Surviving the Pull of the Undertow

No matter how kind, loving and positive we all are, these are still very challenging times.

This pandemic has been filled with grief and loss of all kinds. For some of us, we’ve been touched personally. For others, we are the neighbors and friends who steady and support those around us.

No matter who we are, we’ve been called to dig deep within ourselves and to keep moving forward despite what can often feel like a strong undertow.

Undertow is the current beneath the surface. When we’re trying to stand solid or move in a certain direction, the undertow can be a strong pull that might feel as if it can topple us or pull us under.

Personally, I’ve been battling a strong undertow in my own life. Someone I love dearly is in deep grief and despair over some unbearable losses. I find myself often getting pulled underwater with him – feeling so much empathy that it overpowers me and also feeling cellular reminders from my own worst times of loss and anguish.

Thirty years ago, I was so overcome with anxiety and depression that I wanted off this planet. I thought there was no escape from the pain except to stop living. It felt like a heavy iron wall closing in on me. Like I could barely breathe. Like I was being crushed by the weight of darkness.

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I was really lucky. By grace, I was led to a meditation class. In that class, I had one deep breath in which I didn’t feel in pain. It was a moment of relief. A moment of feeling okay.

That single moment changed my life.

It was like a pinprick of light in that solid iron wall.

That single point of light gave me hope.

I’ve spent the last 30 years seeking and creating more moments of light. It saves me over and over again.

So, if you will forgive my mixed metaphor of light and water, this is how we survive the undertow – one single moment at a time.

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What does that look like?

Here are six tiny moments that can save you when you feel pulled under into dark waters:

  1. A Moment of Calm

Part of what happens when we get caught in the undertow, real or metaphorical, is that we start to fight it. We flail. We struggle. We wrestle as hard as we can to get out. Unfortunately, what can happen is that we expend all our energy fighting and resisting. It can make things worse. Instead, take a deep breath and try to find a place of calm acceptance. It’s not easy, but just keep whispering to yourself, “It is natural that I’m going through this. There’s nothing to change. It is okay. Just for now, allow.”

  1. A Moment of Compassion

Can you see yourself as if you were your own best friend, child or beloved pet? If someone you love is suffering, how do you feel about them in your heart? Chances are, you don’t judge them or criticize them. Chances are, you love them with everything you’ve got. It’s likely you might sit beside them, saying, “I understand. This is hard. I’m here with you.” Offer yourself a huge dose of loving compassion. The last thing you need in hard times is any sort of criticism – external or internal.

  1. A Moment of Curiosity

After you’ve allowed yourself to stand still and you’ve found some deep compassion for yourself, quietly and gently, without pressure, ask yourself, “Is there anything at all that will bring me a tiny moment of peace or something that will feel soothing?” We’re not talking giant movements here. If you were in the ocean, you might make the slightest adjustment. You might make a small diagonal movement, neither forward or back. When we’re being pulled under by fear, grief, anxiety or apathy, that tiny adjustment might look like sitting outside in the sun and watching the clouds or looking for a butterfly. It might look like a hot bath with calming lavender oils. It might be closing your eyes and resting on the couch as you listen to music you love. Stay open and curious to whatever loving ideas drop in. Then follow them.

  1. A Moment of Connection

Often when we’re going through grief, loneliness, anxiety or fear, we stop ourselves from reaching out to people we love. We might think we are being a burden or bringing others down. We may be the person who is always strong and we don’t want to appear weak. Maybe we are used to bucking up and pretending like everything is okay. Instead, please reach out and connect to someone. Hopefully there is someone in your community of friends or family whom you can call. If not, reach out to your spiritual community, a counselor or therapist, or a telephone crisis help line. When we’re being pulled under, a helping hand can be exactly what we need to steady ourselves or pull us out completely

  1. A moment of Creativity

You don’t have to consider yourself a “creative person” in order to gift yourself with a moment of color and creative expression. Creativity in any form can give us a sense of uplift and positivity. Consider playing a musical instrument for just a few minutes, cooking a new recipe, arranging flowers in a vase, painting with watercolors or taking photos in your neighborhood. Creativity can come in a single moment in a walk outdoors – simply holding a flower or leaf and noticing the patterns, hues and textures. Turning our attention to something like nature, music or art can be a relief for the nervous system. Try a small moment of creativity, whatever that looks like for you.

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  1. A moment of Caring

Sometimes after we’ve allowed ourselves the time and space to focus on ourselves and our own self-care, it can be really helpful to do something kind and loving for someone else as a way of getting out of our head and into our hearts. Reaching out to offer some small gesture to someone else in need will often feel like medicine for ourselves. Perhaps try writing a short note or sending a gift to someone you know who is struggling. Let that person know they are on your mind. William Shakespeare said, “The fragrance of the rose lingers on the hand that casts it.” When you offer a kind word or gesture to someone, you will be the first recipient of the good feeling – and that kindness will stay with you.

Remember you are strong. You can get through this. Allow yourself to be human and be extra kind to yourself. You can slowly work yourself out from the undertow and find your way to solid ground.

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