We are without compasses to guide us in a landscape where there are no margins that show us with clarity where we are going.
Our lives will never be the same. Humanity has been in the midst of immense political, economic, social, biological and climate disruption due to scientific and technological transformations for decades. At this point it is clear that nobody really knows where all this will lead us to, leaders in the first place.
A year ago, a tiny invisible coronavirus came to remind us that the whole globe is immersed in this process. Rich and poor, democracies and dictatorships, east and west, north and south. The world is in crisis and in fear. And so are we, even if we are “sort of coping”. Each one of us, in our personal lives, in our family lives, at work, in our communities is trying to figure out how to live in what I call “the in between”.
We are living in between the life that we lived in a recent past, which is getting further and further away each day, and the life that we would like to live in a future that is becoming harder to visualize. We are living in between the need for isolation to avoid infection and the need for contact, bonding and companionship.
As a psychological and spiritual coach who lives “in between” New York and South America, who accompanies young entrepreneurs, artists and creative men and women to reach their goals and life dreams, with my own daughters, sons and grandchildren scattered in various continents, I can sense in a very intimate way the hardship of these times. How even people who are used to dealing with great demands and challenges are loosing steam, breaking down or at the verge of exploding, blaming others for their lack of equilibrium.
As I prepare to turn 80 years old in October, I would like to share with you a biblical phrase from the Torah which has guided me through in my most trying times. It says:
“If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And, if not now, when?”
This profound teaching expresses the importance of taking good care of ourselves and, at the same time, and this is the paradox, taking care and sharing with others. We are individual beings but at the same time we are social beings who need others to live and thrive. Learning how to thread both dimensions, the individual and the social, plus the spiritual one I would add, is what allows us to navigate complex territories, especially the uncomfortable “in between”.
When faced with the enormous difficulty we tend to polarize, to cling to false certainties, dichotomizing reality, experiencing extreme feelings: we and them, love and hate, good and bad.
There is another possibility: finding alternatives that allow us to navigate the in-between, and help us overcome the paradoxes of living with uncertainty and abrupt change.
Here are six feelings and values that are worth cultivating:
In between entangled and isolated there is tenderness.
A choreography that embraces us both, that allows me and the other to live our own lives while sharing at the same time.
The adult version of the umbilical cord is tenderness.
This word comes from the words to extend, stretch and reach.
The optimal distance is the one that allows us to create bonds that stretch and shorten, in the exact measure that allows us, in every circumstance, to give and receive the precise embrace; the one that supports me in the place of mutual respect, without invading or abandoning.
In between outrage and despair there is sadness.
Even if it seems paradoxical, tolerating sadness with consciousness of the situation makes room for tenderness that calms our roots of despair and outrage.
To embrace each other, cry and comfort one another (at a convenient distance), declare our mutual love, our gratitude at the existence of that other human being is, ultimately, a comforting attitude in times of real difficulty and frightening challenges.
In between submission and transgression there is responsibility. It is now, in this current historical context, when we must understand the conflicts that come from personal problems or from “poorly made” decisions, according to which point of view of the “for me or for the other” we chose.
Each of us has to make decisions about our personal care that no one can make for us. If we take good care of ourselves then we will be able to take good care of others.
In between selfishness and selflessness there is reciprocity.
Reciprocity is a symmetrical exchange; taking care of in order to be taken care of. It is an excellent incentive to get out of the dichotomy “I’m strong but mean” or “I’m good but weak.” Interdependence with autonomy.
Reciprocity of care is much more effective as a way of “selfishness” than to triumph or save ourselves in an isolated and lonely path.
5. Attentive Consciousness
In between exalted and anesthetized there is attentive consciousness.
What will help us most cope with this moment is to be attentive to our most immediate needs. To calm the fears that are possible to calm, finding resources to take care of ourselves, to embrace each other and/or ask someone trustworthy to embrace us in the face of the fears caused by the dangers we can’t control. Giving us the relief of feeling loved, accompanied
In between idealization and demonization there is discernment.
An attitude of discernment allows us to find tranquility. Discernment comes from the Latin discernere, meaning to “separate” what is important or true from it is not.
To discern fosters our capacity to accept and forgive the pain that reality inflicts upon us, while it allows us to be grateful as we realize that even in the hardest moments there is always a helping hand near us.
Discernment rather than rejection allows us to overcome suffering or despair, and to emerge richer, with more integrity and adaptability than we have prior to threatening challenges.