Humans 101

You Don’t Need a Crisis to Give Yourself Permission

We often wait for an emergency to justify taking care of life — and it’s a pattern we can’t afford to keep repeating

I was on the Chicago Red Line train that derailed in 2013. It slowed to a stop when two rear cars jumped the rails, their heavy steel wheels splintering through the wooden tracks, three stories above the ground. I remember the height, because news crews shimmied up nearby fire escapes to film us at eye-level. It was a warm summer day, and the air conditioning had been off for over an hour when someone (maybe it was me) decided to pull that seductive little red ball that hangs over the exit doors to open them up and let a breeze come through. Passengers were sitting and standing in the doorways enjoying the air when the camera crews started climbing. At the front of the train, we hadn’t felt the rear cars jump, so no one realized that the derailed train being reported online was our own. After that hour, our conductor hadn’t told us anything. Maybe she was afraid people would panic. Chatting with the reporters over the Lincoln Park treetops was how we learned it was our train that was teetering on the edge.

I like to notice patterns that play out on different scales. A nice example is entrainment. That’s the process where a body, a wave, a group, or a cycle syncs up with another independent system. It happens between immune cells functioning in concert, between metronomes and clocks, between menstrual cycles, among musicians improvising, in schools of starlings and flocks of fish, in traffic jams and global uprisings. At all these levels, we can see life fall into synch with other life. Attuning to the inevitable gravity of Other.

As a kid I became fascinated by watching the same physical dynamics move on different levels. Like, I found it’s cool that if you’re on an airplane, and if you can quit acting like you’re on a bus for a minute and look down at the actual world 30,000 feet below, you might see a floodplain that looks like a giant branch twisting across a state. And if you fly lower, you’ll see smaller twisting branches inside that floodplain where rivers ran before they dried. And if you were to sit down in one of those dry river beds, you’d see the very same twisting patterns where small trickles of water left traces in the sand. The same is true about waves and mountains. The closer in or farther away you get, the more you see of the very same.

My favorite patterns to watch, though, are the ones that play out in people’s behavior — also on various scales. These are relational physics that operate similarly within a body, a relationship, a family, a community, a country. I like to watch these patterns the most because with them, we can have some effect. An example of one of these relational laws is the fact that giving good attention to life (in front of us or inside us) is beneficial on every level. From gardening to performing surgery to conflict-mediation between nations to slowing climate change. Applying curious, undistracted attention to life always seems to improve it. And the opposite seems true as well. When we choose to ignore or deny life at any level — inside us or in front of us — things get worse.

As a group dynamics coach, I think about these relational patterns a lot. And maybe like you, this pandemic has me thinking about group dynamics on a large scale. I almost said I’m writing this because I want to talk about a pattern I see playing out lately, but that’d be a lie. The pattern I want to talk about is one I’ve been fixated on since I was a kid— it just happens to be playing out on a national level at the moment. It’s one that always hurts to see, whether it’s happening in myself, in my family, or in the wider world. As I write this, my heart is beating fast with the hope that I might be able to describe it well enough for anyone reading to become more aware of it, given that attention helps. Or it could be beating fast with the fear I won’t be able to.

When I was 16, I was pretty sure I had a brain tumor. Not just because my left arm kept going numb, or because I sometimes felt like I was falling to the right. But because my body just kind of told me that’s what it was. I was embarrassed. All my friends were super healthy and, growing up in dance programs, I was pretty fit, too. It didn’t seem to make sense that I’d be sick. But I felt bad enough, often enough, that I asked for help anyway. Like many of us might, my parents found it harder to reckon with the awful possibility that something serious could be wrong with their child, than to tell themselves a happier story. So they said, “There’s nothing wrong with you. Everything is just fine.”

People aren’t patterns. But we are affected by them.

Growing up in a white middle class family, that wasn’t the first time I’d heard a pretty story being told on top of painful reality. If you grew up in a white middle class family, you might also be familiar with our demographic’s general policy of Pretending Like Everything’s Fine When It Isn’t. I can’t claim white middle-classers corner the market on that pattern of relating, but I can attest that the coping strategy was common among my brethren. Seems that somewhere along the line, our ancestors found that the greatest luxury afforded by our privilege was, when faced with some painful reality, to just look away from it and tell themselves a prettier story instead. This very ballsy idea that we can ret-con reality instead of reckoning with it has roots at the foundation of our country, with the story of Thanksgiving being written over the Doctrine of Discovery. The actual history of colonizing the U.S. is bloody and brutal and littered with lies. But we don’t like that painful story. So we choose to tell a prettier one.

