After weeks of seeming stasis, were sheltering in place, physical distancing, online learning, working remotely, wearing masks in public, and other heretofore unheard of phrases and behaviors were becoming the norm, we are receiving conflicting messages about the restrictions lifting, businesses opening (at reduced capacity) and the possibility of life returning to some semblance of “normalcy.” Whether one agrees with the timing or structure of this shift or not, we seem to be on the threshold of tip-toeing out of our homes and into a world that looks vastly different from the one we knew prior to the pandemic.
What does it meant to be “on the threshold?” The word itself has some interesting definitions: a point of entry or beginning; the magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction, phenomenon, or condition to occur or be manifested; the level at which one starts to feel or react to something or at which something comes into effect.
In other words, a threshold is that moment right before the change actually happens, when we are standing in the doorway looking out at an unfamiliar landscape, wondering if we are prepared for whatever we are about to encounter on the other side. Change is difficult for most of us. Even for those who thrive on adventure and new experiences, feeling a bit of anxiety in the face of uncertainty is common. In that moment when the training wheels come off and we are wobbling this way and that, frantically peddling while trying to adjust to the novelty of trusting our bodies to hold us in balance instead of relying on the machinery of the training wheels or the strong arm of a parent figure holding our bicycle upright from behind, we struggle to have confidence that we can fly instead of falling to the ground. It is the space between the trapeze bars, when we have let go of the one and not yet grasped hold of the other, suspended in mid-air, hoping we have stretched far enough to reach the safety of the handle swinging before us. It is the unknown territory we have not yet traversed, and it is . . . scary.
Brandan J. Robertson, in his article, On the Threshold of Tomorrow, writes, “What are we to do at such a threshold moment? . . . In moments of transition, we are simply to be. We are to pause and acknowledge that a transition is taking place. Instead of seeking to abruptly pass through a threshold, we are to tarry. . . . A new reality is emerging, but we cannot see beyond the threshold. All we know is that we exist in this moment, where everything is in transition. We may experience a new way of being, but we cannot yet sense what it will look like.”
After the end of World War II, all the Dutch citizens living in Indonesia were expelled and sent “home” to their native country, the Netherlands. My mother, along with many of her fellow expats, was born in Indonesia, and up until that point, had never even lived in the Netherlands. At the age of 15, my mother went “home” to a place that was entirely foreign to her. Worse yet, the Dutch citizens already living there did not welcome these returnees back into the fold as terrible shortages of food, fuel, and housing were compounded by the return of these refugees, who were awarded double ration cards due to the starvation and hardship they experienced in the concentration camps during the war. She remembers feeling lost, alone, and afraid in this country where she was supposed to belong but whose customs, climate and conditions were unfamiliar to her. Her mother’s sister, Tante Truce, took in the battered and bedraggled family of five and fed them, cared for them, and helped them over this threshold to adjust to their new life.
It is ok not to know what’s next. It is ok not to know how to feel, what to think, or how to behave in this new landscape we are finding ourselves in. It is ok to ask for help, to turn to each other for connection and comfort, and to find our way forward together, with uncertain, even wobbly steps. We may fall off our bicycle (or horse, as I did last week. Twice!) We may miss the trapeze bar. The important thing is that we allow ourselves to be helped back up by others who are traveling this new road with us and that we don’t try to figure this out alone. We may linger on the threshold and decide we are not quite ready to cross over it yet even though we see others doing so. And that’s ok too.
Because you are not alone. We are all in this together.
Kathleen is a licensed professional counselor and practices in the Austin, Texas area. More info can be found here. She is also a member of the NL team, and a Natural Lifemanship trainer.
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I recently watched the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” based on the true story of friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod. Tom is indignant that he has been assigned to interview Mr. Rogers, whom he views as an insignificant and not newsworthy character, but he is surprised to find himself drawn to the empathy, acceptance, and kindness this television show host displays to everyone he comes in contact with. In an exchange that is very timely for today, Fred tells Tom, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
The news is currently full of very “scary things.” It is easy to get discouraged, overwhelmed, frightened, and even panicky about the ongoing stream of grim stories concerning rising infection and death rates and people losing livelihoods and loved ones. These statistics are scary and it is normal to feel anxious about them. However, a crisis like the pandemic also presents an opportunity for people to grow in unexpected ways. Many have shared heart-warming stories with me about giving some or all of their stimulus money to those in greater need, or discovering previously unknown skills for sewing facemasks, or a talent for organizing online scavenger hunts for bored grandchildren, or for tutoring reading online to struggling students. Helping others helps us. Neural evidence from fMRI’s research studies suggests a link between generosity and happiness in the brain. When we help someone else, the same feel-good chemicals are released in our brain that are being released in the brain and body of the one we are helping.
My father certainly needed a helper when he was being held in solitary confinement in a German prison during World War II. Sometimes help comes in unexpected ways, as it did for him when his parents and the families of the other imprisoned boys who tried to escape with him from the labor camp to join the Allied Army, hired a rather famous Dutch attorney named Fritz to plead their sons’ cases before the Reichsgericht (the criminal court of the German Reich). Fritz represented himself as a Nazi sympathizer to the German court in order to win the boys a reprieve from their death sentence and then had to go into hiding himself to escape his own prosecution once the ruse became known. (Upon their release, the boys were taken to another labor camp much further inland presumably to prevent them from once again trying to swim the Rhine River to freedom.)
