Like a big pot on a stove full to the brim, I am simmering ready to splurch and splatter here and there. Recently I got a flash of insight, a glance into myself when the veil lifted for a second and I saw this ancient simmering stew of discontent. Like the lava streams beneath the surface of our lovely world, it is always there simmering, heaving, and if a fissure opens, out it comes setting fire to everything until its heat is spent.
A couple of years ago we went to Sicily and visited Mount Etna, a very live volcano. I was struck by the steam vents and the hot ground in some places… struck by how much closer to the surface this fiery force of nature was then anywhere else I had been on this good earth. The release of steam most likely releases some pressure from the boiling lava deep underground, itself under pressure from relentless tectonic plates grinding it between them.
During this pandemic, our internal tectonic plates are especially heavy and producing more heat grinding our simmering contents which are ready to burst out. But having this awareness of the simmering stew means that I am less likely to unconsciously explode. Let me explain… If you know you are in a zone where the lava is closer to the surface, the last thing you are going to do is crash around drilling and blasting because of the fiery inferno you could provoke. This pandemic has created more eruption zones in our psyches, so being gentle and careful with ourselves and each other is the recommended approach. But what does this look like practically in real life?
First, we need to accept that during this pandemic we are likely to be feeling worse, feeling more stressed, more in need of comfort or release given how our normal go-to activities have been greatly curtailed or cancelled. There is a whole host of intensified strains pushing at us: the financial strain for those whose income has been affected, the strain at home as now everyone is there at the same, time all time, the strain of hyper-alertness for potential infection from innocent transactions and the natural fear and anxiety provoked when we think of the wellbeing of our vulnerable and ourselves. This is a nasty virus! It is normal to be finding life harder and we really need to be compassionate and accept our struggles and the struggles of those with whom we share space and avoid taking things personally if someone is upset. Poor Jimmy, poor Sally, poor… tough times.
Next, we need to develop new skills like saying “sorry” frequently, so that whomever we are apologizing to can remember not to take our outbursts personally. Developing a signal system could help. Something like “white flag” means cease and desist any conflict, even in mid stride or making a “T” sign with your hands for time-out means do not push the point right now. The recourse to more alcohol, more TV, more movies, more gaming, more food is a reflection of our search for comfort and a temporary aberration not to be judged or feared. Staying safe and sane is the common goal during a prolonged crisis.
And finally, being aware that you are simmering under that iron lid of repression, that there is more pressure than usual on the lid, means that in our self-acceptance and self-talk we release the pressure by being gentle, kind and wise with ourselves. There is nothing worse in an overwhelming high pressure situation than getting more and more critical with oneself for perceived weaknesses and failures. No kicking yourself when you are down! Instead gently help yourself back to your feet with a “poor Danny” or an “everything will be ok” or “it’s understandable you’re finding it so hard” etc.
In our little family we have not had any major fiery explosions because we know we are struggling. We are not perfect by a long shot but we are giving each other space when we need it, accepting each other’s coping needs and talking about it when the moment has passed and it is okay to do so.
May there be more and more peace in your household.
Originally written June 19, 2020