People aren’t patterns. But we are affected by them. It’s scary for some white people to hear mention of whiteness. And I can understand that fear, like many who hear their own cultural background, gender, religion, or economic upbringing discussed in a reflective context. But even if it feels a little scary, it can sometimes be helpful to talk about patterns that play out in our demographics. It can sometimes be liberating. The people I love who are white are gentle, wise, loving, funny, caring, unique people with different backgrounds and cultural histories. And, we also know a thing or two about a pattern of relational physics that badly needs attention.

Here’s how the pattern played out in my family. My parents were (and are) charming people who took good care of two kids and made a childhood home that friends liked to visit. We had books, art, plants, and a pool. Ours was a small brick house, but my mom’s plants and trees made it feel like paradise. My dad was a witty conversationalist, and would jump off the roof into the pool to make everyone laugh and cheer. My brother and I were high achievers. There was also a lot of pain in my family. Like, a lot. I’ve written that small sentence 50 ways in the last 10 days because any way I say it feels scary. It contradicts the pretty story we were supposed to tell everybody, which was that we were perfect.

My family’s pain might have been pedestrian. But our expert, artful denial made problems that would have benefitted from simple reckoning and responsibility, fester and grow much worse. The main method of my family’s denial was a strain of 1980s New Age philosophy that took the form of platitudes like, “You Create Your Own Reality,” “Choose Not to Feel Pain,” “The Only Obstacle is You,” “Think Yourself Well,” and “Focus on the Positive” — all notions that reaffirmed that we could simply rewrite reality by choosing to tell a happier story about it. When I fell off my bike at eight and sliced off the lid of my knee, my dad — unfortunately fresh from an EST self-improvement training — stood over me looking down at the blood and tears, and instead of hugging or comforting me, said that I was choosing to feel the pain, and should choose a reality without pain. This made me feel like crazy. It made me feel ashamed.

Being able to pave over pain and tell a more perfect story of oneself, one’s family, and one’s marriage wasn’t just a pastime for our parents’ generation. It was a survival skill they were trying to pass down.

My white middle class friends’ families seemed sparklingly perfect, too. Only as adults have we learned that there were painful difficulties in most of our childhood homes, and that none of us were alone in that. This pretending of perfection was hard for me, but I’ve come to understand that there were reasons for it. White people living on the narrow ledge of middle class economics in the ’80s had ample opportunities to notice the very real extent to which a positive attitude could open doors, seal the deal, and bring home the bacon. Before the internet ran the economy, charm and charisma were primary currencies for baby boomers in the workplace, and all the books my parents had about Highly Successful People centered around positive self-presentation. So, being able to bury pain and tell a perfect story of oneself, one’s family, and one’s marriage wasn’t just a twisted pastime for our parents’ generation. It was a survival skill they were trying to pass down to us.

Unfortunately, I was real bad at it. All of the mantras, affirmations, and visualizations I learned failed to help me abracadabra my way to a pain-free, perfect me. I did try. Every night after dinner, all through elementary and middle school, I spent hours (hours) in a cushiony swivel chair rocking back and forth and feverishly visualizing a happy, thriving, perfect self, free of the pain in my home. Like a bad 90’s perm, I tried on the popular idea that I could just make problems go away by telling myself a happier story. I read a bunch of New Age books to help me understand why I was “attracting sickness” after I got mono from a drinking fountain in seventh grade, and why I was “choosing a reality” in which a close friend in high school kept attempting suicide. But the more I tried to will pain away by telling a prettier story, the more confused I became. As a young person, I really just wanted to be allowed to honestly feel all the parts of being alive, including the painful ones, with some love and support.

As an adult, I try to give myself that grace. And I try to give it to my family, friends, students, and clients. I just share this personal history to show how my own white American middle class upbringing taught me to ignore the pains of life. It taught me to ignore my body, mistrust my instincts, and tell prettier stories when things are hard.

No one ever told me why we shouldn’t face our problems directly. But I quietly understood it was because we were afraid we weren’t strong enough.

