As I begin this piece in early summer and as the pandemic here in Arizona continues to spike, I will once again attempt to prognosticate several months ahead to early autumn. At the moment we in southern Arizona are experiencing insult on top of injury. As I gaze out my office window at the majestic Catalina Mountains, I am almost moved to tears by the deep layers of smoke covering them, resulting from an extensive brushfire just above the foothills. While Ann and I are momentarily constrained from our morning mountain hikes, we still have access to good walking at nearby community parks.
In these precarious times, it appears that the only constants are uncertainty and constant change. By the time you read this, we will have, ideally, successfully navigated the initial onslaught and accomplished a relatively smooth transition to incrementally enabling folks to return to work and/or resume normal activities outside their homes. On the other hand, with the cooler weather setting in, it is possible the pandemic may once again be spiking upward, triggering renewed concerns regarding possible lockdowns. I am dismayed by recent projections released by the Health Metrics and Evaluation Institute at the University of Washington that predict a second wave of infections beginning in late summer (Guarino & Diamond, 2021). It is quite possible that the acute crisis phase of this pandemic may linger for another year or longer. Most certainly the fallout from this cataclysmic event and the associated economic upheaval will continue to wreak havoc across the globe over the next five to ten years.
Over the remainder of this column, I will pose suggestions that may be of help in maintaining a firm grounding in these very uncertain times.
Earlier this morning I looked up the dictionary definition of the term “equanimity.” To quote, this marvelous word is defined as “evenness of mind, especially under stress,” with synonyms like “composure,” “calmness,” and “serenity” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). We all need to cultivate and draw upon these qualities as we cope with this chronic crisis.
We are particularly called upon to embrace the “acceptance” part of the Serenity Prayer. The stark reality is that these highly uncertain times have us all on edge a great deal of the time. That being the case, we need to do our very best to relate to both ourselves and those around us in a compassionate, understanding manner. This particularly applies to families where the entire household has been cooped up together for weeks and months on end. Under these circumstances, the combination of empathy, genuine acceptance, and deep understanding provides the best antidote to falling prey to the dark side of the old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt.”
Alcoholics and addicts following a Twelve Step recovery program are truly blessed by a strong common thread running through these programs, exhorting us to nurture a strong personal connection with a beneficent higher power of our own choosing.
In the course of extremely difficult situations in my own life, I have repeatedly thrown myself down on my knees to pray to my higher power for much-needed solace, guidance, and grounded direction. When I fully pour my heart out to that beneficent power and humbly make a heartfelt plea for guidance and assistance in attaining a renewed sense of grounding, my prayers are invariably answered . . . provided that I am able to put my ego aside and fully listen.
Probably the most important part of any prayer is expressing heartfelt gratitude when we sense that our prayer is being answered. Our higher power truly wants to help us in times of crisis and most graciously welcomes our gratitude for the answers to our prayers.
If you would like to read more about connecting with a higher power, several years ago in Counselor I published a two-part series titled “Deepening our Connection with our Higher Power.” If you would like copies of these articles, you can contact me at the e-mail address in my biography at the end of this column.
It definitely behooves us to fully focus on the blessings—both big and small—we encounter each day. Examples that immediately come to mind include the overgrown, twelve-year old, perpetual puppy lying on my office floor as I type these articles, and the presence of my loving wife beside me when I wake up each morning. In the immortal words of jazz singer Johnny Mercer, “Accentuate the positive” (Arlen & Mercer, 1944).
As our minds can only hold one thought at a time, let us lighten the burden by replacing our “stinking thinking” with positive thoughts and emotions. And finally, during these uncertain times we need to keep our sights firmly focused on the inevitable light at the end of the tunnel.
I recently read that any distressful experience presents an opportunity for growth, provided that we are attuned to the lessons we can learn from that experience.
Each day as I say my morning prayer, I reflect on a burning question: “What lessons do we need to learn from this deadly coronavirus pandemic that nature dumped into our laps?” Invariably I center on the word “interdependence.” If we are truly awake, we are struck by the undeniable awareness that we are all interdependent on one another. The forced isolation we have experienced has motivated many of us to get to know our immediate neighbors better, and to more deeply appreciate the common longings, common fears, heightened anxieties, and senses of loss and impending disaster that we share with each other. In today’s world, we are more globally interdependent than at any prior time. Indeed, a treacherous epidemic with its roots in a small African village can readily spread across the globe in a matter of days thanks to easy access to air travel from almost anywhere in the world.
I urge you to stop right now, take a few deep breaths, and ask yourself the following: “What are the lessons I need to learn from this god-awful, deadly pandemic we are all up against?”
Practicing either sitting or moving meditation (or both) can be an invaluable resource for staying grounded in these uncertain times. If you are not already meditating on a daily basis, I encourage you to explore that option. Forms of sitting meditation include focusing on breathing and mantra meditation, which focuses on clearing the mind through silently repeating a particular word as a focal point. The wide variety of moving meditations includes yoga, tai chi, qigong, and my own favorite: the Sufi whirling dance, an Islamic form of meditative worship devised by the Persian poet Rumi (Keswani, 2019). Anything that relaxes us and quiets our minds—watching a sunset, sitting in a Jacuzzi, listening to relaxing music, reflective prayer, saying the rosary, and others—will do as long as it conveys a true sense of peacefulness and letting go.
If attending Twelve Step meetings on a face-to-face basis is not feasible due to constraints posed by social distancing, attend meetings online, or via Zoom, or through setting up a conference call. It is vitally important that those of us in recovery keep working our programs during these times when everything seems up in the air!
Grounding in Nature
Blessed by living in Southern Arizona, every morning I treat myself to a trek through the Sonoran Desert or a hike in the nearby Catalina Mountains. Every time I do this I am filled with exhilaration and become fully attuned to the indescribable beauty and serenity of the nature that lies just a few steps from my front doorstep.
Try it yourself! Take a walk in nature, let go of all thoughts and worries, and just allow yourself to truly be there, fully experiencing the now. Walking through the desert, I love to empty my head of thoughts by focusing on my breathing and letting myself become one with the trees, cacti, birds, and other animals that surround me. Somehow this mystical experience enables me to get in touch with what is truly important. Additionally, I come away with a renewed commitment to roll up my sleeves and do whatever I can to combat global climate change and join the millions (if not billions) of people across the planet who are firmly dedicated to preserving a pristine, viable, and living planet to leave behind for their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and their descendents.
In closing, I hope this column has been able to help you open your eyes to a variety of practices we can all adopt in the interest in maintaining a firm sense of grounding as we traverse these highly challenging times. As always, feel free to share this column with your clients. Until next time—to your health!
John Newport, PhD, is an addiction specialist, writer, and speaker living in Tucson, Arizona. He is the author of The Wellness-Recovery Connection: Charting Your Pathway to Optimal Health While Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction (2004). He is available for workshops, conference presentations, and staff trainings on all aspects of wellness and recovery, as well as for personal wellness and recovery coaching by phone. He can be reached at email@example.com.