In 2020, I lost two wonderful dogs, the closest person to a father figure I ever had, my mom to bladder cancer, and I finished the year off quarantined in bed with COVID-19.

2020 was a year of tremendous loss for many. Loved ones died alone in hospital rooms, taking their last, labored breath with strangers. Family and friends were left to grieve without the consolation that comes from sharing in an event of remembrance.

We lost time with people we love. Essential workers missed out on simple and special everyday moments like bath-time, dinners, and movie-nights for the fear of endangering those closest to their hearts. Children lost play and learning time with grandparents, friends, and classmates. Weddings, graduations, birthdays, retirements, the end of treatment, and the joy in sharing new beginnings like starting college or the birth of a child were delayed or cancelled altogether.  

Many lost their jobs and businesses along with hopes and dreams for a better future.

We lost friends and family over political differences. We lost those for whom the pain was too unbearable to carry on.

Some lost the belief that truth matters and others that the world is a safe place to be in.

Some of us may have felt like we were losing our minds, losing our freedom, and above all, a sense of control.

Some of us may have felt like we were losing our minds, losing our freedom, and above all a sense of control.

Personally, I would say that 2020 was the most difficult year of my life. And now, starting to emerge on the other side, I can acknowledge some perspectives and practices that were helpful, along with thoughts on possibilities that have arisen in the wake of an unprecedented year.

1. PERSPECTIVE

How we view our life affects our experience of it. Suffering is not necessarily connected to what is happening, but rather to how we perceive what is taking place. By being aware of how we are viewing life’s events and consciously choosing the thoughts we will entertain, we have greater control over the quality of our experience.

When my mother could no longer live on her own, she moved into my house. Initially, I felt that I had to get used to having her there as I perceived that the dynamics of my home were changed, less favorable in certain ways. I remember sharing the thought with my hairdresser, whose response I will never forget. He said, you don’t have to get used to anything. You have to un-program yourself.

What he was saying was that I had decided that conditions had to be a certain way. And when they weren’t, I felt as if I had to conform to a discomfort of sorts. Instead, he was saying, see what is now. This is a shift in perspective that allows us to respond, not by comparison, but rather by what life has presented in the moment. To be mindful of what is present and act accordingly.

2. STAYING CENTERED

It is important to know who you are and what is important to you. Grounding into your core means that you remind yourself of how you choose to experience life. This means that while the world may be spinning off its axis, you stay true to your values and remind yourself, when necessary, that it is okay to be who you want to be. In difficult times, this is especially true in order not to lose oneself in the storm.

It is important to know who you are and what is important to you.

3. SELF-CARE

In difficult moments, it is especially important to seek out ways to physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually support oneself. These steps may take on a different form than usual, and be only a few minutes at a time, but the cumulative effect helps us to maintain strength and resilience.

In the final days of my mother’s life, I would whenever possible take a 10-minute walk on a nearby beach to breathe and take in the beauty. This would offer me the emotional release and energy needed to continue on with the role of caretaker. It was an act of caring and kindness that I afforded myself, as I understood that it was vital to my wellbeing. There are no rules here. Whatever feels supportive, is supportive.

4. ACCEPTANCE

We may not like what happened in 2020. But it happened. Fighting reality only hinders ourselves and our wellbeing moving forward. We cannot change the past, and we cannot control the ultimate outcome of the future. What we can do is to acknowledge whatever pain and loss we experienced, allowing ourselves to grieve as necessary. This is acceptance. With acceptance, we free our creative selves to integrate our experiences and mobilize towards designing our “now what?”

5. NOW WHAT?

The mythical phoenix is a bird said to set itself afire, only to rise anew from the ashes of the flames of death. It is a symbol for rebirth – the cyclical nature of life and death.

With experience, we see that there are times in life when parts of us die. When we change our beliefs and the stories we tell ourselves, the old version of us goes away. When we relate differently to the world, we leave a previous self behind. This is how we grow and evolve, if we choose.

I must admit that life now at the beginning of 2021 feels a bit weird. I think that I am somewhere between smoldering ashes and a new set of wings. Perhaps that is where you find yourself as well. Or you may feel like the nation appears, still actively on fire.

I am somewhere between smoldering ashes and a new set of wings.

Regardless, no fire lasts forever. This too shall pass. And we will undoubtedly come out of this seeming dream different.

Like never before, 2020 brought with it a collective experience across a global scale. And as a collective is comprised of individuals, each of us has a hand in the design of what happens next. You have the ability through your conscious perspective and action not only to direct how you will personally move forward, but how the whole of us shifts and creates the future.

Now what? That is up to you.

6 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing and putting words to the process so many of us went through this past year. It’s helpful to see the steps accumulatively outlined to ensure we make it full circle. Let’s collectively strive to learn from this experiences and utilize it to create a more wholesome and brighter future.

  2. your words describe well the situation in which we all find ourselves. be reborn living and thinking about the “here and now”, with the scars of rebirth reminding you of who we are.
    I think we need to use this time in solitude to remind ourselves of the basics and simple things for happiness!

  3. Your feeling of being “somewhere between smoldering ashes and a new set of wings” brings to mind the Spanish poet, Federico García Lorca and El Duende:

    “Unlike the Muse or Angel, which exist beyond or above the poet, the duende sleeps deep within the poet, and asks to be awakened and wrestled, often at great cost…The duende’s arrival always means a radical change in forms. It brings to old planes unknown feelings of freshness, with the quality of something newly created… in a similar likeness to soul.”

    In contemplating your question, “Now what?” Perhaps it is Duende — the creative grace that transfigures suffering into passion, inspiration and authentic expression.

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