My mom finally took me to a doctor about the brain symptoms in high school, which I’ll always be grateful to her for. But the doctor smiled and patted me on the shoulder and told me I was an “smart and sensitive” young woman and asked if I’d like to try some antidepressants. He didn’t give me an MRI or any kind of neurological test, but told my mom I was fine. After his assertion, some family and friends started relating to me like I was a little fragile... paranoid, hyper-sensitive, “fear-based”… yuck. The neurological symptoms worsened over a couple more years before I finally had an MRI and the brain tumor was found. Until then, because a person of authority had told us a prettier story, we ignored the natural warnings that my life was giving me.

We acted like those warning signals were a weakness, instead of a strength.

The week I started this essay, our American president went on national television to pat us all on the shoulder and tell us that Nothing Is Wrong and Everything’s Fine. To say that while Covid-19 is a serious subject that his serious administration is taking very seriously, everything will clear up by April. Two weeks later, as the virus spread ramped up into that scary vertical part of an exponential curve and hospitals in some cities reached maximum capacity, he told us the pandemic would be over by Easter, and that churches should be packed then. “Won’t that be nice?” he said, “I’d love to see it.”

This is a prettier story.

I see nothing wrong with optimism or positivity. Rooting for the home team, saying positive affirmations, or projecting confidence in the face of adversity all serve helpful purposes. But being positive doesn’t require denial. The truth is, we can very squarely face our problems, grieve them, take care of life responsibly, and proceed positively. Trouble comes when we ignore a problem that needs our attention, and make up a happier story about reality instead. In the case of this pandemic, while our president was busy telling a pretty story, he wasn’t taking the necessary steps to save people’s lives. If our national leadership had reckoned with the danger and taken protective action faster, the disease would still exist, but we might not be in a situation where medical workers are dropping from exhaustion and working without protection, and where most of us know people who are sick or have died from the virus.

This equation of Denial + Positive Storytelling is the relational physics I want to bring folks’ attention to. It can operate on any scale — in a body, in a partnership, in a family, workplace, or a country — and it can cause harm on any of these levels. I see it work like this:

Step 1: Disturbance in the Force. First, we get a warning from life. Some feeling or data point lets us know life needs our help. This could be a pain inside a body, a gut-feeling in a romantic relationship, a sense of unease within a company, or fish in a river dying off. It could be warning signs of instability within a system or a government, or scientific warnings (the Kyoto Protocol was first set out 23 years ago), or it could be Dr. Li Wenliang in Wuhan, China. Whatever the signal, life is being gracious enough to give us a window of opportunity to take life-saving action.

Step 2: Denial Ain’t a River. The second part of this pattern is that we ignore the warning. We dismiss and ignore the signals that natural life sends us because they are upsetting, or because we feel helpless to handle them. So we keep partying, shopping, binging, working, going down to Florida for spring break. We don’t address the unspoken pain in a relationship, check in with our sulky middle school kid, get the lump checked, or report workplace harassment, because we’re scared. Maybe we’re ashamed.

Step 3: Story Time! On top of the denial, we spin a happier, less painful story about the state of our union, large or small. We indulge in stories like “We’re doing fine!” “Racism is over!” “Ron doesn’t have a drinking problem!” “Climate change is a hoax!” “It’s all in your head!” “The pilgrims and the natives shared a happy meal together!” “This pandemic thing is being blown out of proportion!” If we can make ourselves believe these happy stories, then it seems alright that we’re not taking action. But while we’re busy telling them, the problem is getting worse.

Step 4: Crisis Gives Permission. Sometimes, once a problem is really beating down our door, we suddenly feel permission to address it. Once the waters are high or the diagnosis is bad or the company is falling apart, we will suddenly give ourselves emergency permission to take care of life. Maybe we’ve wanted to nurture life and tend to the problem all along. But we’ve been taught not to, and so a crisis can feel like permission to finally be caring and attentive. This feeling of permission is why some people mention a quiet gratitude for a frightening medical diagnosis that finally gives them sanction to take care of themselves. It’s why there’s a thread of awe that runs through a global crisis, where we’re moved by how beautifully people are “finally coming together.” Crisis gives us permission to take care of life inside and around us in generous and heroic ways that we have wanted to all along. It allows us to protect life, and live like it matters. But, waiting for a crisis in order to take care of life doesn’t work. Because by that point, it’s usually too late.

I wonder if you’ve seen this pattern operate anywhere in your own life. And I wonder if you’ve wondered about it, too. Given the grace of a warning signal and a precious window of opportunity to save life, why do we not? After a lifetime of thinking about it, I have an idea. I don’t know if an idea can be of life-saving value to anyone else, but this one was for me.

