A Different Kind of Flourishing

As many communities are beginning to open back up and some semblance of “normal” returns, Dan and Rachael check in with each other and have an honest conversation about how they’re doing and what it means to be moving towards wellness. In some ways it feels like we’re engaging a new stage of a process versus a clear ending as the pandemic is very much ongoing in many parts of the world, and for some instead of gaining more energy, we’re beginning to process the impact of this past year. So, as Dan and Rachael discuss, how can we be honest with ourselves about expectations, what we’re feeling in our bodies, and how we can move into reopening with intentionality?

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Episode Transcript

Dan: All right, Rachel. I’m gonna put you on the spot on this particular podcast. And you need to be working with me. Given the situation I currently am in. Here is the situation: life is beginning to open up. Life is beginning to return two a kind of normal, not what it was, not what it will be, but not what we’ve existed for the last 14 months, which is another way of saying for the last 32 years. So let me say, I don’t feel like I’m depressed. But I know I’m not flourishing. And I’m also, but I don’t think I’m like I’m not severely languishing, but I’m somewhere between languishing and flourishing, maybe making a little bit of movement. So, help!

Rachael: I think this might be just another version of us trying to have an honest conversation about what it means to not be well but also maybe moving toward wellness, with all of our best intentions. But I know I hear what you’re trying to put words to, we are in this kind of threshold moment that doesn’t necessarily feel like the kind of threshold of like an ending and a new beginning. It feels like moving into the next stage of this kind of process that we’ve been in the past year in the midst of a global pandemic and that is still very much ongoing in many parts of the world. And as we’ve talked about so many times on the podcast in this season, has been partnered with wave after wave of other tragedies even recently as of this week, another mass shooting in California, massive racial injustice that has been exploding in our country, a very contentious election season. And so we know, we don’t get to escape the kind of convergence of those realities, even as we’re in a threshold with regard to more people being vaccinated, more restrictions being lifted, um, capacity to travel with more safety, capacity to be in the presence of loved ones with more safety. And so there is a threshold movement out of a certain kind of restriction, and I would say deprivation um, of community deprivation of kind of normal rhythms and rituals of life. You know, our kids, at least here in Philly are in the final, you know, they have two more weeks of school and we just feel like, you know, they are hanging on by a thread to get through this, primarily, virtually here. They just, you know, they started back in a hybrid form in April, which was instantly a mental health lift. They’ve been playing baseball. That’s kind of another, like– they didn’t get to play baseball last year. They didn’t get to do team sports last year. So there are these markers of what yeah, like I don’t think any of us could have ever imagined our lifetime would become almost something that feels extravagant. And how do we make sense of that in our bodies, like those kinds of shifts that we became accustomed to and developed rhythms and rituals around. And I think we talked about this, the kind of impulse that maybe, you know, once things, oh, back up, we just jump. It’s almost like we just kind of flipped back to where we were and everything’s fine.

D: Better than fine. It’s what we’ve been waiting and wanting for so long. You know what I’ve been wrestling with is two categories: piles, piles. For whatever reason these piles have been here for a while, but they seem to be almost normalized. But now there is an expectation. Those are the two words: piles, and expectations. The expectation that I should be able to get to those piles that there’s a new potential for again a return, uh, a reclaiming and I’m finding myself actually at certain moments more exhausted than I’ve been more depleted. I mean, I’ve had very few reserves for months upon months upon months, But in this moment it feels like I should be gaining at least a 10% increase of reserve of anticipation, of pleasure, and it ain’t happening. It at least ain’t happening in my office or in my life. And that’s why I’m wondering is that I’m not willing to easily say that I’m unique here, but if I am, okay. So are you finding anything like that true for you?

R: Oh yeah. I mean I think we’ve talked about this we anticipated as we talked about this in like January and February. I think on the podcast that when you start to get to move out of survival mode, at least in some form, I mean I know that many people would say, well I’m not there yet, but when there’s there gets to be a little bit of a movement towards a different kind of flourishing because circumstances shift, our cognitive sense is like you said, will be great because that’s what we’ve been wanting. But it is a little bit like when your leg falls asleep and then you start coming back to life and there’s that pins and needles feeling. It’s like we actually have to start reckoning with what was under the surface that we didn’t have the luxury of feeling. And so I’m not surprised you’re more tired. I’m not surprised you feel more depleted when inside it should be like, well it’s summer right on the custom of summer. You know, like the weather is getting more beautiful in the pacific northwest, you know, like you should be more energized, you should feel life opening up. But I think for many people, this is why we’re not trying to be like Debbie downers, We’re trying to give a framework for the impact of trauma that were kind of actually moving into this season of the pins and needles. And that doesn’t mean there’s not going to be more joy. It doesn’t mean there’s not going to be more capacity for thriving. That’s not what we’re saying. Like for example, I actually got to take my first trip back to Seattle in the beginning of May. My husband and I were vaccinated. We felt safer flying. We still did a lot of social distancing in the way we spent time with people. But it’s my first trip back in a year and a half and I am not naive. I had full expectation that it would be utterly overwhelming to my senses because it is a place that is home to me. I never had imagination it would be that long before I went back. But my actual embodied experience though, it was so good to see so many beloved people and so good to be in the mountains and the water and the evergreens, and it did still feel like, oh, this does feel like a certain kind of home to me. But I mostly felt numb like the whole time. And you know me well enough to know– [laughs]

D: You may, you may have many lovely eccentric faults, but numbness is not one of them.

