The Importance of Connection and Hope
What I’ve learned from the Italians during these uncertain times…
These past few weeks have created a wave of uncertainty, and life as we know it seems to be changing on a daily basis. During this global pandemic I see us all moving through a mixed bag of emotions: Fear of the unknown, the stress of changing routines and living and working from home with our families, feeling sadness and grieving the life we grew accustomed to, and deep vulnerability on every level.
What has inspired me daily and what keeps me optimistic through it all is the daily communication I have with my friends and colleagues in Tuscany, who are about 3 weeks ahead of us in the Coronavirus pandemic cycle. They’ve been isolated for about a month now, and expect to have about 1 month to go before daily life and activities as they knew it will start to get back on track.
Here is some of the great wisdom that I am learning from our Italian connections.
- It seems that there are predictable steps that everyone has gone through during these challenging times. My dear friend and yoga instructor from Tuscany, Anna Lisa Tempestini, sums it up like this:
- Step 1: Fear. Uncertainty can rock us to the core. And when you don’t have all the answers, you begin making up your own stories about the unknowns. This causes a lot of stress and depletes your mental energy. And the ongoing media streams seem to make matters worse, 24/7.
- Step 2: Staying home, and all the challenges that come from creating a new schedule with work, family and personal space issues. Learning to adapt is hard for many of us who thrive on routine.
- Step 3: Problems with mental health and overall wellbeing. Spending more time with yourself and feeling lost, sad or lonely is very common for all of us, in varying degrees. The grieving process is real when life as you know it is suddenly stripped away.
- Step 4: Searching for that inner voice that guides you and the voice of others, by reaching out to our teachers and friends, listening to podcasts and anything that tells us to keep going. This is a critical part of quieting the chatter and getting back to your internal “home base”, which can be difficult for many of us.
- Step 5: Vulnerability. Finding personal seeds of compassion and grace and getting in touch with your heart is scary for most of us. And yet, we’ve never felt so vulnerable on every level.
- Step 6: Acceptance. Having some clear answers about the situation, learning how to manage the physical and emotional elements of this world tragedy and how it’s affecting each of us is empowering. Even when we don’t like the information we have, at least we can start wrapping our heads around it and create new strategies for moving forward.
- Step 7: You begin to see the light at the end of the struggle. This is encouraging and provides hope, but you realize there will be a new sense of normal transitioning back into life, a new way of life, which we will have to learn. Priorities change, values are made more clear. You ask yourself, “Will you miss this time that you had? A simpler time?
- Isolating with yourself and with family forces you to reconnect with yourself and each other. All of this alone time creates opportunities to read together, play games together, cook together, watch interesting things on TV and start a new hobby that you never had time for. My friend, Tour Guide Antonella Piredda, told me “If you are quarantined, just enjoy life! Read, watch movies, clean your house, there is so much to do!” And of course, our chef Eleonora Lampis, said, “I spend all of my time cooking! Learning new recipes and eating it all with my family. We are all kind of enjoying this very strange new way of life.” It’s a powerful process to learn things about yourself and family members that you never knew, which can deepen the relationships. This also encourages safety and requires you to depend on one another in new ways.
- Staying home requires you to learn about “smart working”, working from home, and connects you to your co-workers in new and fun ways. Putting your suit on over your pajamas for a video conference call, or running a team meeting from the kids’ playroom in the basement shares a new side to your humanness and ads a little humor to the situation. We are all learning how to leverage technology and work efficiently, which could provide some long-term advantages to everyone. We are being forced to work with new intention and leverage our time and resources with one another.
- Many professionals are learning how to offer services virtually, such as yoga and exercise classes, cooking classes, learning and education, and most people love the chance to receive these services from the comfort of their homes. Gathering around the computer or TV is also a wonderful way to watch concerts and events that would otherwise be impossible to attend. Famous museums are offering free virtual tours, highlighting their coveted pieces of work. Suddenly, the world feels very accessible in new ways.
- Once the initial fear of change quiets, you long for routine again. Having a new daily routine is critical to your overall well being. Set the alarm, get up and shower, get dressed, put on some house shoes and follow a schedule. This will help you adjust and feel productive each day, and give you a sense of empowerment and control, which is desperately needed during periods of isolation. Many studies have been published about the importance of structure during isolation as a way to avoid severe mental health issues, and our friends in Italy are teaching us how vital this is in today’s world.
- Crossing things off your “to do” list, such as commuting, going to the gym or spa, carpooling, attending weekly appointments to the barber or stylist, nail salon, or entertainment shopping, not only gives you more time for things that are now important at home, but it also saves a significant amount of money. It’s fascinating when you realize how much of your budget has been spent on things that just aren’t that important to you.
- Socializing virtually is a new “thing”, which makes us wonder why we haven’t been doing it all along! There is nothing more fun than an early evening Aperitivo online with a glass of wine and your favorite friends to share stories, laugh, cry and simply connect. This can often be the highlight of the day and something to look forward to.
What really inspired me the most was a recent comment from Anna Lisa, who said that this isolation has made her feel protected in a way she has never felt before. Watching her country pull together in unity and take drastic measures quickly created a sense of teamwork and hope for the future. “We all understand that we are in this together and by following the rules we can get through this as fast as possible.” The great news is that Italy is finally seeing new cases of the virus decline in number.
The saying Andra tutto bene, translated “everything will be fine”, is everywhere. Children and families in every region of Italy are making these signs and hanging them inside their homes and outside on their balconies to keep one another encouraged, and it’s beautiful to witness. Over the past month we’ve seen frequent events where the entire country will gather on their balconies at a certain time to light a candle and sing, in honor of the healthcare workers and all of their efforts. More than 10,000 Italian citizens have lost their lives to this virus, many of which are part of the elder population in smaller northern Italy communities, yet there is still so much hope for the future and love for one another. The actions move me daily, and I am so grateful for their leadership in the world right now.
Anna Lisa left me a powerful message today that said…
While in isolation, if you don’t know where to put something, throw it away. Do the same with your thoughts.”
This is the goal for us all: Learn to be vulnerable and lean towards the unknown with curiosity and not judgement, and do whatever it takes to accept the fact that you can’t change the situation, you can only change your behaviors around it. The most important moment is “now”. Work on not resisting. Praise the present and know that letting go of the past will free you for a new tomorrow.