How Can We Stay Hopeful When Life is Overwhelming?

I recently watched Sir David Attenborough’s latest documentary The Year the Earth Changed (Apple TV+), which describes how the earth and her creatures had a year of renewal while we humans stayed home during COVID lockdowns. The poignant stories of Earth’s restoration were both uplifting and depressing. Mother whales were able to communicate with calves at 3 times the distance due to the lack of cruise and shipping traffic. Turtles and penguins experienced more successful mating seasons, and the cougars had greater success without hordes of safari onlookers. I loved the natural resurgence, but kept thinking about how we humans will return to our malignant ways as COVID recedes.

I was in tears, feeling helpless in the face of earth’s rampant destruction, in the cruelty of humanity and the carelessness which we strike her and each other down. To be a sensitive soul necessitates taking periodic timeouts for emotional overwhelm and last week was one of those weeks.

First remember, what the world needs is for you to be you

“It’s not possible to save the world by trying to save it. You need to find what is genuinely yours to offer the world before you can make it a better place. Discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is your greatest opportunity and challenge. The offering of that gift — your true self — is the most you can do to love and serve the world. And it is all the world needs.”

Bill Plotkin – Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche

The author of the book I recently read, Soulcraft, has found his art in taking groups of people on vision quests, giving them a cocoon to wrap themselves in as they fast and trek into the wilderness to await spiritual revelation as to their soul’s true purpose. He believes it’s necessary to create true isolation for period of time in order for the ego mask to wear down enough for one’s inner wisdom to shine through. The key to many soul-restoring practices involves time to yourself to let the BS fall away.

Second, take some timeouts

I’ve started to use some tools to give myself space from the news cycle and internet and social media addictions to do more reading and journaling, gardening and tennis.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The internet, as its proponents rightly remind us, makes for variety and convenience; it does not force anything upon you. Only it turns out it doesn’t feel like that at all. We don’t feel as if we had freely chosen our online practices. We feel instead that they are habits we have helplessly picked up or that history has enforced, that we are not distributing our attention as we intend or even like to.

Nicholas Carr – The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains
  1. Turn off all but essential notifications including email and instant messaging. Notifications distract your attention away from what you are doing, engaging with loved ones and living your RL life fully.
  2. Newsfeed Eradicator plugin eliminates the newsfeed from sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Reddit so that you don’t get sucked in and waste hours. Not only could you be spending your time productively or restoratively, you also don’t need that lonely FOMO feeling – to be informed of all your friends’ plans that didn’t include you.
  3. Screen Time Restrictions on your phone are not just for kids. Give yourself a time limit for the apps that you notice you feel worse after using or that you feel you spend too much time with. For me, I include all social media and news apps in this restricted category. Set time limits also on when you allow yourself to use the phone. Mine are between 7am and 10:30pm with exceptions for my meditation apps.
  4. Challenge yourself to stop multitasking. The book The Shallows talks about how the combination of modern user interfaces, gamification, and even the presence of links on webpages vs. reading a printed book all impact our brain’s ability to focus and retain information. These have a cumulative effect of training our brain to be more and more distractible and flighty.

Third, you can practice some soul work and “get-to-do” lists

My coaching practice and women’s circles help people incorporate more soul and restorative work into their lives as an important way to help them develop true clarity on their gifts and passions. Whether you are spiritual or not, spending time in renewing and reflective activities helps still mental chatter and clear a space for you to have clarity on what fulfills you.

  1. Nature Walks
  2. Rituals are simply things you intentionally do for yourself that have deep meaning. You can learn about different rituals in my favorite Moon App, Moon Calendar or in Don Jose Ruiz’s book, The Medicine Bag: Shamanic Rituals & Ceremonies for Personal Transformation or in any number of other books.
  3. Meditation (consider a meditation app to get started such as Insight Timer or Waking Up)
  4. Journaling Some people don’t find meditation to work for them but they do enjoy writing to get out thoughts. I like to do both, meditation and then journaling.
  5. Get-to-do lists are things you would do if you were to take yourself on a date. Make sure you are prioritizing these things and your hobbies.

Some of these practices can be fit in to your “self-care” get-to-do list and others are best done as regular daily habits. What I find crucial it to start with one small commitment to yourself and then slowly build on these commitments. As you learn to trust yourself your intuition and wisdom will grow, along with your certainty in your path.

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