Saturated with loss
Saturated with loss ~ Dr. Chris Johnson
We’ve been saturated with loss. . . for a long time. While loss is as much a part of our human condition as the deep connections we feel with loved ones, the expanse of loss over the past few years, well, has tried our patience and even our character.
We just hit a stunning one million lives lost to covid: sick patients, nurses and docs, front line health care workers, actors and musicians, public servants too. The loss made all the more poignant as the virus and treatments became politicized, polarized, poisonous.
A ripple effect of this loss extends out to those who remain, families, communities and workplaces all reveal lives upended, careers and professional identities unrecognizable, gone.
The loss of George Floyd two years ago still reverberates across communities, a clarion call for justice.
Climate events from wildfires in California and Texas and Florida have burned and scorched over 1.5 million acres this year alone to sea levels along coastal cities that ravaged communities with flooding and are expected to rise 10-12 inches in the next 30 years.
Senseless gun violence across the country, including Uvalde, Texas, Buffalo, New York, and others in the week since, enacted by lost, angry young men who come from families too.
Add to all this the rending of the shared fabric of our civic lives, something we’d once leaned into as common ground, to a place where voicing concerns and a point of view provoke anxiety, anger and more loss.
And then, of course, there’s the ongoing war in Ukraine.
My heart breaks each night as I watch at the news in disbelief and horror.
What’s on my mind
Honestly, I’ve been struggling lately. Oh, it’s not that there aren’t positive experiences to share – it’s a sunny spring day in Chicago that smells of new possibilities, the fascinating research about how our brains triage our emotions while we sleep, or that we enjoyed a few days of respite over the Memorial Day weekend.
But all of that, interesting as it may be, isn’t really what’s on my mind.
What’s been on my mind is that we’ve collectively lost reference points for our lives, what might’ve constituted some sort of ‘normal.’
With heaps of loss on top of loss, we’ve tightened up, our collective breath now shallower, our vision of what’s possible narrower.
Writing teacher and author, Natalie Goldberg, encourages writers to “be willing to be split open,” to write about what disturbs, and what provokes because it’s there that one can plumb the depths of their own experience, and dare to speak of those places of darkness, loss, outrage, helplessness.
Yet, who wants to go there? Really?
Yes, more of that – it’s where the juice of being alive lives.
Some part of me can get easily sucked into a tendency to blame someone, somewhere, for all the chaos and tragedy and loss. It seems to be how we’re wired. Yet when I succumb to blaming, all it does is just zap my energy and leaves me feeling more helpless and bad.
Perhaps the biggest struggle I’ve noticed in myself this past month is a listlessness. I vacillate between my desire to be an informed citizen, connected to current events, and being really tired of it all.
And it’s not just me, I know.
Our prolonged, collective exhaustion has deepened into a shared state of burnout—that slippery slope of being so spent of energy that we become disillusioned, even cynical about life.
We’d love to find a bit of certainty in the chaos – even though it’s long been clear that certainty isn’t possible.
When it comes down to it, our sense of how we knew ourselves BC (before covid) has shifted, and now we’re fussing to regain our footing, to re-establish our sense of ourselves.
“Growth comes at the point of resistance. We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities.”The Art of Learning – John Waitzkin
Instead of blaming or wishing it were all different than it is, we can transform the impact of the losses by noting that even during tragedy and helplessness, we do indeed have a deep capacity for hope, even fearlessness.
These past two years have given us a run, but we can find what lies at the outer reaches of our ability to be hopeful by being willing to practice a pause, choosing to note, to sense into, the extraordinariness of each moment we’re in.
I feel more hopeful when I remember, with a smidge of awe, that everything is ordinary and extraordinary. It’s my mind that determines – by choosing to be either open or closed – how I see what’s in front of me.
What is hope if not some unexpected ease awaiting around the corner, refreshing like the luscious smell of baking bread that wafted my way on my morning walk past the neighborhood bakery. Or, back from my walk, as I reach the door when I note a shaft of light spotlighting the bright purple irises in my garden this morning.
Of course, it’s sometimes even something not so great, like waking up and realizing I’d forgotten to drop the check off or mail the birthday card. Yet that, too – such an ordinary event – reminds me of my humanness, my limits and strangely grounds me too.
Learning to Stay
Beloved Pema Chödrön, Buddhist nun and bestselling author, teaches that, “The source of our unease is the unfillable longing for a lasting certainty and security, for something solid to hold onto.”
It’s very human to want something certain, knowable, solid to hang onto.
Yet, there is no life raft to spare us from reality. There is, however, a practice; Pema speaks of this as ‘learning to stay.’ Staying is a skill we can develop and practice to increase our ability to work with ourselves in moments we’d rather not look at, at all.
It’s simple, really, though not easy, this ‘learning to stay.’ Take a few minutes to read through the steps and consider using them the rest of the week as an experiment.
- Acknowledge a situation where you’re stuck or triggered by trauma or loss. To be human is to be triggered.
- As you reflect on this situation, pause to notice your breathing. Note the quality of your breath – is it short, jagged, even or smooth? Fully feel the energy of your experience.
- Get curious about your sensing self by dropping into every one of your senses: taste, smell, sight, hearing, touch, and your inner, or interoceptive sense too.
- Notice what thoughts arise? In other words, how you’re talking to yourself.
- Ditto with feelings.
- Stay with your experience, noticing any itch to move away from it. Feel your energy, noting its ebb and flow. Be with it, embrace this experience fully (it doesn’t matter if you like it or not, as it’s already occurring in the present moment).
