Finding The Energy To Change

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone, and it’s not over yet.  How are we all managing to get through it?  One of my coping strategies has been to focus on the potential in change, even negative change.  As Benjamin Franklin said, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.”

What good could come from a pandemic?  Is it possible that we could become better people?  The answer is yes.  Spiritual teachers tell us that the human race could actually evolve as a result of this global adversity.

We Really Are in This Together
In April of 2020, when people in many countries were living in lockdown, I took an online course called “Riding the Phoenix” with spiritual teacher Caroline Myss.  I was looking for ways to wrap my mind around this epic event that had literally stopped the world.  The simple act of logging in at a designated time each week and listening to Myss lecture was therapeutic, as was the knowledge that over 1,000 other people around the world were doing the very same thing.

Myss offered some basic spiritual principles that have sustained me over the past year:

(1)  There are two levels of existence – the physical plane, where we live in bodies that move through time and space, and the energetic plane, which is the creative force that animates these bodies and the current that connects us all.  Beyond our bodies, which are temporary and ever-changing, we are one Spirit.  The collective experience of a global pandemic is giving us the unique opportunity to recognize our oneness.

(2)  Our evolution as human beings depends on our becoming conscious of energy: when it rises and falls, how it affects our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, how we are affected by others’ energy, and how others are affected by ours.

With this awareness comes the responsibility to assess ourselves continuously and to manage our energy:  What are we doing or thinking that is draining us?  What can we do to bring more energy in?  How can we use our energy to reanimate others?

As Myss sees it, our spiritual journey in life involves learning to tune into energetic forces and use them to empower ourselves and others for the betterment of humankind.

(3)  One way to manage our energy on a daily basis is to keep our consciousness in the present moment. Negative thoughts and memories of the past, as well as fears and anxieties about the future, will drain us and make us feel weak and powerless, which indeed we are in the sense that we have no control over the past or future – only what we are thinking and doing in the present.

Myss uses the popular image of the phoenix, a long-lived bird from Greek mythology who emerges from the ashes of its predecessor, as a symbol of death and renewal.

She invites us to consider this:  When the pandemic is over, what will rise from the ashes?  How will we use the consciousness we have gained to improve ourselves and the world?

Languish or Flourish?
Recently, the New York Times has been publishing stories about the long-term psychological effects of the pandemic.  I interpret these stories in terms of energy.

For example, in an April 2021 article, psychologist Adam Grant explains that a great many people are feeling an overall lack of well-being that is not depression (low energy) or burnout (energy totally spent) but something in-between – an inability to focus and a feeling of aimlessness (not knowing what to do with our energy or wasting it on trivial pursuits, such as binge-watching TV).  He calls this “languishing.” It is the “sense of stagnation and emptiness” which makes us feel as if we are muddling through the days, “looking at life through a foggy windshield” (“There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling:  It’s Called Languishing”).

Following Grant, journalist Dani Blum published an article on “flourishing,” which is the opposite of languishing.  It is an overall sense of physical, mental, and emotional fitness, when we have a “strong sense of meaning, mastering and mattering to others” (“The Other Side of Languishing is Flourishing. Here’s How to Get There,” May 2021).

This is a high level of human functioning, and many people never reach it.  Those who do, find that it ebbs and flows.  The long journey of life is a bumpy ride, and none of us can flourish all the time.  But we can work to develop thought processes and practices that put us on the path to well-being and help to redirect us when we lose our way.

Blum references studies from the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science that explain how to promote flourishing.  Researchers recommend the following:

(1)  Cognitive exercises, such as keeping a daily or weekly gratitude journal; learning to appreciate and savor the positive aspects of our lives, however large or small; and imagining our best self in the future, living a better, more fulfilling life.

(2)  Behavioral changes, such as identifying our character strengths and finding new ways to use them; committing one day a week to performing random acts of kindness; and volunteering on a regular basis for an activity, cause or organization that we believe in.

Researchers have found that volunteering is, in a larger sense, “a commitment to repeated acts of kindness, generally directed to an important goal of improving the life of a community.”

One researcher concluded that “a universal prescription of two hours per week of volunteering could have enormous effects on improving population health and general well-being.”

So Far, I’m Doing OK
Following Blum’s article, the NY Times provided a link to a short quiz developed by the Harvard researchers to determine levels of flourishing.  I took the quiz and scored 74 out of 100.  This is not a great score (my well-being has declined in some areas during the pandemic, such as my relationships with a few friends and family members), but it still falls in the category of flourishing.

How can this be?  As it turns out, much of what I have been doing over the last year is what Harvard researchers recommend.  Thanks to what I have learned from Myss and other spiritual teachers, I already knew how important it was to keep writing in my gratitude journal and focusing on the many good things still in my life.  I also continued to follow my interests as a researcher and writer to explore topics that inspire me and (hopefully) others.

In addition, I increased the time I spent volunteering each week, and I read books and articles about people who have endured hard times in the past:  the 1918 flu epidemic, the Great Depression in Appalachia, the Blitz in London during WWII, the Holocaust.

I did not find this reading depressing.  Instead, it gave me a much broader lens through which to view my own small troubles and reassured me that, regardless of what befalls us, humans are resilient, and life goes on.  We can use our adversities to flourish in the future, or we can lose our energy to the internal and external forces that deplete us.

How about you?  Are you doing OK?  If not, where are you losing energy, and what can you do about it?  What will arise for you out of the ashes of the pandemic?

Written by: Ruth Ray Karpen

Ruth Ray Karpen is a retired English professor who now works as a freelance researcher and writer. She has published many books and articles on aging and old age, life story writing, and retirement. She also volunteers her time at a local hospice and animal shelter. In our series on Heart and Soul, she explores how later life, including the end of life, offers unique opportunities for emotional and spiritual growth.