R: No, no. I might have a lot of diverging emotions at once. You know, like I’m not always happy. I’m not always like a peaceful clam, but I am rarely numb. And so I know that’s my body’s response to when there is just, it’s just, it’s so flooded with stimulus, it’s so flooded with, you know, competing emotions that it’s actually safer to just be like, I don’t feel anything and I didn’t expect that. I thought I would feel more connection to grief. I thought I would feel more elated. And yet I’m not surprised and I think it’s that sense of it might take multiple trips back um, in order to actually start feeling like I get to be present in my body in a place that holds so much of my life, you know, 15 years of my life. And so I know that what was that play was kind of, I would say almost like confusion. Like I think my body was genuinely confused. Like I went from, you know, covid social distancing. We really only saw a few friends outside with masks to like seeing all my most beloved people in like a four day period, you know, in a place I love. And it wasn’t something we were able to do or even think about for a year and a half. And so I think my body was just like, I don’t know how to take in what’s actually happening and it’s all the people I’ve been seeing on zoom. So it was like, how do I make sense of the fact that we’re in proximity and this feels like this is what we do all the time. But I also don’t know how to take it in.

D: Well, it’s so helpful to hear you say that and let me just repeat it on my own behalf. I actually forget, even though I teach it often enough, we have two brains. We have a left hemisphere, which is largely executive functioning, language cognitive, we have a right hemisphere which is far more senses, more images, more affect. And so even when you say the word body, it isn’t just my viscera, it’s all of my body, including my brain and my brain. And this is this is where I get caught so quickly, even though we did and talked about this in January, I’m a little embarrassed to say, oh yeah, I remember that now, but it’s not helpful that we covered in January because I’m now here and my brain at one level is saying, get going, move, you finally can move, move be alive, take it in. This is a new good day and it is, but there’s something about the weight that is being experienced as to I don’t have the same capacity I had a year ago or a year and a half ago. Not only because of age, but because of hunkering down in a kind of unrestful Sabbath uh, to then be in a position to return. I have really got a challenge. My expectations set as to what I can and cannot do. The piles are primarily things I meant to get done on behalf of other people and I’ve, I’ve failed, or if I have not failed, I’ve been less able to get things done and I’m looking literally at my piles right now knowing how many people are angry, hurt, disappointed because I’ve not done what I’ve been in some cases very legitimately asked to do and have not done. Others have wanted a response, which I guess my left hemisphere cognitive processes I know I’m not responsible for, but I still feel it in my body that I have made a mistake. I’ve harmed by not being able to get done what I would have been able to do in another season of my life. So even as I’m returning with a little more hope it actually has so many more burdens that I feel like I should be able to handle that. The fact is, uh, I’m some interplay of, I’m not and I can’t, and I’m not sure where the line is between the two.

R: Well, I’ve seen a lot of people, especially people who experience more systemic oppression in our world saying maybe the normal, that was should have never been the normal. Maybe it’s not actually something we should aspire to return to. And that doesn’t, I don’t hear people saying, throw everything out! What I hear is maybe there were some realities of our pace of life, of the demand that we placed on ourselves and our families of the kind of frenzied and frantic nature that I think so many of us were used to being able to tolerate. I mean you and I were talking about how much our world prior to the pandemic required us to travel and be on airplanes and be in hotels and be on the road and that was just normal. And there wasn’t a lot of imagination for different kinds of virtual connections that could be just as powerful and actually for those who and some people– well let me just caveat this. I know the extroverts out there are like get me out of the house, I want to be on the road. I miss being with the people. I will say for myself as a very social introvert. I am struggling to be okay with my fear and Michael and I have been talking about this a lot like my fear that we’re about to go back into a frenzy, frenetic pace of life that I don’t actually think I have the capacity this season to bear and tolerate. Like I could and in fact if I’m quite honest, I have actually loved– and I can say this, I have had tremendous luxury and privilege to work from home and to be at home with my family and I know that has not been everyone’s story. So I hold that tension with a lot of heartache, but I’ve genuinely been okay having things be more centralized to the home, having my family together, having more simple rhythms of mealtimes and activities and they still are, kids have still been getting time with their friends here and there were still connecting with people, but at a much more, I would say human pace that doesn’t demand and require a kind of fragmentation and frenzied kind of on the go navigating 1000 details. I mean I am sad actually to be moving out of that season and knowing we will be a little more fragmented, there will be more activity. And that’s not, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I’m just having to deal with my grief that if I’m honest, I’ve actually found it to be quite enjoyable to move at a slower pace to be located and routed to be home and to be connected and you know, like, I don’t know how to make sense of that, but I do think we have to contend with any season of profound disruption and change does invite us to repentance in different ways. And what are the things we’ve learned about ourselves in this season that maybe we do need to reckon with? Maybe we do need to shift some of the expectations on ourselves, on others, some of our idolatry, you know, we were talking about this. So I I think there are legitimate places that I would hope we’d be more mindful, more prayerful and more intentional about how we move into this opening.

