People, healthcare workers, are saying two things over and over to me in the first two weeks of 2022.
- Everyone is so fatigued after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all so tired.
- What can we do, all we can do is keep going.
I was lucky and grateful to have a couple of weeks off over the festive season. I stayed a week camping on the foreshore with my family. Nature is such a healing force after a very busy year in which we practiced flexibility and agility more than anyone would have wished…
Nature offers us amazing demonstrations of rhythm and chaos, every day. Check out this low tide and high tide rhythm. When the tide is low it’s easy to walk and paddle all the way across. When the tide is high the current can be so strong, making it treacherous for those new to this stretch of water.
Last year we rescued a party of adults and children marooned in shallow water at high tide who were paralysed by fear as they realised the water’s depth was completely unpredictable from one step to the next and nothing like when they first went into the water an hour or two ago. Their assumptions were wrong.
They were only meters from the shore and the water in front of them was quite shallow, but they were exhausted from the effort they had already made. Fear set in and spread as all contagions do. One lonely, distressed man stood supporting two women and several screaming children who were unable to move, except to claw at and destabilise each other. As my friend began ‘rescuing’ them they became more frantic, pulling her down into the water too. Resistance, struggle, fear made the situation more dangerous.
For those who were familiar with the conditions like my friend it was not a scary situation, but it quickly turned to one of high emotion and complexity, as she realised she was now at risk too. What might have been orderly and easy was suddenly chaotic, complex and instantly frightening.
Every day the water here recedes and returns in a predictable pattern, but no-one would claim that it is the same each day. The tide times change every day, moving forward with the moon as it waxes and wanes. The movement of water, air and sand is continuously dynamic. The plants and animals respond and react to the shifting sands, water and wind, as it happens, moment to moment. Every shift and change influences the rest of the ecosystem.
Yet there are predictable patterns within what looks like chaos. Order is the most prevailing pattern over time… but let’s not view order and chaos as opposites… could they be one and the same?
- Does this duality in our thinking serve us?
- Can we see order within the chaos of our lives?
- Can we learn to live within chaos sometimes, to accept that we are not in control and that is okay?
Some knowledge of the tidal pattern helps. Awareness of the weather forecast, the tide, the strength of the wind, understanding that the wind can make the current appear to go the other way, all help to adapt and adjust, to stay safe. Experience, awareness and curiosity are beneficial, yet none of these assures understanding or guarantees anything.
Mother nature has her own way that we do not control and therein lies some of her beauty. Camping, swimming in the ocean, walking on the shifting sand… it all helped me to let go, to relax, to remember the tiny role I play in the universe.
The challenge remains – how to bring more of this into the busier parts of the year?
One that is amplified by a healthcare system that is completely swamped by yet another high tide of the pandemic. Almost everyone working in healthcare is exhausted, we ask so much of our healthcare people and we have taken it for granted that we will always be able to access healthcare in Australia.
So what can we do now that our assumptions are exposed and eroded?
While there are many practical challenges and things we might DO, as a mindfulness practitioner and a psychologist I choose to begin this reflection with an open mindset of how I want to BE in these prevailing conditions. This intention or guiding principle will help me throughout the year to decide what to do. In every moment there is a choice about how I show up. In many moments that is the only thing I can choose, so I start there, by establishing my intention.
As 2022 begins I hope to be more like water. I want to be more fluid, less welded on to the idea of control, less engaged in the struggle, more aware of resistance as it arises in the moment.
Yes, there will be patterns and rhythms, some structures that are more rigid than others. Yes, I fully expect to forget my intention sometimes and to need reminding. I will definitely need others to help me in all tides and winds. Although I will plan and prepare as well as I can, I may even need rescuing and if I do I hope I can remain calm, trust the others and listen carefully to them so that we can collaborate well. Being like water will require some letting go which has rarely been easy for me.
My intention is not to abandon all control or care, rather to notice struggle and to practice letting go of struggle and resistance. Water moves where the ecosystem allows, it doesn’t struggle and fight, it simply moves through, gently on a different path. To be more like water I will need to practice radical acceptance, to remember that just because I thought something would happen doesn’t mean it will and that I am more than my thoughts. As one of my mentors Richard Miller says, “if you fight with reality you will lose”.
Even in these incredibly testing times I see hope, help and kindness all around me. My intention is to remain open to what’s possible, to notice where I can move forward and to go there.
This Buddhist proverb seems fitting:
If you are facing in the right direction, all you need to do is keep walking (or swimming as the case may be!)
May the wind be at your back during 2022 and remember progress is sometimes simply keeping your head above water or taking just one tiny step. To thrive we need each other, I look forward to meeting you whatever the weather.
In late 2021 Sharee published her first book, The Thriving Doctor – How to be more balanced and fulfilled working in medicine.