Phew! What a year 2020 has been! Between the pandemic, violent political unrest throughout the world due to injustices, systemic racism among other isms, and more it’s been a tense year! A year that has included a lot of loss for many – whether that be as simple as your social outings to jobs, family members, and a sense of security. In such challenging times, where do we find light and joy?
It can be difficult to do so in the face of such loss, including loss of the rituals that help us cope. At Nextpat, we’ve spent much of the year focused on how to develop rituals to boost resiliency and find moments of calm or joy in the midst of this challenging time. As I reflect on this year and my gratitude for what I have and the year that has turned out far better than I’d have expected and certainly more than I’d have asked for, I realize that a great deal of this perspective is due to two things. First, I have been truly lucky and thankful for the grace I’ve found this year. Second, I’ve been practicing meditation for three years now and the equanimity it has afforded me has changed how I approach such challenges.
For those familiar with the Buddhist tradition you may have heard of the “Middle Path.” For many it embodies the idea of balance or to consume or engage in all things in moderation. For me, a few deeper layers of meaning have helped me navigate 2020 and I’d love to share the experience with you.
Please note that I am by no means a scholar or expert in this topic. I practice a form of meditation that teaches you to learn from your own experience. Therefore, what I share is based exclusively on my own experience and learning. Hence, it is fairly individualistic. If anything, I urge you to find your path as well and experience, reflect, and learn and adapt. Your middle path probably will not look like the one I traverse, but that’s okay, the point is to find your middle based on your experience.
For me, the idea of the middle path embodies the concept that neither extreme suffices. This includes pre-eminently attachment to any of the ever-changing things in the world. Just as we are changing, growing, learning, so does that that around us change at both the physical, material level and the microscopic level. Our job then is to explore these changing phenomena and to understand this as reality without attachment. This might sound like disillusionment or detachment, but this is where the middle path (for me) comes into play. It is to engage a curiosity and learning and to live fully in each moment, knowing that it will pass and that this is simply an experience. It is to live wholly but without desire that this reality continue nor distaste that it should end or despair that it will. All those emotions and reactions are futile in that whatever we experience will undoubtedly change but more importantly take us out of the moment, leaving us living in either the past or the future, and therefore failing to truly learn from the now.
This is getting abstract and might be confusing. After all, what does it mean for navigating the pandemic, election, marriage, etc in this past year?
Let me provide a visual image, think of the yin yang symbol. The beauty of the symbol is that it captures the dichotomy and the cross-pollination of two sides (of either aversion or craving). In day-to-day life finding the white circle in the black space and recognizing that it will continually change has been critical to my resilience in 2020. So, at the beginning of the pandemic as quarantines took place and we had new demands from work, the challenge of managing these and the new physical and emotional threats we faced as a society were clear. What was perhaps less evident and certainly welcome was the time to sit quietly and reflect, to step away and really think about what I valued, what I wished to pursue, how I might use the time to reprioritize things like family and relationships. I used that early time to reinvest in my education, to spend time with my now husband, and to start building relationships for Nextpat – relationships that have paid significant dividends in opportunities and helped build my confidence in what I’m doing. There was certainly light in that dark night. There always is, whether it’s a full moon or just the distant stars. What is truly compelling about the starlight is how long it takes to reach us. The idea that before you knew you’d be in this moment, that light was making its way to you to light your path. Perhaps there is a grace in knowing that.
As we reflect on 2020, it is hard to imagine a year in which gratitude could play a more important role. While no one is necessarily grateful for the havoc wreaked upon our lives by the pandemic, many have taken this unprecedented opportunity to take stock of where we are and where we’re going. To use the time to bring back intentionality into our choices, invest in our priorities, and reflect on where we’re going. That can take many forms, including financial investments through donations, advocacy for systems that have left behind many, time in the form of volunteering or just scheduling catch up calls, dates, and game nights. Whatever form it takes it has proven to be more fulfilling not just in alignment with my values and purpose but in feeling more complete and present with the things I love, giving me time to pursue those varied interests.
What have you learned during the pandemic about your priorities, values, needs? What helped you see light during the challenging year? How do you plan to take that into 2021?