During our two daily walks with our four month old puppy, my partner and I are carefully observing “physical” distancing with each other, and with those we encounter on the trails. We prefer the phrase “physical” distancing over “social” distancing in our language-ing of this important health advisory. “Physical distancing” says exactly what it is we are attempting to do as we strive to flatten the curve of transmission of the virus in Canada: Follow the directive to maintain at least two metres distance between each other. “Social distancing” sounds fear based; as though we are not allowed to interact socially, or with the natural joy that comes with waking up alive, and healthy enough to be to walk outside on a beautiful spring day.
What I have begun to notice is there are two types of walkers on the trails who behave quite differently when we encounter them, and we have to find a way to pass each other. There are those who look suspicious, avoid eye contact, dramatically move off into the brush beside the paths, and carefully turn their backs to us as they stare off into the forest. Then there are those who meet our gaze, smile brightly with a “we’re all in this together” attitude, and either back up or indicate with voice or gesture for us to pass first, or accept our invitation to pass first with the required distance between us. “Enjoy your walk,” we call out to each other. We’re on this path together.
I find myself reflecting that these two types of walkers reflect two possible approaches to an historical event that affects us all.
Suspicion and fear are not helpful. The “suspicion and fear” approach convinces you of your righteous permission to hoard toilet paper, hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, and at some point, ventilators. This approach wrongly blames particular people in particular countries for the origin of the virus. This approach rejects the truth that we are all human, facing the same plague. This approach assumes a superior, ‘holier than thou’ perspective that feels petty, negative, stingy, fear based, and extremely unhealthy.
In my work, I do not take a Pollyanna approach, attempting to convince my clients that their fears, anxieties, negative feelings, phobias or deep sadness are unfounded. However, I do believe that our perspective can change our reality, so my clients and I work together to find moments of joy, peace, love, power, happiness, and freedom in their daily round. We work together toward understanding that both pain and joy; fear and love; lack and abundance; shadow and light can co-exist even if they cannot or do not always mix.
One way I help my clients alter their perception is to teach Mindfulness practices, with particular emphasis on establishing a daily Gratitude ritual. Research on the effects of gratitude on the brain is clear (1). My caveat is that the samples chosen for gratitude should be considered mindfully. That is, we always ask “Why am I grateful for this living being, place or activity?” Another mindful guide is to apply the five senses. What does the sample look, sound, smell, feel, or taste like? Notice that I do not encourage gratitude for “things”; rather I emphasize people, pets, places, or activities.
I invite you to consider whether or not you believe the virus called “fear” is worse than the virus we are all attempting to protect each other from. I ask you to claim some power in a time when you may be feeling powerless. Your attitude is your power. And it can truly change your day, if not your life.
Terry Folks is a Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapist, a Registered Clinical Counsellor with the British Columbia Association of Clinical Counsellors, and a Canadian Certified Counsellor with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She practices out of SpiritFirst Counselling in Comox. During COVID-19, she offers Telephone Counselling.