Recently, I was listening to Christina Aguilera’s Anywhere but here song, a haunting ballad about the depths of pain and suffering and the search for some brief escape – anywhere – to find hope. You can listen to Christina’s incredible voice here.
I was transported back to a childhood memory of my mum telling me about growing up in Nazi-occupied Paris.
When the Nazis first invaded Paris during World War II, thousands of French civilians fled the city and the northern regions of the country, in what became known as l’exode – the exodus. This mass relocation was to nowhere, as no destination really existed and no provision had been made for the hordes of Parisians that escaped to the countryside. For the vast majority of people, it was a case of anywhere but here.
Different country, different era, different context. Yet the pull towards running away, escaping anywhere but here, has been so strong for many over the last 18 months.
Today 14 million of us are in strict lockdown in Australia, with no sign of a clear, reliable end in sight. That’s tough. You may feel a strong sense of loss, in a practical sense. Perhaps business is down, you cannot physically connect to friends and family, if you have children, you may also be grieving the loss of their freedom and precious childhood experiences.
There can also be a more intangible sense of loss. Perhaps you’ve lost your motivation, your sense of direction or purpose. You may still have energy and you’re not depressed but somehow you’ve lost your sense of joy and purpose. With this sense of languishing (in the words of sociologist Corey Keyes), you may find a sense of loss of self and identity.
Who am I now if I am no longer the socialite, the leader in the room, the soccer mum, the busy professional, the energetic friend, the successful business owner?
Loss is painful and our mind tends to abhor pain. What we experience as a result is a desire to escape, to run away – anyway but here. And since a physical escape is presently not on the cards (though I know a few who’ve relocated in the last year), we then opt for a different kind of escape: the fridge, the bottle, the phone, the internet, the locked bathroom door (I’ve done that a few times – when my kids would not grant me a 10 minute me-time kids-free zone – it feels great and utterly pathetic at the same time!)
That’s normal. It’s ok for you to feel this way. Remember also that many people have genetic polymorphisms that make them feel loss and the pain that comes from it more acutely.
Here’s the thing
What if we could use this incredible experience of repeated cycles of lockdown and loss as a kickass training ground to grow our ability to be at peace with loss? What if we could experience loss, observe it, acknowledge it and yet somehow still want to stay in the painful moment to explore it and find meaning, and a new sense of connection to self as the one who is experiencing loss? How much more resilient, resourceful and adaptable would we all be when faced with loss in or out of lockdown? And what a precious gift we could give our children if we showed them how to deal with pain and loss with acceptance and compassion?
What to do when you feel like escaping
I have found that whenever I feel like escaping (whether it’s through a judgmental comment – yes, that is escape too as you’re losing your connection to your higher self when you let anger run the show; or overeating or staying up late to read my Facebook or LinkedIn feed) that’s precisely the time when I need to connect to that moment the most.
That is when I need to sit with the discomfort and feel it, acknowledge it and name it.
A while ago, Dr Heidi Heron – an awesome human, and fantastic researcher of human behaviour with a wicked sense of humour – shared with me a simple habit which I’ve since shared with many of my clients to help one connect to the moment, to self and to the world at large. I’d love to share this with you now.
All you need to do is simply place a reminder on your phone for 9:30 am and then every two hours after that until 7.30 pm AEST. Whether you’re in the middle of a meeting, shopping centre, having an argument with your spouse or teenage child, I invite and encourage you to hear the alarm, stop what you’re doing and take one deep, heart-focussed breath. The experience is amazing and it will help you to connect to yourself, to the moment and to the world at large.
I currently have over 100 clients doing this with me every day. In fact, if you’re a client, you’ve most probably experienced me inviting you to take a heart-focussed breath with me if we’ve been speaking when the alarm went off.
It turns out that, rightly or wrongly, my mum’s family did stay behind in Paris. They became active participants in the resistance and would hide Jewish people and allies in their cellar. They lived with fear every day and yet they carried on because life ‘anywhere but here’ was not what they signed up to.
Because if we run away we lose our right to have a say in how we want to live our life.
And the best antidote I know to the ‘anywhere but here’ mindset is the ‘right here, right now’ mantra.