During a pandemic

Dr. Robert J. Wicks

A number of years ago a well-known writer and wisdom figure asked to see me. When she came in, she shared that she was having panic attacks so I set up weekly mentoring sessions for her. When she came in for her third visit, I suggested that instead of having the meeting in the office, we walk around the lake outside. My sense was that the beauty and activity while we were walking and talking together would put her more at ease so she would feel freer to let go and go deeper into what was behind her fears.

Half-way through the walk, she suddenly stopped on the path, turned to me abruptly, and asked in a hoarse voice, "Will these panic attacks ever go away?" In return, I looked straight into her eyes, smiled and calmly replied, "Oh, without a doubt. That is not the problem." From the expression on her face, I could tell she was taken off-guard. Finally, she found the words to ask, "Well what exactly is the problem then?" In response, I said, "The true challenge is that, before the panic disappears, whether you can take advantage of the time you are feeling so vulnerable by seeing yourself and life more deeply and in new ways before things return to normal."

The same can be said about living through a pandemic. People are wearing masks in grocery stores and distancing from each other, some are alone at home for long stretches of time, there is a fear of sickness and death, families are either separated or thrown together in ways they haven't been for years. The upset is palpable and the end is still a ways off.

Experts share that a number of things must take place before a degree of normalcy returns. These include a plateauing and eventual reduction in reported cases for at least 2-3 weeks. There must be a renewed facility by the local government to test suspected and monitor positive cases. In addition, healthcare settings must finally possess the ability to treat all who need hospitalization and provide a level of care that is in keeping with the usual high standards we expect today.

However, eventually this will happen and we will return to life in many, but not all, ways to which we have become accustomed. This will provide reassurance and that is good. Remaining in a crisis mode for too long can be debilitating. Yet, the danger in returning to a "new normal" that is we will forget what we have been taught during the crisis. These include a profound appreciation of such basic, but often unappreciated, life-guiding insights as:

  • Life is fragile and we will die,
  • Relationships matter,
  • Simplicity can allow us to extract wonder and joy from "little" things,
  • Silence and solitude can provide a setting for deeper understanding;

and

  • A deep sense of faith in something, someone or a philosophy greater than we are can be a light in the darkness to help us find a sustaining psychology of meaning no matter what happens; it can be a refreshing reservoir we experience deep within

This pandemic is deeply upsetting or, at the very least, annoying, somewhat stressful and disturbing to our usual way of living. Still, it is also a unique opportunity, a rare opening, to see ourself and experience life more deeply. The question that remains though, is: Will we open our eyes and hearts to not only see this now, but even if we do discover life and who we are in ways that would not have been possible had the pandemic not occurred in the first place, will we allow ourselves to simply return to a new "normal" or embrace the new wisdom being gifted to us now when it is all over?

Dr. Robert J. Wicks is a clinical psychologist and writer about the intersection of spirituality and psychology. He has published more than 50 books for both professionals and the general public. Among them: Perspective: The Calm within the Storm; Bounce: Living the Resilient Life; Riding the Dragon: 10 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Times; Spiritual Resilience: 30 Days to Refresh Your Soul...