In college, the falling sensation got worse and I started losing chunks of time. So I went to a new doctor. Without tests, he dismissed my body’s warning signals the same way the last doctor had, complete with shoulder-pat. He called me “bright and sensitive” and offered Prozac, though I wasn’t depressed. I kept going to school, getting good grades, acting in plays, spending time with good friends, and trying to reconcile the irreconcilable message that the warnings my body was giving me were somehow my fault. A year later, I had a dream.

The dream was a different sort of thing. In the dream, I was cast in a play in the part of a woman who had a four-year-old daughter with a brain tumor. The girl was very sick, and I was thr-illed to play the role. Partly because my character was a chain smoker (I’d never smoked but had always wanted to) and partly because — and I remember this distinctly — I “finally got to love my daughter.” The diagnosis gave me permission to love the child unreservedly, wholeheartedly. I felt it was the role of a lifetime.

As the dream went on, I ambled around getting into character, becoming the mom, overjoyed, wearing cute skinny jeans, smoking my lungs out, telling everyone about my opportunity to play a role where I got to love without reservation, and I forgot about my daughter for a while. When I remembered her with a jolt, I ran to find her in a place that was part hospital, part toy store. She was almost like a toy herself now: her skin plastic and clear, veins Crayola blue and red, colorful tubes connecting her to machines. The little life that I’d forgotten while I was busy reveling in the chance to love her was still breathing on life support, but I understood that she was gone.

They say that in falling dreams, you always wake up before you hit the ground. But in this dream, I didn’t wake up. The full force of reckoning with the reality of the disease hit me like a wall, and then I became the little girl. And as the girl, I began to die. The world began to disappear through different senses. First sight, then sound. And then something else I can’t describe. Then I was underwater, womb-like, a tunnel, a light above me, shafts and rays shining through the surface. I swam up towards the light, with someone by my side helping me up. Dying didn’t hurt. But it was a vast, wordless sorrow because I wasn’t ready to go. Then nothing.

I can’t — you can’t, we can’t — require a crisis or an emergency to justify waking up to love life.

I woke up biting my tongue. Terrified. But also astonished, waterfalls of gratitude that I was alive. A Christmas Carol-like, it 100% felt like I had just lived into the future. Or the future I was headed toward if my trajectory didn’t change. I understood a couple things at once: first was that I did have a brain tumor, in real life. And second, and just as important, was that I can’t — you can’t, we can’t — require a crisis to justify waking up to love life. I understood that if we wait for some drastic diagnosis or crisis situation to give us permission to cherish, trust, and care for life, it’ll be too late. That message has rung in my ears for the rest of my life.

Home from college that summer, I went to the family doctor once more. Didn’t tell him about the dream (because I’d learned that doctors don’t always super-love it when you think you know something about your own body). But I told him about my continuing symptoms and he sent me off again without tests. Later that summer, I had a seizure that prevented me from talking, moving, or unclenching my jaw, and they finally gave me an MRI and found it.

Confirmation that I had a tumor growing in my brain was as scary as you might imagine. And I decided to welcome all the messy, painful feelings that I was taught made me weak — fear, rage, sorrow, confusion, need. I did that because it felt like I should start by respecting my life if I wanted to save it. Allowing pain was no pleasure. But on the other side of those feelings was a peace I hadn’t known before. A lightness that didn’t have to be forced or pretended, and a greater feeling of capability. In a way, I was grateful for the diagnosis because it ended my denial. I didn’t want to be sick. I didn’t want to be having seizures. And I didn’t want to be focusing all my attention on saving my life at a time when my friends were just starting theirs. I didn’t want the problem to be real. But it was real. And ending everyone’s denial about it allowed it to finally be addressed.

Thankfully the tumor was non-malignant, slow-growing, and still small when it was found. The next two years were dedicated to treatment, healing, and recovery. I was very lucky and, 20 years later, I’m fine. But something I learned during that time is that we can’t lay lies on top of life. The signals life gives us, both positive and negative, are a strength and not a weakness. Some of our thoughts are just thoughts. Some are just fear. Some are ego. Some are our own version of storytelling. But our instincts that feel like home— the messages life gives us that feel like the truth — are worth heeding.

Because I believe the pattern of telling pretty stories over painful realities is dangerous, and because it seems to be common practice in U.S. culture in general, and white culture in particular, I’m interested in bringing it to an end. Or at least bringing it to other people’s attention so that it may happen less. In order to catch this pattern in myself, and find ways of gently interrupting it, I try to be aware of its mechanics.

