Flooded by the New Normal. Did it happen to you? Once we all got safe at home, socially distanced, and barred from restaurants, gyms and beaches, did you receive a flood of blogs, emails, news blurbs, webinars and training offerings telling you that everything has changed? We learned that for the foreseeable future we live in the world of medical danger, physical isolation, quarantined with our loved ones or away from them, remote work, Zoom conferencing, unemployment and virtual delivery services. One very helpful missal after another warned us that we were never going back to the old days, and they could help us adapt to the New Normal. I reflected on the new experience of feeling unsafe while reading the daily statistics of the cases and casualties of COVID-19. Seemingly an invisible stalker pursued me, and no matter how much I stayed home, washed my hands and donned my mask in the grocery store, I wasn’t sure I could avoid his deadly touch. I welcomed all the thought leaders who were helping me cope with the New Normal.
Nothing Has Changed! Yet, as I adapted to the new rhythms, I noticed some encouraging phenomena. The sequence of sunrise sunset still continued. Spring songbirds still returned to my neighborhood to wake me up at 4:00 AM. My morning English muffin, coffee with half-and-half and reading before work were still therapeutic. Loved ones still loved each other, mountain biking was still exhilarating, old movies were still like familiar friends and playing classical guitar was still a balm to my soul. As I considered those facts, I realized that in some ways nothing has changed! Of course, I’m not with the misguided souls saying that the virus isn’t real and the nation-wide restrictions were a political ruse to bring down Trump, get him re-elected or make some sinister cabal of financiers even richer. No, the danger was real, some kind of adjustment was necessary, and I suspect subsequent waves of outbreaks will mean that coping with the New Normal will be with us until adequate testing, contact tracing and a vaccine can be added to the tool belt of civilization.
But observing that certain rhythms in life continue reminded me that the world has gone through many crises in its troubled past, and somehow life and even good things endure. While we follow the thought leaders’ insights on how to cope with the New Normal and wait for the powers of civilization to solve the COVID-19 puzzle, here are three unchanging facts that can help us thrive in any season.
Pursue Happiness: All living things constantly seek to meet their needs. Be it a flower, a beetle or a human being, pretty much everything that lives spends its time taking care of its needs. That is the true rhythm of life, and it’s completely appropriate to assess one’s needs and figure out how to meet them. This includes pursuing one’s dreams. As far as we know, humans are the only creatures on earth who imagine a preferred future and write their own story to achieve that future. Meeting our needs and fulfilling our dreams gives us this thing called happiness, and the human heart instinctively seeks happiness. Even during a pandemic, we can and should unapologetically do what we can to meet our needs and fulfill our dreams to find some measure of happiness in life.
Practice Spirituality: There are vastly different definitions of spirituality, and I’m not here to promote one tradition over another. But I believe that most of us can resonate to some degree with Brene Brown’s definition that, “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.” (brenebrown.com-blog-2018/03/27) Monotheists, pantheists, polytheists and atheists can all get on board with the fact that we are connected to each other by something greater than ourselves and that loving one another makes life better for everyone.
In mid-March, as we entered into the New Normal of toilette paper hoarding, David Carpenter from Richmond, IN filled his vehicle with his Angel Soft, set up in the nearby grocery store parking lot and gave it away to anyone who needed it. Carpenter said this should be a time of giving, not taking, with people looking out for each other. To understand that one person’s trauma is all of our trauma, there’s something more important than merely looking out for #1 and sacrificially taking care of each other is what gets us through hard times is a form of human spirituality that has proven itself to be a changeless good throughout the ages.
Grow through Challenges: A common theme in the flood of digital help we received was that the changes, disorientation and losses of the COVID-19 pandemic did not need to leave us dismayed and weaker. Such challenges may be deeply traumatic, but we can be resilient, we can bounce back and we can even bounce forward. We can actually thrive in challenges by using the season of trauma to grow in new ways.
I recruit for an organization that trains native English speakers to teach English in creative access countries in East and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. At a time when it made perfect sense for prospective teachers to say, “Hmmm…I think I’ll wait this out at home,” we were inspired by people who saw the pandemic as the opportunity to continue on their own growth path to serve others by teaching abroad. I also do executive coaching, and it’s been remarkable to talk to people who just lost their jobs and responded by committing to a season of personal growth through seeking coaching rather than just giving in to discouragement. Without denying the difficulties of uncertain times, we can purposely identify ways to grow through the challenges and come out stronger in the long run. This, too, has been a proven and unchanging fact throughout the ages.
Unchanged through the Changes. We are in an era of unprecedented change as humanity adjusts like never before to the vulnerability of our global village. The thought leaders may be right that everything has changed and we need to learn to thrive in the New Normal. But part of thriving in the New Normal is to be grounded on the things that never change, the enduring wisdom that has guided people throughout the ages regardless of times good or bad. Pursuing happiness, practicing spirituality and growing through challenges are a part of that unchanging wisdom that can guide us through the changes.