It’s the ubiquitous question these days upon greeting one another: How are you doing? And the frequent response is, “Fine,” or “Hanging in there.” Both of which tell you nothing and a lot. While the words tell you nothing, the tone and energy in their voice tells you a lot. It’s something many of us really want to know—how are you doing?—yet some other part of us doesn’t really want to go there—to actually talk about it. We shy away from talking about the ups and downs, the bitter and the sweet of moment-to-moment living in a pandemic world.

Let me just say at the outset, I’m fine. And I’m hanging in there.

If we’re really going to go there, then I can tell you that some days are really wonderful and creative and productive and uplifting. And then there are other days when it takes an enormous amount of energy to focus. On those days, it takes a concerted effort to not get lost in the fear, doubt, worry, and stress that is just under the surface of the collective consciousness. I recently heard the poet David Whyte refer to the anxiety around us as the “anxiosphere.” Perhaps you can relate.

Rarely have I experienced such wild pendulum swings between emotional highs and lows, occasionally even multiple times in the course of a single day. When I mention this to friends—on Zoom, of course—they often nod in agreement. On one hand, I feel sorry that they share my affliction, while on the other hand, I’m relieved to know that I’m not the only one.

It’s not the extremes of the pendulum swing that I find challenging as much as its wild and unpredictable nature. I’ve been blessed in my life with incredible highs for extended periods of time as well as periods of deep darkness and grief.

I say blessed, even for the darkest times, because they, too, have helped shape who I am. They have stretched my capacities for compassion and for being present with the hard stuff of life, both with myself and with others. I’ve learned that the degree to which I can be present with both the highs and the lows with a friend or client depends on the degree to which I can be present with the full spectrum of human experience and emotion within myself.

So it’s not the extremes—it’s that the pendulum can swing from one end of the spectrum to another in such a short time.

Yet here is what I continue to learn: If I’m willing to breathe into my belly and heart and be fully present with everything that is happening without trying to run away or fix it, I stop noticing the swing. And somehow I start to simply be with the whole spectrum at the same time. When I am willing to embrace all of it without trying to change anything or get rid of anything, I land in a remarkably tender and quiet place inside—a place that also feels incredibly alive.

It’s not a fragile tenderness. Quite the contrary. It’s a strong and unshakeable tenderness that expands my capacity for being present with myself and with another in the full spectrum of human experience and emotion, no matter what is happening. And that, for me, is one of the greatest gifts of these times.

Another gift that I am receiving from this pandemic is an increasingly humbling awareness of my privilege. With each passing day, I feel deeper appreciation and profound gratitude that I have a cozy, warm, beautiful home. I have enough money and food. I have a loving husband who takes good care of me, and two sweet dogs who know just when to interrupt me from my work to share some love.

I live in beautiful natural surroundings where I can walk freely and safely, taking in the fresh air and becoming one with the awakening spring. I am surrounded and held by a community of people all over the world who may be far away physically yet are so close in my heart. And I know they hold me in their hearts as well. I am richly blessed.

The ups and downs, the bitter and the sweet. I’ve written in recent weeks about the power of choosing where we put our focus. I’m learning that if I focus on the wild swings of the pendulum, I get lost. However, the more I focus on being fully present with the wide spectrum of feelings, emotions, and experience of life and let it all be there at the same time, I am able to rest deeper into the stillness within.

Furthermore, I am learning more about allowing myself to rest in the full spectrum of life with tenderness, compassion, and a kind of primal beauty for which I have no words. This is my daily practice for now. When I can rest in silence in that full spectrum, I feel alive, creativity flows, and I find next steps.

Those next steps may be only for today; tomorrow I’ll find the steps for that day. Yet what I know already is that these steps take me into a garden where I want to live—a garden that I want to further cultivate and nurture forward into a post-pandemic world.

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