We have all experienced “firsts” in our lifetime. As parents, many of us have chronicled our children’s firsts. We diarized occasions like their first smile, first tooth, first step, first birthday, first haircut, and the list goes on. A couple beginning to date honor their first kiss. A newly married couple honor the first anniversary of their wedding day. And so, firsts are very often associated with positive events.
They have also been used in more somber ways, most notably upon a person’s passing to refer to the first celebratory moments where that person will be missed, like the first Christmas or Mother’s Day without them.
Of recent, amidst this COVID-19 chapter, I’ve been thinking about a whole new category of firsts, those that (God willing) we will all be transitioning into over time as things begin to open up and the rules slowly loosen around self-isolation.
After several long months in quarantine, we will soon begin to experiment with reintegrating ourselves back into life—most likely a very different life. And although we have no idea exactly how and when this will unfold, we can nevertheless begin to think about some of the firsts that will apply to many if not most of us and start planning “mentally” for them.
Imagine the feeling of that…
- First time walking beside someone in public without having to social distance
- First hug, kiss, tender touch, handshake (mask and glove-free)
- First family dinner- ALL family members present at the table
- First meal dining out in a restaurant again with others
- First trip back to the hair salon for a haircut, hair color
- First manicure, pedicure, eyebrow wax
- First workshop delivered as speaker in person (zoom-free)
- First real day back at work with your co-workers and staff
- First trip back to the theatre to watch a movie or experience a live production
- First opportunity to pray together at your sacred place of worship
- First trip back to the supermarket, mall…to shop (amazon-free)
- First time going out not having to wear a mask or gloves (Purel-free)
- First concert, sports event, outdoor gathering
- First class attending in person (school, gym)
- First time meeting a friend for coffee
- First time dropping your children off at school
- First time taking an airplane
- First time a health care practitioner can be face-to-face with his/her patient
- And the list of firsts goes on and on…
Lost in the fantasy, for a moment, they feel almost wonderful. But very quickly that positive emotion dissolves and can get replaced by debilitating fear and anxiety around the possibility of contracting the virus. Every first becomes a test, a challenge, an exposure that will always seem to be accompanied by the thought: How will I find the courage to navigate my way through this? How can I do this and still feel safe?
We have a very clear vision around what life was like pre-COVID-19, but many of us have noidea of how to visualize a post-COVID world. This uncertainty is what is most debilitating. Our brains are not wired for uncertainty, but we are wired to create successful outcomes using specific proven practices.
It has been shown that when we break large things down into smaller pieces, they become more digestible and bearable. The above list can be overwhelming if we view it in its entirety. If, however, we choose to focus on one new challenge at a time, we can develop an approach that may help to ease us into some of the others.
Obviously, we have to create a hierarchy of exposures ranging from those that feel possible to those that feel impossible to help us determine which ones we want to tackle first, taking into consideration all societal rules and regulations. Then we have to build the mindset and the skillset that will support our action and help us to take that leap of faith.
According to neuroscience, we are able to build emotional muscle. Just as we are born with specific set-points around empathy, compassion, resilience, happiness and courage, with sufficient training we can recalibrate those set-points and rewire the brain.
Meditation is one practice that has been proven to change the brain and help recalibrate. Loving kindness meditation has been shown to increase compassion both towards our self and to others. We each have to determine the qualities within ourselves that we want and need to nurture before we can take that leap of faith and step into what will be our new firsts.
Curiosity has been referred to as our superpower. In this most vulnerable time, we will need to get curious about how to uncover our bravery and courage, how to find blind faith and a resilient spirit, and how to boldly step into the unknown.
“Trusting in the uncertainty” is a spiritual phrase I often used but never fully experienced until now. What this means is being with that which is not certain, and we cannot control, and letting go of any attachment to outcome. It means doing our best to make good decisions and at the same time trusting that things will unfold as they must. A tricky concept no doubt.
I encourage you to think about what your first “first” will be and really prepare yourself mentally, prime your brain ahead of time as best you can. And when the time comes for you to take the challenge and step into it, know that although you may be scared at first, you can still do it! The real definition of courage is feeling the fear but challenging yourself anyhow.
Remember, we can do hard things!
We will have successes and failures and we will learn as we go as this is, after all, our first GLOBAL EXPERIMENT. Let’s use this new laboratory of life to try and make a positive difference in our own life and in the lives of others. My prayer for everyone is that we may move into this new chapter, this transitional experimental stage with faith, courage, compassion, and anticipatory curiosity.