Lessons in listening: Can’t go around it, gotta go through it
True healing, both individually and collectively, is possible when we move through it instead of around it.
Spring has officially arrived from an astronomical standpoint. As a person who shares her birthday with the Vernal Equinox, this yearly milestone has historically borne a quality of lightness and hope. Daffodils from the American Cancer Society and brightly wrapped presents have consistently adorned my celebratory table. I can recall numerous afternoons and evenings of festivity throughout my 46 years, accompanied by friends and family to witness my beginning of another trip around our brightest star.
Understandably, this particular year has felt distinctly different. My daily walks and periodic window gazes have made me acutely aware of the barrenness of our terrain. Fairly, our landscape has most likely always been stark this time of the year, given our latitudinal residence. It is our colorful community that is unmistakably missing from the backdrop. The streets are bare of life.
As a healthcare provider, I have been operating primarily from a strategic mode. My partner, Jessica, and I have been reading the most current medical literature and paying heed to the public health recommendations. Practicing professional agility is a necessity in these uncertain circumstances. Our morning meetings have been geeked-out pathophysiology sessions. For those of you who know Jessica Rouse as a doctor and colleague, you will understand the nerdy obsession with such contemplations. As strange as it may seem, there has been comfort in our study. It has allowed us to hold the current situation with the distance necessary for us to do our work each day.
My practice of writing is a very different process. Reflection replaces strategy as I shift from knowledge to wisdom. Curiously, I’ve managed to stave off this quality recently, so when I sat down to write this piece my page remained blank for some time. When I listened inward, though, I heard a message loud and clear: This really hurts. It hurts in a “hand on my heart” sort of way. Try it: put your hand on your heart and say sincerely to yourself “this really hurts.”
Many of us have experienced personal loss and grief, but as a collective our invincibility hasn’t been shaken to this extent since September 2001. This time our community is truly worldwide and there isn’t an ideological enemy to fight. This time we have to go inward and make choices that we aren’t used to making, and frankly, it’s hard.
Just as I have dived deep into the medical literature to find solace and sense of control, I witness many people trying to hold tight as well. Working parents are feigning homeschool experts. People are fighting for paper goods at our local stores. There is blaming and scolding of one another for either not taking this seriously enough or alternatively blowing this out of proportion. Social media use has hit all time highs, as people are scrolling and scrolling for a momentary hit of comfort. Naturally, our emotional responses to fear are highly personal and we are all employing various coping strategies to manage or avoid it. What if, instead of using these methods of evasion, we just let it be for even just a few moments of time? What if we let the rawness of fear just settle in and occupy the space it needs in our psyche. It’s okay to be scared in uncertain times. True healing, both individually and collectively, is possible when we move through it instead of around it.
So I am letting myself fully feel fear — sometimes with just light touches and other times with deep dives. I am having genuine conversations with those with whom I’m intimately connected. I have been indulging in extra furry-friend cuddles. I have been playing music. I have been looking to our local artists and noticing how important their work is to lift my spirits and give me hope. I have been paying attention to what brings me true refuge, which is a practice that requires me to be open and creative. This allows me to tap into true resilience, not merely false grit. In turn, it helps me meet and hold the authentic feelings and needs of my patients and community with sustained effort.
I invite you to notice, without judgement, your propensities of recent days and where you take refuge. If you feel nourished, thank yourself for the care that you are showing for yourself and your community. If you feel drained, give yourself room to imagine and experiment with other ways of being. Get curious — what really feeds your soul?
Happy spring, my community. May you be well in body, mind and spirit.
Laura Wilkinson is a Nurse Practitioner and Health Coach at her new practice, Village Health. Learn more about Village Health at villagehealthvt.com.
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