New Year Reflections on 2020
Updated: Dec 18, 2021
If someone told our younger selves on January 1, 2020, that a deadly global pandemic was silently spreading throughout our communities and in the coming months, would shut down our economy, force us into fishbowl existences where work and life blended into quarantine monotony, make parents into teachers as classrooms went virtual, force teachers to be Zoom masters, turn healthcare workers into the equivalent of war zone heroes, and kill 350,000+ people in the U.S. alone, we would have hardly believed this picture straight out of a dystopian horror movie.
And yet, for those of us fortunate to be safe, we are still here, we are surviving, and we may have even found small slivers of thriving, against all odds. 2020 brought us to our knees in many ways, yet just as darkness illuminates light, 2020 also showed us glimpses of hope in the connections formed and resilience gleaned. We have all been cracked open, and out of the ashes, we may continue to find strength and growth... when we are not curled up in the fetal position.
Below I have described ways 2020 deepened relationships with our breath, grief, and navigating change, and offered resources on these topics, in case any of this resonates for you.
As for me, I feel that I am one of the truly lucky ones, for my family and friends have been safe for the most part. While 2020 was a dumpster fire of a year and I struggled many times, it also gave me much to be grateful for professionally: Along with continuing to build my private coaching practice with inspiring clients, which brings me much joy, purpose, and passion, I joined Chief as a Founding LA Guide and Collective Gain as a Coach, and continued my coaching partnership with Paradox of Leadership. I had the pleasure of appearing as a guest on three podcasts, all a ton of fun! On a personal note, after being nomadic since I moved to LA the winter of 2017, I found a lovely sunlit place to call home in Venice, CA. (Italian dual-citizenship is in process, so it could be Venice, Italy one day! ha)
Wishing you and yours a safe, healthy, restorative, and Happy New Year!
One of the greatest lessons from 2020 has been an appreciation for our lungs and breath. We saw how this deadly virus, which damages lungs, is taking so many precious breaths away. We witnessed with horror George Floyd’s last dying gasps, “I can’t breathe,” which set off a racial justice reckoning for him and the countless other people of color murdered by police, along with an antiracist awakening and continued commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion across many communities.
Many of us turned to the ancient practices of meditation and yoga to use our breath as a way to find peace amidst chaos. The Sanskrit word ‘pranayama’ translates to the regulation of prana or life force/vital energy; the better our breath, the greater that prana flows freely, bringing stronger health and rootedness. The breath also links us to a sacred space of our deepest truths. One type of pranayama, Ujjayi—also known as “Ocean’s Breath" for it sounds like ocean waves—stimulates our vagus nerve, a key component of the parasympathetic nervous system. The vagus nerve is thought to be responsible for the mind-body connection as a mediator between thinking and feeling. (“Trusting your gut” refers to the vagus nerve.) Stimulating the vagus nerve banishes the effects of the sympathetic nervous system (a.k.a. “fight or flight” response) and brings a sense of calm and clarity.
Grief was the operating system for 2020 and continues into 2021, for there are elements of loss in all facets of our lives. We carry grief for those who are sick and dying, for those who are losing their livelihoods, for those who are suffering, for the toll that Covid is taking on communities of color and essential workers. Grief for those who are on the frontlines, stressed and with insufficient resources. Grief for the canceled life events. Grief surrounding the unknown—how long will this last and how many people will be affected. Grief for the loss of our old ways of life. Grief for putting our lives on hold. We are in unprecedented times. We are all uncomfortable. This is serious and it is scary.
Grief is marked by cycles of denial, anger, shock, sadness, bargaining, and acceptance. When moving through grief, we can feel distracted, stressed, and filled with heartache that comes in waves. Emotions tend to be on the surface in a raw state, easily triggered. One minute we may feel semi-ok, and the next, we are dragged back into murky waters. Grief is also seriously draining and leaves us exhausted. Because grief is ever present this year, our individual losses feel that much bigger, like a magnetic force.
As Khalil Gibran eloquently describes in “Joy and Sorrow,” grief is like the sand to our oceans of joy, for grief is a reflection of how much something or someone resonates in our hearts. Many of us are not given the tools to understand what grief is, and we tend to have protective mechanisms to push away the underlying emotions. The thing is, grief is a universal human experience, and while it can be isolating, we are never alone in it.
Raw grief can be transformed into a muted, softer experience by honoring our emotions as they surface—by not minimizing, numbing, or ignoring our feelings. Like sunshine after a rainstorm, letting our emotions flow brings a lightness. What we perceive as dark or painful emotions, including grief, can also be a gateway to healing and spiritual growth. Sometimes loss paves the way for a transformation, because out of the ashes we may find a deeper understanding of our truths (my IG account handle, @moonlight_musings comes from the haiku, “Barn’s burnt down, now I can see the moon”).