A dear American friend of mine moved from to Spain a few years ago, and she’s regularly astonished by the gentler speed of life there, and the room there is to take care of it. She fell in love and got married there. She has sane working hours, a garden, and a baby. As a working class person, she also has free healthcare. She had birth coaching, health education, regular prenatal appointments, and birth in a hospital, all at no cost. As I stand on my couch listening to her talk about the differences between life in our two countries, we both marvel. We reflect on America’s favorite pastime of being overextended, overworked, and underserved. And how life for so many people in the U.S., at every economic level, seems to be a state of exhaustion and depletion. We talk about how slowing down to care for life seems to be the opposite of what’s required by our country’s uniquely panicked version of capitalism. And we reflect on how much Americans are celebrated for toughening-up via overwork, sleep deprivation, and denial of pain.

I wonder where this message comes from. I realize that quarterly earnings reports motivate publicly-held companies to value profit at the expense of exploiting human and natural resources. I understand that obedience-based public education and hazing-based higher education both teach students to ignore their physical and emotional needs. And I know that we live in the wake of colonizing religions that have justified massive violence on the premise that natural life is sinful and unruly. We can skip across time to find that message by looking at “Indian Residential Schools” and asylums built for “hysterical women” during the 18- and 1900s, and by looking at human slavery itself. All these things and more have constantly affirmed the message that we should distrust, fear, exploit and oppress life.

Being dismissed as irrational has a powerful stigma to it.

As much as these factors influence us, I think it matters just as much how we reinforce this message on each other. We often administer social corralling through mockery. If a person in our country decides to end their own denial and speak openly about a troubling concern (on any scale), they’ll often be mocked— called “paranoid,” “too sensitive,” “conspiracy theorist,” “doomsday-ish,” etc. These labels can feel ostracizing because being dismissed as irrational has a powerful stigma. Our hardwired fear of exile is based in evolutionary survival, so we don’t want to be rejected. Even during a pandemic, I notice that my most sound-minded, rational friends preface any statement of reasonable economic or public health concern with, “Not to be doomsday-ish, but…” We’ve become embarrassed by our natural concern for life; overly-afraid of being labeled as irrational. Even now, at the start of a global pandemic, we’re afraid of that stigma.

We have to get over this. We have to rise above the embarrassment we’ve been conditioned to feel about taking care of life (inside us and around us) so that we don’t need a crisis to give us permission to care. Because the desire to take care of life is what we all have in common. Across the political spectrum, a desire to care for the living world is what motivates people who fight for the causes you align with most, and for those you find most offensive and absurd. At the heart of every issue that divides us into political tribes is a common desire to protect life, along with the heartbroken, common recognition that, as a species, we are not doing a very good job of it. Until we each reckon with our own grief over this, it will be hard to recognize grief’s face in others.

When we end denial and squarely face suffering, it is normal to feel emotional pain. For example, if we really look at the effects of human-caused climate change and species extinctions, it’s devastating. Reckoning with the number of people who sit in for-profit prison cells and detention centers in our country right now, is also devastating. Reckoning with the number of people who live in poverty while working full time in this country is heartbreaking. Facing what has happened in our own relationships — even if we were taught to tell pretty, perfect stories — can be heartbreaking, too. But it is important to face and feel. Because by reckoning and feeling natural grief, we free ourselves up to take healing action.

For some people, there is a fear that if we let ourselves cry, we won’t stop. And to that I’ll just say that your instinct to be smart about grieving is right, and you should do it in a way that feels protected for you. I like to cry in the shower. And nature holds feelings very well. A favorite spot in nature to walk or sit or ugly cry can do wonders. Non-judgmental attention from others really helps, too. Grief therapy is a thing if you have money or insurance, and if you don’t, there are free “warmlines” (non-emergency emotional support hotlines) and free ways to exchange support with peers. However we proceed, it is good to start feeling again. Because feelings are your life talking. And it’s good to start listening to your life again. It’s healing.

Life has an innate capacity to repair and recover, and because you are alive, you do, too.

Healing means different things to different people, and I don’t define it for anyone else. I’ll just share that I relate to it a natural process, as real as entropy. Healing is what our skin does after we get a cut, if we’re lucky. It’s what an island does when wildlife grows back after a nuclear test. It’s what the earth is trying to do even now, with people driving and flying so much less. Life has an innate capacity to repair and recover, and because you are life, you do, too. In the New Age-y ethos I mentioned earlier, the term “healing” sometimes gets equated with magical thinking and self-blame. I’m not about that. People get sick. Families have problems. All of us will die. All of that is wordlessly painful. And none of it is your fault. But if you try to pretend away the pain of living instead of reckoning with it, you’ll miss the incomparable, magical, priceless chance to be part of a healing process.

