Positive Living Newsletter

Turning Tragedy into Grace in Times of Uncertainty and Panic

Cenk Matalon, MC, RCC

Two weeks into the pandemic news, I was up in my head—hiding from personal and collective fear and overwhelmed with every logical argument that was available to me: “Those who died from the virus are the elderly and I am young and fairly healthy. There are still no verified cases of virus in the small town I live in. I am safe in terms of employment and have nothing to worry about.”

Then it hit me.

After work one day, I noticed frustration in my system. I was getting excessively annoyed with little things. I was in my head, lost in thought. As I shifted my focus and stayed with body sensations, I noticed my overwhelm along with my anger over the fact that my lifestyle had, by now, completely changed: I could no longer just leave my apartment and go grocery shopping or find a restaurant to dine in. I could no longer find humour in the lack of toilet paper anywhere in town. I could no longer run on the trails around the rec centre then hit the gym and enjoy the hot tub and the sauna before heading back home. I could no longer feel numb over the news of hundreds of people dying, small businesses closing down, never to open again.

It all became too real to ignore, too painful to hide from in mental dungeons. I was at the end of denial. My bubble of immunity had been burst by an unknown entity that took lives, that left families devastated, employees without work, streets empty.

Yes, I was afraid. Yes, I was angry. Yes, I was feeling increasingly overwhelmed by the details of how to adapt to this new reality: What to do now, what not to do, how much distance to keep from those around me, how to bring up conversations about social distancing if they don’t seem to care about this as much as I do, etc. upon endless etc.

I was in pain and could not ignore my emotional state much longer.

After I moved some energy through fully expressing my anger and frustration by punching my bed and making sounds in the privacy and safety of my apartment (without harming myself or anything else, for about 2 minutes non-stop), I felt more settled. Then, I asked my girlfriend to sit in front of me as I set a timer for 5 minutes. We kept gentle eye contact as we took turns listening to each other without any interruption, switching roles every 5 minutes, practising for a total of 20.

As I expressed myself more and more deeply, something else emerged from the fearfulness and overwhelm: despair and grief. Then tears began to flow freely as my mind calmed down, my body softened, my voice became quieter. I felt my heart swell with pain and crack a little. I felt connected.

Yes, people are dying. Yes, I am afraid and frustrated and overwhelmed, but I am also terribly sad. My heart breaks when I hear about elderly people dying from this suddenly appearing unknown entity we call the Coronavirus. Elderly people whose health was strong enough for the regular cold or flu, but not for this. Elderly who perhaps had another 5, 10 years in them. Gone.

As my heart broke and I softened, insights flooded my system: Life is fragile, we are vulnerable, so much is completely out of our control. Unknown. Uncertainty. Terror. Yet underneath it all, there is also a fountain of strength, resilience, and love. Collective fear, overwhelm, and grief are more than real, but so are collective wisdom, and basic human goodness and solidarity.

As long as we deny the “negative,” the “challenging,” or the “uncomfortable,” as long as we numb ourselves to what we are actually feeling, we become unconscious hosts for emotional states that otherwise have the capacity to initiate us into a deeper life.

Open yourself and feel it all, move the energies of anger and frustration so they become the empowered ground upon which your tender heart can rest and bloom, radiating love to those who so need it. The monsters of the deep as well as the dragons we must face to live more fully have been there all along. Let us use this opportunity to come out of denial, let us feel through the rage that is at the center of our grief, allowing its energies to blast through numbness and complacency, as we open to and stretch beyond the personal into the collective and then, into the sacred where fear-based living comes to an end.

Let us turn tragedy into grace.

Your heart, my heart, our heart has room for it all. Let’s make true peace a living reality and cultivate our capacity to stand strong amidst even the biggest storms. Let’s meet where we are no longer afraid of our fear and where despair is no longer depressing. Let’s meet where joy and pain are one, and where gratitude reigns supreme. Such a life is our birthright.

We are in this together. Together. And we are stronger than we know, come what may!

Cenk Matalon

March 2020