotiated in a different way.
Many of us responded tolerably well to the first lockdowns with self-care maintenance amidst the shock. But subsequent lockdowns became more familiar, and self-care became, for many, more challenging.
Now we are being asked to be true to our own selves, to what enables us to feel safe, for our own physical and mental health. And safe in our conscience that we are taking the best steps forward.
Can we do this with respect and compassion for others who are making different choices with their best intentions and practices for individual and collective survival, too?
The pandemic story is not yet completely over. There may be more surprises in store for us. How can we best cope with the still evolving and changing landscapes and goalposts?
When we are in a flap, agitated and panicked, our nervous system is dysregulated. We need to have a small set of rituals that will enable us to make the journey back from fear and shock and into our bodies.
I can recommend really simple things, like eating, having a warm shower, and taking a nap. Reaching out to connect with other people also really helps. As does meditation, walking in nature, looking at, listening to, or smelling something beautiful. And it can also be brushing hair, changing clothes, putting on makeup. Or of course going for a run, doing yoga, or kickboxing, or dancing. Or even zoning out for a while with Netflix. These (and more options) are simple life hacks we can all do. Nowadays, we all need to know what kind of self-care works for us, and to do one of them (or several of them) or have a good friend remind us to.
It is helpful for us to go slowly and kindly now. Firstly, toward ourselves and our out-of-practice-at-normal-life habits. Secondly, toward others who may have a different “safety” perspective. And thirdly, toward ourselves for maybe judging harshly.
Kindness is a being gentle and slow, not according to predefined ideas of how we should be, but responsive to experiences arising in the moment. Often, we surprise ourselves with our own responses and behaviour. We are not machines, but quirky, feeling sensitive beings.
We have learned that instead of hours commuting, we can usefully use our time and energy for perhaps exercise, learning a new language or hobby, or being with our children. An imminent change in office location is to be negotiated with care and consciousness.
Accessing Embodied Intelligence
With more and more time spent staring at screens, and with the constantly changing news parameters and the threat of circulated false information, staying grounded is essential. This means being able to be in good contact with the many sensations and emotions of the body.
When we are in good contact with our body, we can access the spontaneous instinctual wisdom that it houses. Faster than rational thought, the body communicates wisely with us via impulses, hunches, and urges. It can often prompt us in a healthy and useful direction.
Behaviour sourced from our embodied experience is often more in reality and relevant than our old ideas about how we “ought” or “should” behave. In a rapidly changing world, access to this kind of bodily intelligence is essential. It reliably responds well in the moment to the immediate situation.
But in order to access it, you will need to already be able to calm yourself and relate with kindness to both yourself and others. Then, sensual physical wisdom will reveal itself.
Get to know your own fear responses and your own best self-care kit with a dollop of kindness when you slip up and with kind determination to renew. The reward will be accessing a new kind of intelligence founded on your bodily response that will naturally keep you safe amidst uncertainty. This is our sensual security system.