A therapist once taught me a grounding exercise. When overwhelm wraps its scratchy arms around me, I have to start to count the things I notice. The practitioner told me to pay attention to my senses.
What’s something you see? What do you smell? What do you taste? What’s within reach that you can run your palms across? What noises can you hear? As you make note, repeat the phrase, “I am safe” to yourself in a whisper.
Repeat the process until the anxiety subsides.
I had an epiphany last week while staring at pictures of others gathering with friends and family. If others can gather safely without health consequences, perhaps I am entitled to the same experiences. I tiptoed into my closet to pick out an outfit made of fibers other than spandex and cotton. I used mascara. I blow-dried my hair.
I had a coffee date with a new connection. I flicked through clothing racks at T.J. Maxx. When I hugged my friend, seven months pregnant, for the first time since the first lockdown, I cried. Emotions bubbled up, surprising me as I embarked on the everyday, ordinary routines that I’d skipped for the sake of safety.
All the while I kept whispering to myself, “I am safe” on repeat.
In seasons of darkness, we’re told to look for light. I find myself squinting from the flares of light others have been basking in for awhile longer than me. I’m moving into the world stepping cautiously into ordinary spaces.
While my eyes adjust, I’m also practicing looking for signs of life.
Andy Rooney once said, “For most of life, nothing wonderful happens. If you don’t enjoy getting up and working and finishing your work and sitting down to a meal with family or friends, then the chances are that you’re not going to be very happy. If someone bases his happiness or unhappiness on major events like a great new job, huge amounts of money, a flawlessly happy marriage or a trip to Paris, that person isn’t going to be happy much of the time. If, on the other hand, happiness depends on a good breakfast, flowers in the yard, a drink or a nap, then we are more likely to live with quite a bit of happiness.”
Curating happiness in a post-pandemic world requires much of the same skills we learned in our hibernation.
What are your senses revealing?
Potatoes are poking their way through the dirt and I witness tiny tomato seedlings in their determination to become something of substance.
Neighbors up and down the street create a symphony of mowers releasing plumes of green grass thanks to all of the rain.
I’ve watched the irises grow their cellulose stalks and unfurl their blousy arms with flare. Bringing the blooms inside, I stuck my nose near the center and inhaled.
I dipped corn chips into hot cheese tasting flavors only a restaurant can concoct.
My clothes are clean. Leggings are worn soft. My toes can be free in flip flops once again.
A cousin said hello to their new baby girl.
When is the last time something wonderful happened to you?
I am safe. Life is here.
Relying on the five senses. A beautiful thing.