- Lastly, choose to release your experience, letting go of any tension with your next exhalation (your stuckness, discomfort, thoughts).
When confronted with loss, instead of looking for someone to blame, or becoming engulfed and overwhelmed or numb, or turning away in hopes of distracting – all of which come at the cost of our energy – remember that you can practice ‘staying’ in order to work your edges, so you can continue to feel the tender, sometimes charged, energy of feeling alive – even in the midst of loss.
So yes . . . and a bit of awe
Yes, you’re tired. Me too. Yet it’s important to note that we’re more than our fatigue, our exhaustion.
Not long ago a client told me about some of our earlier, years-ago, work together. ‘What you did for me then, back when I was on the edge, was hold the hope for me when I couldn’t do it myself.’
How could I possibly have done that for her, I wondered?
Then I realized that it was because I could stay with her painful experiences yet see her in her precious beauty, her ordinary struggles, her extraordinary pull towards life even in her own deep experience of loss and disorientation.
So yes, I’m tired, but I’m way more than that and so are you.
Isn’t the hope we’re looking for about paying attention to the ‘more’ a skosh more often? By asking yourself ‘and what else (AWE),’ we can keep our minds and hearts open to life.
What might this look like?
Yes, you’re a tired, successful, stressed-out Vice President, but you also love the after-dinner walks with your partner around the neighborhood too.
Yes, you’re an exhausted, over-extended Director, but you love your late-night chips and salsa as you wind down the day.
Yes, you’re tired. And, there’s always another perspective, a more inclusive view of who you are amidst the loss of the world.
Dr. Chris Johnson is the founder of Q4 Consulting where she partners with individuals and organizations to design and implement training programs that access intuition, surface internalized patterns and mind-sets, and address the road-blocks inherent in change. She is also a IZL Alumni and FEBI Certified Coach.
Her new book, The Leadership Pause: Sharpen Your Attention, Deepen Your Presence and Navigate the Future is available for Pre-order on Amazon.
If you’d like to make your difference consider joining her launch team too!
IZL Staff changes
All good things must come to an end, and so it is that after nearly 3 years as Program & Operations Manager, Bill Kingsbury has left IZL for an Academic Staff position at the UW Madison. He started work in the CAVIDS Testing Lab 3 years to the day after he started at IZL. We wish him all the best in this new chapter.
In Bill’s place, we have hired 3 amazing people to take on his responsibilities. Allow them to introduce themselves in their own words.
Stephanie Yanis has always had a passion for nonprofit work. She started her own volunteer organization back in 2010 when she was 23 years old. Through her organization, she has helped thousands of cats and continues to do so today. In searching for a career, she knew she wanted to do something with purpose, so when she saw the IZL job posting, she knew she had to apply.
Stephanie has a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice/Psychology with a specialty in Forensic Criminology. Although her career is not in that field, her goal has always been to make a positive difference, and she is able to do just that through IZL and her own organization. As Office Manager, she keeps the organization running smoothly by handling the billing, onboarding, nonprofit paperwork, and anything else needed to ensure IZL’s important work can continue without interruption. She also assists our sister organization, Chosei Zen.
When Stephanie isn’t managing IZL or rescuing cats, you can find her listening to music, playing piano, attending concerts, or spending time with her husband and cats.
Justine Kapitzke loves to get lost. Lost in a book, lost in the woods, lost in a project, lost in wonder. She is seeking to understand what it means to occupy space in this world. Her current “how” is studying Chosei Zen. She practices zazen and kendo at Daikozen-ji in Madison, Wisconsin. In her practice, she has found a structure which allows her to dive deeper, challenge herself, and build resiliency. When not working or studying, she is probably rollerblading, gardening, cooking for friends, or annoying her husband and cats.
As the Digital Marketing Strategist for IZL and Chosei Zen, she hopes to harness the digital space to help more people discover the transformative powers of IZL and Chosei Zen. She is excited to connect with new and existing audiences through social media, blogs, and newsletters.
Ina Kielley is IZL’s newest Program and Community Manager. She’s delighted to be working with all of you, and to getting to know as many of you as she can in the coming months.
She is stationed in Milwaukee, where she grew up as a kid with her older brother. Her folks were born in Latvia and came to the US as teenagers. She’s married now, with 2 daughters, Serena, 16, and Lorelei, 14, living close to Washington Park, the site of Milwaukee’s first zoo 100 years ago.
She’s been fortunate enough to do a variety of jobs in life, including working in development and administration in arts organizations in Milwaukee, and as a sports massage therapist for over 15 years. She’s also an artist, practicing mostly in textile design and watercolor.
At the core of everything she’s done, has been a desire to see other human beings lifted to a higher level physically, spiritually, and mentally, through experiences, practices, and healing modalities.
Some of her current fascinations and interests include plant based cooking, body language and behavioral profiling, true crime, the art of finding true joy, and, of course, meditation.
She’s incredibly excited to be part of this organization. She welcomes any and all questions and conversations from all of you. She’s honored to move forward with you in continuing to build a thriving IZL community!
Becoming the future we want
Years ago, I was getting ready to open a dojo—a training place for Zen and Aikido. The date for our grand opening was fixed on the calendar and my beloved Aikido teacher, Toyoda Shihan, was coming to town to help us grandly open the place with a seminar. But our construction efforts were not fixed on the calendar and we were behind schedule. With only a few days to go, I was on hands and knees in my own amateurish way, laying out the hardwood floor for our entry foyer. This was going to take a while. Through the front door walked a stranger … read more
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