By Jane Ewins
There is no argument that 2020 is a very challenging year. The grinding uncertainty has taken a toll on most of us, with many people reporting feelings of depression and a sense of ‘darkness’ or impending doom.
Perhaps there is a bigger picture to all we are going through. What if 2020 is encouraging us to ‘wake-up’. What if all the ‘unprecedented’ events are here to make us look at things differently - to see things clearly – without the filter of our current limiting beliefs, thoughts, systems, and behaviours?
Perhaps this is the time to question who we really are, what the purpose is of living on this planet and to truly understand what matters to us - individually and communally.
What if the bushfires, the floods, the coronavirus, and the massive upheaval they brought with them - the unemployment and under-employment, the physical restrictions, the inability to socialise and spend our time as we used to, has also jolted us in a good way?
There has been an explosion in the use of on-line technology, people working from home, businesses closing, and cafés re-designing themselves. And it has caused us to review what ‘essential’ really means.
I know there has been much pain and loss this year. I also know that the greatest losses and challenges which face us individually and collectively can be extra-ordinary catalysts for bringing forward the best in us, to re-frame the way we look at life, and act differently.
There have been many stories of bravery, kindness and resilience - most of which did not make the nightly news or social media feeds.
Some people will break-through almost automatically to new ways of being, while others might break-down before breaking-through.
The trauma effects
Most people now generally understand that traumatic events can damage our psychological, physical and social health. This has led to more support and assistance for people who have experienced trauma – which is great news. However, I am concerned that we may sometimes subtly and not so subtly be encouraging people to stay stuck as victims of those conditions. How? By the spoken and unspoken assumptions that the damage is permanent.
It is important to acknowledge the trauma and the impact it may have. It is equally if not more important to appropriately encourage, even anticipate, the opportunity for growth and positive change through the traumatic challenges.
Epictetus - born a slave almost 2000 years ago said, ”It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters”. And Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, said “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” If they could re-view their experiences – we all can!
The path we take is our choice
The story or meaning we make about a situation sets us up along a path which stretches between ‘success/happiness’ and ‘failure/dissatisfaction/depression’. This is true for an individual, group, community and society in general.
2020 has given us lots of un-asked-for challenges. How we deal with them depends upon what we tell ourselves about them. And what we tell ourselves about them is based upon our (often unexamined) beliefs and conditioning.
In my experience (I’ve been around a while and had quite a few challenges to practice with! (i) it is important to look at the challenge to see what is actually real.
For example, ‘I have lost my job’ is real. We need to separate it from the story, for example - ‘I’m going to end up as a bag-lady on the street and no one will talk to me’. We can then watch our mind link and make up all sorts of stories – past, present and future – with lots of if onlys, should haves, criticism of our self or other/s: they should have, we must, they must, it is XYZs fault, and THEY (someone else usually) need to change.
If we can watch our mind-chatter without getting caught-up in it, eventually our mind will quieten, or we’ll get bored with it - enough to question whether those thoughts are helping us deal with the challenge/s. Some of us might need a little (or a lot) of encouraging support to show us how to re-view the way we look at and ‘process’ our challenges so that we do not continue to be a victim of our own mind.
We can then clearly look at our stories and decide whether we actually, in our-heart-of-hearts believe them, or whether we have just bought into them - because that’s the way we were brought up, that’s what our family does, that’s what strong people do, that’s’ what XXX political party says, that’s how the economy keeps going, that’s … (add in a family tradition which doesn’t live up to the light of scrutiny).
I encourage you to use the challenges you’ve faced so far this year as a great opportunity to really take a good look at your life and see what old and/or unexamined thoughts and beliefs you are holding onto which might be actually holding you back from living your best life. It is time to let them go, and make new, better choices.
If you’ve read this far, you’ll know that I’m not talking about someone else’s definition of your best life - but your personal definition. And as each of us does that, our communities and systems will change for the better too.
What thoughts and beliefs about the challenges you face are ‘causing’ you to suffer?
When someone tells you, or you tell yourself - “Of course you have a right to be depressed, so much has been taken away from you.”
Say, “thank-you. Yes, it is tough. Yes, it is challenging. Yes, I don’t really know what to do, but I know that challenges are here for me to face and learn and grow from, in ways I can’t yet see.”
Then become an explorer and start looking, starting from the inside.
Feelings of sadness, even depression will likely still be there for a while, and in time will become an infrequent visitor. Treat them like a good friend who is a bit awkward in telling you that “you need to look at something you’re not looking at properly!”.
In the end (and from the very beginning) our sense of contentment, feeling comfortable in our skin, and worthy of our place in the world, is up to us. It is inside us and not based upon the opinion or expectations of others.
PS. Are you trying to make the same old cake?
Over 15 years ago, about a year after I finished treatment for bowel cancer, I was still not feeling like my old self - and was getting both sad and upset. I was told it was only a matter of time before I would be back to normal. It wasn’t!
Every day, by about midday my energy was down to about 20 per cent capacity (or so it felt). My ‘chemo-brain’ stopped me from processing tasks that seemed easy in the mornings. I wanted to go back to work full time, but I was in no fit state.
For another two years I kept waiting to get back to normal - it didn’t happen. I was struggling big time. Then one day I had an epiphany - I thought of my life as making a cake. I realised that for two years I had been trying unsuccessfully to re-make the chocolate cake of my old-life, but the ingredients had changed and it was impossible to recreate it - but I’d kept on trying anyway. Then I decided - why don’t I make a new type of cake with the ingredients I DO HAVE?
Well, life got better and better. Of course, there were a number of challenges along the way as forgot I was making a new cake and fell back into old thoughts and habits. Then I would remember and kept exploring new options by listening to my intuition, following coincidences, and overcoming the various fears that surfaced along the way.
Today my life is very different than my old chocolate-cake-life - and I’m glad! That experience reminds me that right now - the ingredients are changing and so must the cake I make.
I encourage you to take a good look at the ingredients currently in your life - is it time to experiment and create a new cake? Even if you still have the old ingredients, do you actually want to keep making the old cake - or has it just become a habit?
Wishing you well on the journey.
The three scenarios that follow bear witness to people's experiences this year, although of course any situation, your situation, can be inserted into any of these stories and will hold some truth perhaps for you too. As humans we are champions of creating subconscious thoughts and patterns that unknowingly go on to create less than ideal paths for us to walk. We can all make choices that enrich our lives and relationships and flow on positively to others.
Jane Ewins is a professionally trained wellbeing and spiritual coach, counsellor and consultant. Through her business, Soulvable Consulting, Jane provides supervision to front-line service providers including counsellors, caseworkers, pastoral care workers, school support staff and other allied health and wellbeing professionals. Jane lives in the Berry region.
Many people find counselling or psychotherapy beneficial in navigating the path forward and keeping themselves accountable along the way. Just like some people get great results and swear by the gym for fitness, counselling towards better mental health works for many people, while others find they can manage things themselves. Talking things through with friends or family you can trust is important in helping you make decisions and take action towards your recovery. If you are in crisis, feeling overwhelmed or suicidal, there are professional services with 24 hour phone online chat and text service you can contact. Lifeline 131114 – Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 487 – MensLine 1300 789978 – Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800 – 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732
(i) Dad committed suicide, retrenchment, cancer diagnosis x 2, car accidents, chronic compromised immune system, lost largest consulting contract due to Covid19.