Recently I have found myself feeling like a bored child in the back of a car on an unknown, never ending journey. There is a whine in my voice as I ask, "are we nearly there yet?" I ask this of myself, my husband, the news, the government, even strangers in the street! The pandemic we are all experiencing feels like the inside of a stuffy car, on an endless road, taking me on a journey that I cannot calculate or fathom.
But this feeling is not specific to the pandemic, oh no, there have been many times in my life where I have not enjoyed the journey. All I am concerned with is the destination. If a journey is uncomfortable, I focus my mind on getting to the end of it as quickly as possible. But this proves to be futile. With my sights fixed only on the destination I have often found myself living in the gap of what was and what will be. 'Limbo land', or 'when and if valley’. "When Covid is over, I can relax", or "if I make it through the week to the weekend, I'll be OK" or "when I have achieved this goal, I will feel good enough" or "if I please everyone, I'll be accepted and feel that I belong".
Living in this gap is not being fully present, nor is it fully living, it is being in a perpetual waiting room, going nowhere and just existing. Whereas the reality is the journey is all we have, so it's best to get on with living.
Looking ahead and needing to know what comes next is part of my default safety mechanism, it is a form of control, and becomes a way of escaping an uncomfortable situation. Planning and having something to look forward to is not a bad thing and can be a helpful way of progressing forward. However, if all I am doing is looking for the next thing - or the destination - as a means to get away from my current situation, I am missing out on the here and now.
I have learned that discomfort is a great teacher, as long as I stick around long enough to let it teach me. So, how do I enjoy the current journey I am in? What do I do to live in the here and now, even though I am squirming in my seat, feeling the need to escape? How do I simultaneously work with plans for the future and stay present in the day to day, especially when it feels like Groundhog Day and there is no end in sight?
I do what all children do on long monotonous journeys - I eat snacks and play I-spy!
In other words: I look after myself and notice the world around me. A daily routine, a walk outside, a nice cup of coffee, proper mealtimes, reading, writing, dancing in the kitchen to the radio, an evening or mid-afternoon bath. All of these are joyful and positive actions that help me to enjoy the small, simple things in front of me. They bring me into the here and now and lift my everyday experience, they help me to engage and participant in life, rather than being a passive observer.
I may walk the same route in my village each day, but now I take in the subtle changes that are happening instead of seeing it as another task to complete, or a means to an end. I slow down and look for the surprises nature brings: noticing the shift in seasons and the effects of the weather and light, spotting differences in bird song, enjoying the first daffodils or blossom. Sometimes my walk will be punctuated by stopping to talk with someone I know, or exchanging a 'hello' with a friendly stranger. There is no rush to get from A to B, with head down, hands in pockets, podcast on. No, there is far more to be gained from looking up and around, taking it all in.
I have also found the power of talking to people changes everything and really grounds me. Nowadays I would prefer to pick up the phone and hear a voice on the other side, and maybe a face on a screen, rather than send a message by text. I love sending and receiving voice messages too, as I feel I can express myself more fully and hear the emotion in the other person's voice - it's as close to a hug as I can get and is much needed contact with the world. I now plan a phone call with a friend in advance, put it in my diary and look forward to the time to chat; if feels special when it is given the time it deserves.
I still plan ahead and have started to block out two weeks at a time with the things that are important to me - these become signposts on the journey and act as markers. They show me I am moving forward and encourage me to notice and acknowledge my progress. I am also a lot kinder to myself, giving myself more space and time than I ever did before. I am learning that planning downtime for not doing things is as necessary as getting them done.
So, if you are feeling like you're stuck on a journey that has no end, or in a situation that feels uncomfortable, play your version of I spy. Take time to look for the good in the little things around you - notice and value them and elevate them to be a special part of your day. And remember, make plans for the future, but with your feet firmly in today. Use your plans to set realistic and positive signposts for yourself as you plot your way forward day by day, week by week.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, and any other car games you may have to keep us all upbeat and happy in these trying times. Please share this with those that may enjoy reading my blog, and you can visit my Instagram for more of my thoughts and inspirations @iamsarahalexcarter
Image by: Daniel Gonzalez via Unsplash