We may already be drowning in “helping” as parents or caregivers who are attempting to homeschool children, work from home, navigate the frustrations of attempting to apply for small business loans or payroll protection or other resources to stay afloat financially (and emotionally!) We may need help from others rather than being in a position to offer help right now. It is not weak or needy to ask for support from others it is human. And if you find yourself in moments when that support is not forthcoming from the relationships you usually turn to (because they are overwhelmed too), the following resources might help in a pinch:
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has an Instagram account: “namicommunicate” which posts helpful tips, reminders, and resources
The “Calm” app offers meditation and sleep stories to help with the bedtime routine
Even non-yoga aficionados find Yoga with Adriene accessible and soothing.
Dr. Dan Siegel’s wheel of awareness and free guided meditations are available.
Natural Lifemanship is offering a variety of name your price workshops to support you during this time and help to build YOUR resilience.
Natural Lifemanship is also offering a variety of resources daily on Facebook and a FB live series called Resilience Through Rhythm every Sunday. Connect with us on Facebook where we are committed to collective healing.
A global crisis like the coronavirus pandemic can overshadow our reality to the point where we no longer find hope in the darkness. My father told me there were times he wasn’t sure he would ever leave that dark, damp prison cell. My faith reminds me that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” We can take turns being that light for each other.
Here at The Natural Lifemanship Institute, we are here for you, just as you are there for so many who turn to you for support. And when you need some support for yourself: keep looking for the helpers. They are out there.
Kathleen Choe is a licensed professional counselor and practices in the Austin, Texas area. More info can be found here. She is also a member of the NL team, and a Natural Lifemanship trainer.
This past week I am struck by how many of you have told me you are feeling lonely. Some of you are what I call “alone lonely” because you are physically living and working alone and are experiencing profound isolation with the shelter in place and physical distancing measures currently in place.
Some of you are what I term “together lonely” because you are physically surrounded by a spouse and/or children, roommate(s), parents, siblings, the nanny who has temporarily moved in, and other assorted relatives/friends/pets but emotionally having the experience of loneliness, which may involve not being seen/heard/acknowledged/appreciated/understood/supported/loved/held/nurtured/validated.
In Brene Brown’s most recent podcast in her series “Unlocking Us” she interviews Dr. Vivek Murthy, a physician and the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, about his book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. He describes three dimensions of loneliness: Intimate Loneliness, which is the longing for a partner or confidant to share trust and affection with and to be a witness to our lives; Social Loneliness, which is the longing for relational connection through friendship, companionship and support, and Collective Loneliness; which is the longing for a network or community of people who share a sense of purpose and common interests. Many of us have been cut off from some or all of these avenues of connection by the measures currently in place due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
Loneliness is a profoundly disturbing experience. Most mammals are able to mobilize within hours of birth to avoid becoming a predator’s meal. Human infants are born completely dependent upon the caregivers in their environment to provide the resources necessary to survive. This does not only involve physical nourishment, but emotional support as well. Even as adults, we carry the primal hard wiring to avoid abandonment as early in life this equaled death. The truth is: we need each other. Not in a co-dependent, enmeshed way, but in a relationally supportive and connected way. We may be able to feed and clothe ourselves and tie our own shoes, but we never outgrow the need for emotional support and encouragement!
My father was a senior in high school in the Netherlands when World War II broke out. Initially, Hitler thought the Dutch would support his cause, as he considered them close cousins to the Germans. However, when he realized the Dutch citizens were hiding Jews and helping them escape and aligning with the Allies, he invaded and occupied Holland, conscripting any able-bodied men to work in his factories building munitions and war supplies as all the able-bodied German men were fighting in the war. Initially, Hitler allowed Dutch students to finish high school before being sent to work camps, so my father’s headmaster failed his entire senior class in order to keep them back and in school (and safe) for another year. The second time this happened, Hitler became savvy to the plan and my father was sent to Austria to build Tiger Tanks for Hitler’s war machine. He was 17 years old and determined to escape to join the Allied Forces in their fight against the Nazi’s. In a story straight out of a Tom Clancy novel, my father and several of his friends got the guards on duty drunk on some stolen Schnapp’s, attempted to swim the Rhine River, and make it to Switzerland. They were caught, however, and each placed in solitary confinement. Each day, the guards would taunt the boys that this was “the day they would die.” When I asked my father how he survived solitary confinement, in a cell 3×6 foot, he told me that the movie The Wizard of Oz had come out shortly before the war, the first color motion picture he had ever seen. He would lie in his cot and play the movie, scene by scene, until Dorothy (played by Judy Garland) taps her ruby slippers together and says, “there’s no place like home.” He drew strength from her encounters with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion (and of course, her faithful dog, Toto). She found her “tribe,” a group of unlikely friends to journey with her, who each needed healing in their own way. He would think about his family and friends, all of whom were praying and fighting for his release. (And he was miraculously released, which is a story for another time!)
Sometimes life is just hard. Not because we are doing something wrong, or because there is something wrong with us. Sometimes life is just hard, but we can do hard things. We can find support from each other, our faith, our imaginations, nature, and we can persevere through our suffering because we matter and our pain matters.
You matter. Don’t forget.
On a lighter note, Hope has opened her eyes! She is seeing her world for the first time and finding it fascinating. Read the blog where we introduced Hope!
We will make it through this. . . together!
Natural Lifemanship is offering as much personal and professional support as we can for you right now. Take a look at our Survive + Thrive = SurThrive webinar series. Live webinars are free to all. Recordings are free to Basic and Professional NL Members on our online learning page. All others can name your price. Be on the lookout for our new and expanding Building YOUR Resilience Groups. AND don’t forget to watch FB live every Sunday at 5:30 CDT as we build resilience through rhythm and connection! We can take care of each other!