March 20 is the first day of Spring 2022, marking a time of year when plants are displaying new growth after the dormancy of winter. When animals are coming out of their winter hibernation to mate and reproduce. When we are invited to refresh and rejuvenate. It is a time of renewal.
Spring this year promises a unique and distinctive kind of renewal. After two years of COVID-19, there’s hope that Omicron, with its frenetic spread, may finally be waning. A 2/4/22 update from IHME suggests that the virus will have largely swept through the world by the end of March.
This is great news, right? A renewal we’ve longed for. The season invites us to open where we were closed, to embrace where we excluded, and to connect where we remained at a distance.
Although this may sound like a positive and life-affirming process, welcoming the new requires letting go of the old. The routines we carefully built and cultivated during the pandemic will need to be broken if we are to re-engage with each other. And that can be difficult.
There can be no self-transformation or renewal without death or relinquishment.
What, exactly, does that mean for us today? We were encouraged throughout 2020 and 2021 to learn to live in isolated lockdown mode. That was challenging, but most of us had little choice in the matter. We created lockdown environments that were as safe and comfortable as possible.
Now, we’re invited to leave those safe havens. As exciting as that may sound, many people are now confused, even anxious about leaving the old behind.
Psychologists call it ‘re-entry anxiety,’ an unease about returning to our old places of work, social gatherings, hugs, and even handshakes. A recent American Psychological Association article reported that Americans are experiencing the highest levels of stress since April 2020 [when we began living in lockdown], and that half of surveyed adults are anxious about returning to in-person interactions.
It’s not terribly surprising to me that we were anxious about learning to isolate, and now we’re equally anxious about emerging from lockdown. Letting go of old patterns is hard, whether or not we see them “objectively” as a good thing. Each of us, having spent two years learning to be alone or in our small pods, now must unlearn old habits and relearn new ones. As Professor and Clinical Psychologist Dr. Steven Taylor describes it, “We’re a victim of our own success.”
Dr. Taylor goes on to speak about something he calls post-traumatic growth. Traumatic events can actually have positive effects on us. Pain and loss can lead to personal growth, allowing us to emerge stronger from bad times. That growth post-COVID may include greater appreciation for the value of life, greater appreciation for loved ones, and a clearer understanding of what’s important in life.
As we welcome the Spring of 2022 and the opportunities for growth and renewal that it portends, may we be very gentle with ourselves and each other, as we all experience some level of pain and loss that inevitably accompanies rebirth and renewal. May we not forget: There can be no self-transformation or renewal without death or relinquishment.
I invite you to affirm with me that we will continue on the path toward finding our truest selves, even though painful relinquishment will necessarily be part of that journey.