I read something deeply disturbing last week. In reference to the coronavirus, a well-renowned author and entrepreneur introduced the sociological principle of normalization and wrote:
“After processing a constant stream of bad news, dire projections and death tolls, all while waking up each morning alive with the sun rising, these things will eventually not deliver the same amount of shock or anxiety as they do currently. On balance, this is a good thing.”
No! Just no.
The author goes on to mention a visit to the Churchill War Rooms and says that during the bombing of London in World War II, the Germans assumed that the British people would eventually break and surrender under the pressure of relentless, daily attacks. The opposite, however, came true.
“The British became more resilient as they became normalized to the crisis,” he says. “In all likelihood, we will emulate their example as time passes.”
I can see what he’s trying to do. The rest of the post talks about adapting to the “new normal” versus holding onto the past and acting from a place of scarcity and fear. I understand the principles. However, calling on coping skills and resilience during crisis is one thing. Normalizing “bad news, dire projections and death tolls,” and related societal changes and expectations, is another. It is a line of thinking that, in my opinion, even in the name of resilience, is grossly off point.
Churchill x 2
Ironically, Winston Churchill entered my purview for a second time later that same week. In Episode #101 of The Drive, Dr. Peter Attia and bestselling author Ryan Holiday discuss Churchill’s life and the lessons we can use during the coronavirus pandemic today.
“Churchill was a creature of habit and routine,” says Holiday. “He would write everyday, he would paint everyday, he would lay bricks everyday and he would work everyday. This sort of rhythm or ritual I think was what allowed him to get into the headspace… to tap into the flow state required to do what he did.”
“I just find it amazing the discipline in making time to be still and how that mattered,” Attia says in response.
The discipline in making time to be still.
Attia goes on to note Parkinson’s law—how “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”—and then says with clear emphasis:
“You have to make room for moments of detachment everyday regardless. I mean it’s just non-negotiable…”
Moments of detachment.
Thank you, Dr. Attia.
Tokyo 20… 21
On March 30th, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), International Paralympic Committee, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee and Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced new dates for the Games originally set to take place later this year. The announcement was released six days after the IOC and Japanese government decided to postpone the Games “to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.”
During the weeks leading up to the announcement, the international rowing federation (FISA) released ongoing updates in response to the rapidly growing impact of COVID-19. First, World Cups I and II were cancelled, and then World Cup III and the remaining Olympic and Paralympic Continental and Final qualification regattas. Meanwhile, we, the athletes, received a stream of surveys, advisories and news from USRowing and the USOPC.
I watched empathetically as many of my friends and past teammates worked to stay focused and positive amidst the uncertainty and change. I took note when countries including Canada and Australia withdrew from the Games, and the governing bodies of other sports including USA Swimming and USA Track & Field formally called for a postponement. Ultimately, I expected the inevitable.
When news broke, I felt nothing. In my heart and mind, the door to the Olympics had already closed, and I was still healing from a wildly unfair and emotionally tumultuous lead-up to a Trial that never occurred. Plus, the spread of the virus was rapidly growing and its impact on the global community escalating fast. Everything in me craved stillness—time to process… sit quietly… adapt.
Everything in me craved stillness, yet my inbox exploded as social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates took hold. My Instagram feed burst as well, mostly with athletes now eagerly attacking their workouts from home. The world seemed to mobilize in an instant, and I get it. Lives and livelihoods are at stake.
I am indebted to the people on the front lines in hospitals and behind the scenes in the labs. I am grateful to those who continue to work in the grocery stores and help keep food on our shelves. And I am genuinely impressed by how big and small business have found creative ways to stay operational and keep their communities united and engaged. Personally, I felt a longing to serve in the wake of the cancellation of collegiate spring sports, and reached out to the crew team at my alma mater to offer support.
Clearly I can’t say I’ve done nothing in terms of an active response. But why is it that the world seems to be moving faster while everything in me is saying, “Stop. For just one second, stop and slow down!”
