It was such a relief back in June when the numbers of people sick from COVID were winding down and the promise of a degree of safety, thanks to the vaccine, was rising up. We had (and have) a rational political administration and summer was approaching. But now, due to the Delta and other variants, and due to the fear and ignorance caused by the GOP and others spreading misinformation or disinformation about the vaccine as they earlier did about COVID-19 itself, it is difficult to know how safe we are or what is safe to do.
Thanks to the vaccine, I can consider visiting relatives and friends in other states, people I haven’t seen in person since the pandemic began. But in some sense, this adds more confusion. What variants might lie between here and there? Will I infect or be infected? I am vaccinated, but since I could still carry the virus, do I have to be tested first?
And I don’t know if what I am feeling is the psychological effect, the trauma of the pandemic combined with the trauma of four years of DT. Or, since what I feel is probably from a mixture of causes, I wonder what degree of what I’m feeling is simply fear. After hunkering down and making safety my primary concern for so long, it is difficult to take risks or step out.
But what I do know is the importance of being real to myself, and gentle when the world is being harsh. If I can find the patience and clarity to be gentle with myself, I can be gentler and clearer with others.
And I can take this moment as an opportunity to learn new things about myself. When I’m open to it, I discover new things about where and who I am. I feel even more at home with whatever and whomever I am with. So, when I do venture out, I am going from home to home.
And we can use our imagination and empathy to see and feel ourselves in the home with whomever we’d like to visit. One purpose of the imagination is to help us think. When I stopped what I was doing and imagined being in the living room of a friend or family member, talking, looking eye to eye, feeling what I felt for this person. I overcame the physical distance with imagination and the emotional distance disappeared. The situation was simplified a bit and I was able to think more directly and clearly.
Of course, the imagination can also be detrimental. We can get caught up in images of hurt and disaster, especially when we’re stressed. Another reason we have an imagination is to help protect us from harm.
So, when a disaster movie is featured in our own mind and we can’t find the exit, we can stop what we’re doing, take a few slow breaths, and name the movie. Or we can try to calm ourselves with exercise or a moving meditation. Or instead of using the internal sense of imagination to let go of fear, we can use one of the five external senses, and focus on simply hearing, seeing, touching (e.g. holding a small stone in our hand and feeling the texture, temperature, weight), tasting a raisin or other fruit, or smelling (although smell is the sense that is directly linked to emotional sections of the brain and so can be problematic). The situation changes. The disaster movie shuts down and our mind clears.
This same strategy of using empathic, mindful imagination plus rationality to help us make decisions about whether we should travel can be applied to deciding whether we should send our children back to in-person classes, or go to the gym, or a party, or what job to take, or how to take political action.
After over a year and a half of the COVID pandemic and four years of DT and the continued assault by the GOP not only on our rights, but the constitution itself, the earth that sustains us, public schooling or education in general, and our mental and physical health, it’s no wonder we feel stressed or have trouble deciding what is safe or appropriate.
We need time to speak out. But we also need breaks and time to visit with others in a safe and fun manner. We need to check infection rates, examine environmental costs when long range travel is involved, get vaccinated if we haven’t done so, wear masks. And by using empathic imagination to help guide our travels, not only will we be safer, but our overall quality of life will most likely improve.
This post is republished on Medium.