The hero’s journey has been defined as a story template that consists of a hero going on a journey, learning a lesson, winning a victory, and being “transformed.”
For a full year now, we have all shared in a journey around a global pandemic. Life was interrupted around the world, for everyone, everywhere. Although at first it seemed almost inconceivable, it is an indisputable fact and our current, shared reality.
We are All COVID Heroes
Being a hero is not about comparing or competing around levels of heroism, learning, or transformation. Considering our daily challenges, I see each and every one of us as COVID heroes. We are each finding our way through this messiness, day after day, which is a sign of a true hero’s journey.
To commemorate one full year of heroism, I would like to acknowledge your amazing efforts, dear reader, and also share a few essential life lessons that I have learned along the way.
“Between Two Kingdoms”
Life can suck, big time! It can feel so harsh, ugly, and tragic. Yet at the same time, it can be beautiful, hopeful, and precious. This was reinforced for me in a magnificent memoir entitled Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad.
In her memoir, Suleika writes about her four-year battle to survive Leukemia and her subsequent journey to find her way back to “the realm of the well.”
The greatest lesson she learned from her journey with cancer is apparent in the title of her book, Between Two Kingdoms. Over time, Suleika came to understand that the divide between the sick and the well does not exist—the border is, in fact, porous.
Most of us spend much of our time stuck in extremes. For example, we may consider ourselves healthy and whole or unwell and broken. This kind of binary, black and white thinking never serves anyone well. It is the nuances in between that more accurately reflect our true existence.
There is Always a Spectrum
The global pandemic continues to reinforce this important message. Uncertainty can feel daunting and overwhelming but looming within it are moments of clarity and certainty. Within the never-ending loss we can find windows of joy and optimism.
Eventually, if we allow it, I believe that the boundary will also become more porous between the pre-COVID “old normal” and the post-COVID “new normal.” But for now, as we are living somewhere in between, it will serve us best not to define things in one way or the other, but rather to simply notice the different feelings that are arising within each new experience. This is the gift of mindfulness.
Your relationship with your mind is what is key. I believe we have all awakened to the fact that our mind can take us to the most empowering or disempowering places. Where we have choice, we do have some level of control.
Not only have I learned the power of the mind, but I have also been reminded daily of the comforting power of prayer and sacred ritual, the soothing power of self-compassion, kindness, and gratitude, and more recently, of the power of love (the unconditional love of a pet).
My eldest son got a cat in the summer and it changed his world. My daughter and her girlfriend recently got a new puppy and they, too, have been transformed. Last weekend when they brought her home, my husband and I and our youngest son went to visit and welcome “Pepper” into our family.
The only words to properly express time spent with our 8-week-old puppy, the newest addition to our family, are “pure love.” Holding her as she slept and gently petting her soft and silky fur, feeling her warmth and every breath she took was so gratifying and inherently soothing. It was also exhilarating to watch her play and run carefree in her new home. Pets have been proven to be our best friends. They love us unconditionally, and in most cases ask for little in return.
Become the REAL Hero of Your COVID Journey
During challenging times, we all have to find our own nurturing pathways towards love and joy. To navigate our way through difficult chapters we have to balance self-care and service. To become the real hero of our COVID journey, we have to be honest about our needs and choose ways to find the light within the darkness—the peace within the loss.
I could not have survived this past year without my family, daily podcasts, books, home-made lattes, and zoom workshop (giving and receiving). They say that more important than “survival of the fittest” is “survival of the nurtured.” We have to commit to self-care practices that nurture us. They can be as small as making time for a 5-minute daily meditation or as large as training a new pet.
The other day, I took “sadness” for a walk in the park. I held her hand and told her that I was there for her and that I would never abandon her. I reassured her that I would pay attention to her needs. I also reminded her that “joy” was feeling neglected and was also in need of my attention. Visualizations, soothing self-talk, and self-compassion breaks are all examples of very doable self-care practices.
Heroism is not about being selfless or sacrificing all of yourself for someone else. We become the REAL hero of our story when we prioritize our self-care and use mindfulness and compassion to maintain an open heart even in the midst of chaos. The sooner we understand and apply this, the sooner we will loosen the vice grip of this pandemic and find our way to personal and collective freedom.