When Grace Springs
‘My heart was split, a flower appeared… and grace sprang up’
The Song of Solomon
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, we are now in Spring. Out of the dark night of winter comes the promise of rebirth with many festivals celebrating life and hope. But we’ve had two long years of winter…the last two Spring Equinoxes were strict lockdowns in the UK… and, just as we thought we were finally emerging into a happy Spring, Europe was hit by war.
The people of Ukraine are bravely facing an unimaginable struggle. 3.6 million have become refugees and a further 6.5 million have been displaced. Against that backdrop of suffering, our own psychological wellbeing seems to pale in comparison. For those of us not directly affected, it’s tempting to put self-care on hold while we fix our eyes on the horror unfolding on our screens.
We watch the reports coming from Ukraine, we do what we can to help, but ultimately there is a general feeling of helplessness, manifested varyingly in anger, anxiety or depression. Following on so closely to the pandemic, with no respite to lift our heads and breathe, many are stuck in a ‘ruminative thinking’ loop, repetitively fixating on problems or feelings of distress and feeling out of control with no sense of how they can create positive change. It’s hard to see any purpose in introspection at desperate times like these because frankly, who cares?
Me. I do. While war rages on, I argue that it’s incumbent on each of us to examine and nurture ourselves more than ever if only for one reason: to keep us operating from a place of hope rather than fear.
So how do we move forward? My constant advice now is: ‘Up your self-care to keep rebalancing your inner equilibrium.’ This is crucial for our physical and psychological well-being. It is also how we can best serve: the more we dig deep and come from a rooted, core stability, the more we can be of help in such times. Important for everyone, but crucial for leaders and anyone responsible for the welfare of others.
Here’s what I’m doing to up my self-care: meaningful connecting and fun with my loved ones; absorption of the Arts…soul food for me; creating moments of stillness including deep meditation practice; lots of exercise, including Pilates and yoga; healthy nutrition; restorative sleep. And I am also connecting to Nature, reminding myself that we are indeed in the seasonal cycle of Spring: birdsong is becoming more insistent and joyful as the birds call in their mates!
I am also surrounding myself with authentically positive people and I am very mindful of protecting myself from people who find it perversely comforting to wallow and complain how awful everything is. There is a difference between helping people who are temporarily struggling with ruminative thinking, depression, etc and those who are stubbornly stuck with no real desire to take personal responsibility to change. Those who wish to change seek help: see our recent article Know Thyself: our fascination with the psyche.
And I am vigilant about not hooking into fear. Fear feeds from fear and it leaves us, rabbit-like, frozen in the headlights, reinforcing our powerlessness. Conversely, if we consciously make a psychological gearshift into a positive mindset and energy, we are giving ourselves the best chance to respond and influence accordingly.
One of my clients, the Founder/CEO of a remarkable company, was talking through these horrendous weeks of March: he had many pressing decisions to make to protect his people, including some of his employees in Ukraine, and he was shaken and exhausted. This extraordinary man has relentlessly and successfully navigated his people and company through the pandemic to impressively higher ground. And now, just as he thought they were all safe, the world turned upside down again. As we were talking, he suddenly dropped his head in his hands and said in sheer despair: ‘I’m at a loss what to do!’
Look at The Transformational Curve above. In that moment of anguish, my client was at the ‘Point of Despair’: at a loss what to do for his people and feeling utterly overwhelmed by the horror of what was happening. This is the point of surrender, and it is always accompanied by feelings of shame and vulnerability, particularly for those of us who are ‘fixers’, brilliant at solving problems for others and ourselves. There is nothing we cannot handle and to get to this point of not knowing what to DO is terrifying.
And yet, it is precisely at this point of despair that hope/grace springs in. On our knees, our ego pummelled, and our mind confused that everything we used to know and do is no longer working, we are finally open to the possibility that maybe we don’t know best, that maybe we can’t fix everything on our own and maybe, just maybe, there might be a different way of ‘being’ and ‘doing’.
I gently said to my client: ‘Stay in this place of not knowing.’ He looked at me, paused…and let go of the forced ‘fixing’. And this is when true transformational change begins to happen. In this point of not knowing best, not jumping to fix everything, we are in what is psychologically called the ‘futile void’. It is a very scary place, the unknown with no certainty or guarantee of outcome. It is why we keep pulling back from this place, why we keep spinning in the ‘busy fool syndrome’, filling it with noise, anything not to stay in our stillness and face the unknown. And yet, two years ago we were thrown into a global futile void. For so many, it was the first time they were not automatically able to fill the void with noise.
Ironically, this is not a de-void place. It is deep and full. It is the container of feelings, deep buried feelings and beneath that, something even richer. For if we allow ourselves to feel the fullness of this futile-void space, we are then able to move forwards into one of my favourite places: the fertile void. This is where true creativity and rich experiencing happens. It is the field that, having been allowed to stay fallow for a season replenishing its nutrients in the futile void, is now ready for growth. This is the place of hope and rebirth, where, like my client, we begin to embrace the wisdom of trusting the pregnant pause and finally begin to make good, authentic choices and decisions.
We cannot control external events, but we can create this pause, the space between, which gives us choice in how we react. We can also control what is going to bring us inner strength and equilibrium. And from this springboard we can stretch that pause and think… helicopter vision/big picture thinking… to consider the best way forwards. It is these two qualities of inner stability and the ability to think creatively out of a seeming impasse, that inspires great trust, loyalty, and followership. As is the case with my client and his people. These are fearful times, yes, but this is also the moment when hope…and grace…spring from the darkness.
Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood