Stepping into a Different River

Amid the growing restlessness of being apart from loved ones, friends, business colleagues and people in general, we are faced with changing how we do things. Many businesses are altering the way they interface with clients, teachers with students, families, and friends with socializing. Given the propensity of human nature, we love the status quo. Human beings don’t take to change lightly, an unfortunate part of our nature because everything is always changing around us.

One thing is true – change is constant. Everything else is up for debate. As the Covid19 crisis wears on, I am finding myself less enthusiastic about keeping projects going. When we first were given shelter-in-place orders, we jumped into a new reality and started looking for things around our environment that needed attention. This was a great time to move forward on that marketing plan, deep clean the house, get caught up on reading, watch that Netflix program season or 1 or 3 or 7. And for a while, it seemed like things were getting done. Now I’m not so sure. It is like a vacation that lasted a few days too long. We are getting restless for something to change again, go back to the way it was, to have the freedom to go and do. And yet…

Well, here is something to think about.

The human biological system is designed to adapt – the nervous system and even our DNA adapts to environmental signals. Although things seem the same, our system is adjusting to micro-changes in the environment. Those patterns of behavior will often keep running after the environmental change has tilted beyond the behavior’s usefulness. 

We develop patterns of behavior that are run by scripts, tapes embedded in the background of our consciousness to help us make sense of the world and to survive.

Then a gigantic pattern interrupt happens, a World War, an assassination, an election upset, a virus that is reported to have taken over the world. The biological need to adapt triggers us into new patterns.

In the beginning, it is all so new. It is like being in love. When we are in love, we pay attention to everything. We begin living a conscious life. We check out our behaviors, we put our best foot forward. We have the energy for new things. Before we would leave work and nest in our living rooms in front of the TV. Now, in love, we have the energy to go meet someone for a drink, a movie, a dinner after work, the honeymoon period. Even being in love begins to wear off and we go back to the tapes in the background. It takes less energy. They are programs that have helped us survive.

And so, we find ourselves near the end of the honeymoon period of our social distancing. We cannot go back and we cannot go forward so we find ourselves treading water. There is nothing we want to watch on TV, we don’t want to start any new projects and the present ones get slow attention. We sleep longer and pay less attention to the things that matter. We’re frustrated at not being able to do the things we used to do. The glow of the new experience is wearing off. It is almost like we start experiencing grief for our old life, which is gone.

Which brings me to the title of my article. Stepping into a Different River. The old life is gone, like never being able to step into the same river twice. “The same actions that you (or someone else) take may not lead to the same results when repeated. The reason is that circumstances change, often in ways, you cannot detect or know.”

Many times, when we go through a Significant Emotional Event, we wake up. We experience new things, we have to live consciously, we have to rewrite the scripts. Very much like Frodo and the Hobbits in LOTR. After the year they spent on the adventure to save the Shire (which included saving Middle Earth), they found they had little in common with the life they left. In the movies, Frodo, says, ”How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back?”

There is no going back. We have to move forward. It is the only way. The river we are stepping into is different and I fervently hope is better. A world that cares a little more for everyone regardless of politics, nationality, religion, lifestyle, etc. And a world that has more respect and boundaries – you cannot have one without the other.

Regardless of our inclination to rest, do something. Even if it isn’t our best effort, the effort we make keeps us moving forward. In other words, don’t give in to the apathy that is seeping into behavior. As our energy starts to wane as the newness wears off, moving is the best defense. Everything is changing and we might as well honor our biological inclination to adapt. We will be a lot happier for it.