When we are in the mud, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll ever see a lotus blossom. But it’s there waiting. Hope is an offset to grief. Creativity in all forms is self-healing (case in point: the spike in sourdough bakers in quarantine). Devoting time each day to things that are restorative makes a difference: journal, talk to loved ones, read a good book, nap, cook, walk outside, dance, play. Try to avoid the things that will sink you—endless news cycles, binging shows for hours, eating junk, staying still. Our hyper- "productivity" focused burnout culture is the antithesis to what we need to find balance and get through this. It’s absolutely necessary to rest and do absolutely nothing at times.
Be kind to yourself and to others, and know that we will one day look back on all of this with the appreciation that this too has passed. The human spirit is resilient. People are coming together around the world. Kindness is prevailing. Love is abundant. Helpers are everywhere. Biden+Harris are taking over the White House. =) Trust that we will rise again.
· 17-min. guided meditation by Tara Brach (20 mins)
We are creatures of routine and structure, to put it mildly. Change is hard… and uncertainty is really freaking hard. We cling to feeble illusions of control when the reality is that we have little control over most things in life. We try to predict the future and spend much of our mental chatter there, which only causes angst. Staying anchored in the present moment and keeping our horizons close offers the greatest hope for relief.
The state of the world today challenges us to surrender to the not knowing, to the grief of unthinkable losses, to the unsettling experience of leaving a familiar shoreline as waves come crashing down and we await an unknown future shore.
Like a magnifying glass, quarantine has pushed us inward and forced us to see work and home in concentrated fashions as our social and external lives are drastically reduced to fragments of what they used to be. The unprecedented changes, crises, reckonings, and awakenings are cracking us open and inviting us to reflect on our lives, our purpose, our work, our relationships, and our survival.
Many of us are committed to never go back to the old ways of doing things that did not serve us, and are dedicated to creating a better, inclusive, equitable, antiracist society. We are questioning what we can do to harness our inner strengths to get through this horrible time and make a difference in our communities. Giving back and expressing gratitude keeps us anchored in the present moment and offsets the churn of the unknown.
The metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly offers a powerful metaphor for what we are going through collectively. When we are young, we tend to think that a caterpillar enters a cocoon, sprouts wings, and then poof, it magically emerges as a butterfly. In actuality, the caterpillar dies and fully dissolves inside of the chrysalis into a kind of DNA soup with cells representing the body parts it will need as a butterfly, which the caterpillar had been carrying within itself all along. (Hence the proverb,” Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”)
Martha Beck, who I trained under for coaching, categorizes the change cycle into four phases based on this metamorphosis. Covid has thrown all of us into phase one, Meltdown: This first phase of change is the scariest; we lose our identity and are left temporarily formless, like person soup. Most people fight to keep their identities from dissolving. We tell ourselves that things will go back to normal. When true metamorphosis has begun, there is no return to the former status quo. We may feel that everything is falling apart, that we’re uncertain of our futures, that we’re losing everyone and everything. Dissolving feels like death because it is: the demise of the person you’ve been. The best way to get through the Meltdown is to focus on the present moment, cocoon by caring for yourself—wrap yourself in a blanket, make yourself tea, get into nature, go for comfort.
Martha wrote, “Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön once told a mentor that she was upset because she was changing jobs and moving, and that she had trouble with transition. ‘He gave me this kind of blank look,’ Chödrön writes, ‘and then said, ‘We’re always in transition. Once you relax with that, you’ll be fine.’” The process of metamorphosis is scary and painful, but it is also the way to experience new possibilities we weren’t even able to imagine in our “caterpillar” states.
As we reflect on this past year both personally and professionally, the following questions are worthwhile to consider: What are you most proud of achieving this past year? What challenges offered the biggest opportunities for growth? What are some of the greatest risks that you took and how did they turn out? How did you persist, endure, show strength, and demonstrate resilience? What is something you have yearned for that you are committed to bringing into your life in the new year? Who showed up for you when it really mattered? By being reflective and setting an intention to carry the lessons of 2020 into the new year, we seize opportunities for growth and set our path in motion like planted seeds that will soon take root. There is a lightness, a sense of purpose, and surrender in recognizing the silver linings of the past year and paying them forward, while letting go of the things that no longer serve us. Reflect, inhale, exhale, integrate, rest, repeat.