by SIMON J. K. FOX, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ADVENTURES IN CARING FOUNDATION, ADVENTURESINCARING.COM
At an Olympic level, what separates the greatest marathon runners from the others is not their physical ability but their self-awareness. When they hit the wall after about 20 miles, unlike most runners, they don’t try to shut out the pain, grit their teeth and push through. Instead, they monitor how their body is doing, notice where it is hurting, and adjust their pace, stride, breathing and attitude accordingly. This kind, unflinchingly honest awareness of how things are, sets the stage for victory.
This same quality of awareness is needed by everyone right now. With the COVID-19 lockdown, we are all in a marathon — not a sprint. It’s possible that we may be kept in this crisis mode for the long haul and many are wondering, how will we survive it?
However, that’s not the most useful question. Survival is not the only challenge we face. The challenge is not just the long haul, it’s how people change during it. It’s not a matter of surviving the ordeal and coming out the same as you were before it began — we will all be different after its done — and the only question is, different in what way?
There will be changes in our jobs, the technologies we use, and perhaps in our living conditions — but we will change too. Will it be for the better?
We will have to face many uncomfortable facts. Well-meaning interventions can cause harm. Information available through media is can be unreliable. Authorities and experts from afar are often wrong. Trust in institutions is declining. Core relationships — the roots of our well-being and the foundations of a healthy sustainable culture — are under assault.
Before us all is the hard lesson of betrayal.
Betrayal teaches us where we are lacking in discernment. It announces a blind spot, a false assumption, an erroneous expectation, a misunderstanding — the place where we have been unwilling to look. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and we will naturally recoil at the idea, not wanting to find out if we have been betrayed.
But like the elite marathon runners, we have to monitor our reactions to this afront, clear our perception of the blinders we have been wearing, and cleanse our hearts of bitterness. This is Olympic level self-awareness. It goes far beyond mindfulness into a deeply heartfelt appreciation of all experiences, the bitter and the sweet — because we can learn and grow stronger from them all, as the research in post-traumatic growth has shown.
Post-traumatic growth is more than resilience; it is not simply bouncing back. There is no going back. Instead, it is growing through the adversity into a new more capable, more real, you.
I don’t recommend you go looking for such suffering. This is not a personal growth exercise, it is life demanding we grow up. Like the Velveteen Rabbit and Raggedy Ann, though tattered and torn, we have become more real and more well-loved.
Simon Fox is author of the online course, Oxygen for Caregivers, Your Toolkit to Guard Against Burnout, Build Resilience, and Sustain Compassion, plus award-winning videos, training programs, and undergraduate internships that put compassion into action, at a standard that enables well-being. Contact: Simon@AdventuresInCaring.org