I feel like healing is another one of those dynamics of relational physics that can happen on any scale. In a body, in a relationship, an organization, a community or a planet. During and leading up to this pandemic time, life has given us abundant warnings. And right now, we have another opportunity to lay down our denial, and stop telling Pretty Stories, reckon with the painful reality in front of us, and then take actions that will save many lives. If it is quietly, honestly difficult for you to conceive of how that matters, I forgive you. Just like I forgive myself for the times I thought my own life didn’t matter.

Life matters. We have been taught otherwise. But all of us know, deep down, regardless of religion or industry, education or trauma, that if for nothing else we are here to cherish life. When we are awake, we know this. And lucky for us, the way home isn’t as far as we have strayed.

As the people on my Red Line car slowly realized the derailed train was ours, we peered out the open doors to see the rear two cars leaning precariously to one side, three stories above the ground. There was some real danger in that moment, that those cars would fall, and connected, we’d all come crashing down. But instead of panicked pandemonium, we looked around at each other. We introduced ourselves. Without any honest communication from our conductor, we reckoned with the situation ourselves. We decided through conversation not to hop down onto the tracks in case the third rail was still live. We also gently moved to sit on the opposite side of our car to give more weight to the side of the train that wasn’t leaning. Some people walked to the ends of our car to open doors and pass along word of our derailment and suggest the same arrangement. The fire-escape reporters eventually put down their cameras but stayed, just chatting to keep us company.

There was a soft, glowy afternoon light while we sat and waited. Aware of the problem, doing what we could to take care, cooperating well. Bird songs, breeze. We talked and listened to strangers. Acknowledged fear. People shared their phones with those whose batteries had died. At one point, a guy wearing big puffy headphones had “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson playing loudly so everyone could hear it. And one by one, the people in our car started singing along from the beginning. “Gonna make a change — ah! — for once in my life…” More and more people chimed in until our whole train car was singing the chorus together. I know that song is a bit tainted now, but it was a pretty excellent human moment.

After another hour, an empty train pulled up alongside ours and we were all told to walk a skinny plank, 30 feet above the ground, to board it. And people were still calm. No one pushed, no one screamed. Everyone helped. Even though no one in charge had trusted us enough to tell us the truth, life took care of life. As each person walked the plank, someone on the derailed train reached as far as they could until they had to let go of the walking person’s hand, and then, after taking just a few steps alone in the air, another person was there waiting in the empty car, reaching out a hand to receive them.

If you’re reading this, I love you. Maybe that sounds funny, but I think it’s what’s necessary, and more apparently, what’s true. We’re all on this El-train together right now. If it falls, we all fall. In this pandemic situation, it’s becoming extra clear that the better we take care of our own lives, the better we take care of life around us, and vice-versa. What you do will affect my life as much as it will affect the lives of your loved ones. And what I do will affect yours. The better we are at cooperating, the more of a non-event the whole thing will be. I like what Tara Smith says, an epidemiologist at Kent State, about succeeding at preventative action: “It’s the paradox of public health: when you do it right, nothing happens.” If we can start taking care of life without needing a crisis for permission, we can walk off this derailed train calmly, and it won’t fall over and make the news.

Find small and inconsequential ways to practice listening to your life and letting it guide you, and it will start lighting up again.

If you want to use this time of social distancing to reconnect with your own life force a bit, there are some nice resources. I like this one, and this one, and this one, and this one. But maybe best is just to practice listening. There’s a knowing thing in you that turns toward life, like a flower that gently bends its face towards the sun. Maybe try sitting in the sun with your eyes closed, and ask your life what it wants, without demanding an answer. If it’s safe, go outside and take a walk by yourself, and make every choice about which way you turn based on nothing but desire — not by habit, memory, or rationale. Just carve out a little time to give the gentle, fierce, joyful, mysterious, natural life inside you the chance to want things, and to have them. Find small and inconsequential ways to practice listening to your life and letting it guide you, and it will start lighting up again. Be patient. It has been patient with you all this time.

Janna writes and performs, teaches and coaches. She runs the show HereChicago.org and the game IntuitiveTreasureHunter.com. Find her at jannasobel.com.