The third of a series of four blogs by Creative Coach Auriel Majumdar exploring the impact of Coronavirus.
Written in real time over April and May 2020 they look at how the new reality is affecting us as individuals and those around us. Each blog also gives tried and tested practical strategies that help us navigate the way forward.
It’s the first week in May and I’ve just been for my daily state-mandated walk. These are the times I’ve enjoyed the most during lockdown – being able to go outside and appreciate nature as Spring arrived has really helped me through some of the dark moments of the pandemic. Today though, something was different. With a sense of disappointment, I realised that instead of being able to hear birdsong with crystal clarity, I could hear the distant hum of the city, something I’ve not been aware of for the last seven weeks. I noticed more traffic, more human activity and I realised that we are on the brink of stepping into whatever comes next.
Like most people I’m somewhat anxious about lockdown easing and I wonder how it will be to go back to work, to travel on public transport and to mix socially again. The phrase ‘the new normal’ has well and truly entered our pandemic vocabulary but in this third blog in the series, I’d like to take a moment to think about the best that this new normality could be.
The Neutral Zone
In my first blog I looked at William Bridges' concept of the Neutral Zone, that place between the old ways of doing things and the new beginnings. The Neutral Zone has two phases – the first is where we let go of the old and process what it means to let go of things as they were. Six weeks ago, I was definitely in this space, trying to adjust to my world shrinking to me and my laptop, grappling with reduced income and being separated from my beloveds.
The second phase of the Neutral Zone is thankfully more positive. The further we move away from the old ways, the ‘before’ times, the more we can anticipate what Bridges calls New Beginnings. As the name suggests, this is a time for new understandings, new values and attitudes. Often the start of something new can unlock a release of energy in a new direction, it can be an expression of a fresh identity. So how can we move beyond lockdown without fear but in a way that helps us to understand our purpose and establish new ways of being if we want to?
We have learned so much in lockdown, how can we shape the new normal in a way that doesn’t lose this so we feel reoriented and renewed?
In Gestalt coaching there is a concept of the Fertile Void which is like the Neutral Zone in that it is a place without certainty. These liminal in-between spaces are not just places of grief and loss but also places of creative possibility where we use our own ‘data’ to make new choices. Making the most of this space needs us to bring our creative selves into play. How would we like to re-write our lives knowing what we know now from our lockdown experiences?
To use my own life as an example, I’ve had to confront the reality that I’ve spent most of my adult life using chronic overworking as a coping strategy. Filling my diary full of work has meant that I’ve never really sat down and considered what’s important to me in more than a superficial way. Over the last six weeks, work has slowed down of course and so have I. Remarkably nothing bad happened. I have fewer meetings but they count for more. Finding some stillness in my own life has meant that I can be even more present for my coaching clients. My work is better and more rewarding because I’ve been able to stop and appreciate it. Like hearing birdsong when there’s no traffic, now I can hear myself over the noise of my own busy-ness. It will take some discipline but I’m never going back to the old ways.
Self-reflection is the key. Taking some time out to ask ourselves some simple questions about what we’ve learned in lockdown - what worked, what didn’t work, what shall I do next time? I like the Driscoll Model of Reflection for its simplicity. In this model you ask yourself three simple questions:
- So What?
- Now What?
The ‘Now What’ question is arguably the most important. Landing your reflections in action is what safeguards against the spiral of overthinking that a lot of us are susceptible to. It’s the ‘now what’ that will help you decide the things you’ve done during the pandemic that you definitely want to keep doing. Try not to be unduly harsh in your thinking but instead ask yourself ‘what’s the best I can learn here and what use do I want to put that to?’ Treat yourself kindly and if that is difficult ask a trusted friend to help you stay objective.
As with all creative practices, try little and often first. Five minutes at the end of the day is way better than setting aside an hour and then finding you can’t commit to the time. Linking reflection to other activities like walking or your bedtime routine will make it something regular and achievable. Use whatever methods suit you best – writing, drawing, Pinterest, music are all valid. Start small and hold it lightly and before you know it you will have developed a reflective practice that works for you.
Learning from experience needs us to pay attention, to make still points in our own lives to we can hear what our experience is telling us. This is truer now than ever. Over the last six weeks I have seen some glorious human behaviour and I have achieved things in my own life that I wouldn’t have thought I was capable of. I believe passionately that we are capable of re-shaping a New Beginning that doesn’t lose these achievements. In this belief, I take heart from the beautiful words of the Bengali poet Arundhati Roy
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Aurel Majumdar, Creative Coach