I’ve been grappling with the sentiment in the context of today, and so far determined that:
There is no right or wrong way to feel about the current situation. I like what the Australian Institute of Sport had to say about this in citing various common responses to COVID-19. They included:
- Fear of falling ill, losing livelihood, the challenges of securing the things you need, being socially excluded or quarantined;
- Feeling of powerlessness, hopelessness, boredom, loneliness and depression;
- Uncertainty or ambivalence towards the situation;
- Sense of pride about finding ways of coping, a sense of resilience or satisfaction from witnessing community altruism and cooperation.
Comparison is a trap. Should is a judgment and also a trap. Allow for what is.
Permission to feel.
Permission to release judgment about how I should feel.
Permission to respond to the situation in whatever way serves me the best.
I will admit: Stillness (and rest, for that matter) is a luxury is a deeply rooted personal belief. I am an athlete who grew up in a time when more was always better. Beliefs, however, to quote Glennon Doyle, “have nothing to do with objective universal morality.” Beliefs are learned, and as we unearth them we can choose to accept, return or exchange them.
I was grateful when Dr. Attia described moments of detachment as “non-negotiable.” During times like now, when the world seems to be charging forward and I’m craving stillness, I am in conflict. His words, along with conversations like the one he had with Holiday, help me reframe and unravel old beliefs. My place at the moment is not on the front lines in hospitals. And I don’t feel a need to be pumping out content or putting my workouts on display.
Perhaps stillness means feeling protective. Or maybe it is a desire to stay close to home. Regardless, I am choosing to lean in without judgment; I am honoring what’s in my heart and my mind.
An Imagined Letter
I want to leave you with “An Imagined Letter” by Kristin Flyntz, which I first saw on Chip Conley’s daily Wisdom Well. It is the piece of writing that has resonated with me most during this crisis. I simply want to pass it along to share. But first…
Thank you for reading! Be well, my friends! Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, stay connected as much as you can. As always, you can reach me anytime right HERE!
An Imagined Letter from Covid-19 to Humans
Written by Kristin Flyntz
Stop. Just stop.
It is no longer a request. It is a mandate.
We will help you.
We will bring the supersonic, high-speed merry-go-round to a halt.
We will stop
the frenetic, furied rush of illusions and “obligations” that keep you from hearing our
single and shared beating heart,
the way we breathe together, in unison.
Our obligation is to each other,
As it has always been, even if, even though, you have forgotten.
We will interrupt this broadcast, the endless cacophonous broadcast of divisions and distractions, to bring you this long-breaking news:
We are not well.
None of us; all of us are suffering.
Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth did not give you pause.
Nor the typhoons in Africa, China, Japan.
Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India.
You have not been listening.
It is hard to listen when you are so busy all the time, hustling to uphold the comforts and conveniences that scaffold your lives.
But the foundation is giving way,
buckling under the weight of your needs and desires.
We will help you.
We will bring the firestorms to your body.
We will bring the fever to your body.
We will bring the burning, searing, and flooding to your lungs
that you might hear:
We are not well.
Despite what you might think or feel, we are not the enemy.
We are Messenger. We are Ally. We are a balancing force.
We are asking you:
To stop, to be still, to listen;
To move beyond your individual concerns and consider the concerns of all;
To be with your ignorance, to find your humility, to relinquish your thinking minds and travel deep into the mind of the heart;
To look up into the sky, streaked with fewer planes, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, smoky, smoggy, rainy? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
To look at a tree, and see it, to notices its condition: how does its health contribute to the health of the sky, to the air you need to be healthy?
To visit a river, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, clean, murky, polluted? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy? How does its health contribute to the health of the tree, who contributes to the health of the sky, so that you may also be healthy?
Many are afraid now.
Do not demonize your fear, and also, do not let it rule you. Instead, let it speak to you—in your stillness, listen for its wisdom.
What might it be telling you about what is at work, at issue, at risk, beyond the threats of personal inconvenience and illness?
As the health of a tree, a river, the sky tell you about the quality of your own health, what might the quality of your health tell you about the health of the rivers, the trees, the sky, and all of us who share this planet with you?
Notice if you are resisting.
Notice what you are resisting.
Stop. Just stop.
Ask us what we might teach you about illness and healing, about what might be required so that all may be well.
We will help you, if you listen.