During our weekly executive team meetings, we’ve been reflecting on our emotional experiences of quarantine. It’s not an agenda item. It happens spontaneously. We speak freely about our feelings, discuss what we’ve learned, how we’re adapting, and reshaping ourselves. There is no new normal but we move together. As the facts of the pandemic evolve, we’ve learned that a return to “normal” isn’t weeks or even months away. The horizon is still too distant to say we can see that future clearly. For now, we navigate stages of grief and relief, and process them together.
Brett our COO last week expressed the pain and delight about what he’s learning about himself. He’s noticing more of life and of nature; he’s seeing opportunities as more intentionally connected to his actions. He’s addressing his response to thoughts and feelings. I mentioned how these new reflections reminded me of Thoreau’s Walden.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I have not lived.”
Brett responded that many of us are now experiencing our own versions of “going into the woods.”
Joseph Campbell helps us understand more about the forest as a symbol:
“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there’s a way or path, it is someone else’s path; each human being is a unique phenomenon.”
The pandemic forces us into the woods both physically and emotionally. We are creating our own paths where there were none and where the way ahead may be at its darkest.
“Emotions create habits.” – BJ Fogg, Tiny Habits
It’s important to recognize too how these circumstances and environments are shaping our emotions. Quarantine makes every moment more salient. For me, there is less noise in the background. I am experiencing myself more directly. The rushing and unnecessary busyness, the driving to and from the office—all of these things no longer direct the agenda. I’m realizing how habits and routines have shielded me from experiencing myself. I was letting the business of business get me off the hook of having to be with myself. With fewer places to go, I’m seeing myself more face-to-face, more connected to emotions, creating opportunities to change old habits, and create pathways forward. Though the path is uncharted and sometimes dark, what’s painful is as instructive as all that is joyful.
The pain comes in the form of grief; joy in the form of relief. Grief shows me what I have loved. I miss aspects of pre-pandemic life—ways of doing things, proximity to family, friends, work teammates, making plans together for the future. I’m grieving those losses and reflecting too on the suffering others are feeling, many of whom are now in dire straits. But at the same time, I’m relieved that other old ways are going to end for good. Feeling both pain and joy compels me to rethink what is worth our care and how to rebuild a new sense of self.
This reframing of the world reminds us how we are shaped by place as we shape ourselves. We inhabit all sorts of places inside ourselves all of the time. Our identity is defined and shaped as much by those inner environments as they are where we are in the world. Now for most of us, our time and the external places have shifted and with that our relationships to them and with each other. We have a new appreciation of how contexts shape identity. The roles we construct in physical contexts indeed influence our interior environments. Place can help us see who we are. With many of those physical references gone, I realize the need to create new definitions of self. At least part of what we are experiencing globally is a redefinition of our individuality and the meaning of community.
The forces at play point us now to an inflection point. We’re all learning as we go forward and we understand more than ever that we must learn together. To move forward with resilience will require new skills and, above all, accepting this new invitation to become more familiar with ourselves.
In Why We Work, Leah Weiss shares her insight into how resilience invites us to reconsider the instrumental role of agency, social connection, and strong purpose. She notes how practices of mindfulness, self-compassion, and compassion have positively impacted her life and how they ultimately help us excavate deeper purpose. Being mindful isn’t a goal unto itself. Rather, mindfulness is the “intentional use of attention.” She notes how the Tibetan word gom, usually translated “meditation,” is better translated “familiarization.” Her case for mindfulness and purpose in the workplace inspires us to “…think of work as meditation, wherein each moment of the workday is an opportunity to train our hearts and minds in good habits.”
In unpredictable times in which our sense of control is undermined, we need to make deeper connections and invest in meaning. We ask ourselves what we value as essential and how to make values-aligned decisions in each moment. This is hard work and it will be scary. But our mental health takes a turn for the better when we are willing to go into the woods when there isn’t a path. It’s all less frightening when we go together.
When Brett shared what he is noticing, his curiosity and learning, and changes he is making, he’s entering the woods. Self-care is leadership. The path he is clearing is caring for himself. We created Glo for self-care, to connect with one another to heal ourselves and our planet. Now more than ever, I’m grateful our team is rooted in these core values of growth and awareness, that we are nurturing kindness, and practicing curiosity. We mean to be keenly aware of our privilege and will make every effort to use our privilege to help make life better for others. I’m finding strength and learning from community, in yoga/meditation, and other movement practices. All of these practices teach us how to learn about ourselves, how to adapt, and address the complexities of human experience. We are being reshaped by our circumstances, by our environments and so we must reshape ourselves. If we take those challenges to heart then our self-care becomes an opportunity as well to offer our work to the world, and perhaps too as ways to help others find their way through the woods.