D: Oh, I say I literally find myself, as you’re speaking, kind of going, Yes. I mean there has been so much loss through this Covid era and yet there have been gains that I was beyond surprised by and there will be loss in returning to something of the new normal that has to be calculated named in order to in one sense hold the fact there’s been massive ambiguity and ambivalence in the Again, there’s 15 months, but also it’s not over as we move into what’s ahead and just being able to say yes to that. Of course, that settles something even in me as we’re talking and I love that very important phrase, intentionality. I don’t think we can spend enough time on that, but just to come back and say, do you consider that to be a central part of flourishing? I know I do. That there will not be flourishing as we return if there’s not a different kind of intentionality as we come back in?

R: Oh, absolutely. I think that can be really hard, right? Because it actually means you have to get into the relational milieu of like what if what I intention and hope for is different from what you intention and hope for. How do we come to these decisions in in our communities together? So I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think intentionality means like ease or everyone’s on the same page, but I do think it’s a kind of taking stock. With: What are you saying yes to and what are you saying no to and having clarity about that? That sometimes the no is not, doesn’t mean you’re weak or incapable or sinful. Sometimes it means you’re actually honoring your limitations. You’re honoring– you’re saying no to something so that there can be flourishing. So you’re saying yes to flourishing and presence and a different kind of, you know, being way of being too in other ways.

D: Yeah, I mean it would have been more than a year ago, I would have said something like going to a grocery store is my version of Dante’s third ring of hell. But Covid, we made it a practice that we would go shopping the minute our grocery store opened on Sunday morning. The least likely time anybody would be in a grocery store. We were at the door 6:01 in the morning and if not the 1st, 2nd or third person into the store. Well I know just about where everything is now and I have come to like reading labels. I find labels fascinating for what is and what isn’t like cruising leisurely through a grocery store and making a decision that I don’t really like this tomato paste, it’s got a little bit too much of X or Y in it. Let’s let’s try, like I’ve actually started cooking. “Chef”ing. Making things in a way that I never have and that was one of the questions Becky brought to me, she said, we need to go shopping and I said, oh I’ll go do it. She said, what is wrong with you? It was like the first moment I actually was able to name, I like going to the grocery store at least at six in the morning.  I actually am enjoying making food in a way I never have and her question is, is this going to continue? Is this something you have come to love in a way that you’re not willing to lose in order to manage and return to what you would have viewed as you’re expected and required normal. So I’m actually, in doing this work of intentionality, I’m having to enter a whole lot more difficult and ambiguous processes of: when do I want to semi-retire? What, You know, as I age and come closer and closer to 70? What is my next stage of life? And that has come up primarily because I like going into grocery stores. I know how strange that must sound, but I think that’s part of your term taking stock. Who are we, Who are we to become? What do we need to let go of, continue to let go? What do we need to take back on? This is going to require a lot of reflection to not just let things happen and literally get washed away in the current of what will inevitably be the roaring twenties. I think we are coming into a period comparable to the roaring twenties, much more violence, much more indulgence, much more inflation on many levels and therefore have returned to a level of craziness that I don’t think we’ve actually seen for about 100 years.

R: And so to me what I hear and that is that there’s also a necessity to intention practices of rediscovering, you know, key parts of our spirituality as those who profess to be followers of Jesus. That will also mean intentioning space for grief, to stay close to what we’ve learned, what we’ve lost not as a kind of trauma bonding but as an honoring, a dignifying, We’ve been talking about grief recently, but a kind of honoring what has been making space for what could be how God wants to keep bringing about redemption and if what we’re heading into as a season of indulgence, how then do we intention to stay close to the places we know we have seen so profoundly in this season, that has felt like such a reckoning where people are not flourishing and where we are meant to also be about the kingdom work of bringing about a different kind of flourishing for all. And so there’s something about that move to really be intentional as to how we emerge that feels really close to the Gospel to me, and I think it could be an easy season to move toward. I can feel it in myself because of the numbness I felt, because of the overwhelmingness of the stimuli to kind of actually just be more dissociated and to kind of give over to the like, let’s just get through this next threshold so we can get to whatever’s next. And if I’m honest, like that’s such an easy temptation and I can feel the pool to that. So it’s all there together.

D: Yeah. And again to come back to your word, that you brought up a bit a bit ago. Repentance. There has to be an intent to repent. And that is not a matter of blaming oneself. That’s a matter of what is it that you need to let go? What has become clearer was a frame of idolatry that you actually thought had to be, this was who you are, what had to be done. And yet the reality is the last 14, 15 months have stripped away all sorts of presumptions of normalcy, and also daily expectations. And so, if we can come into this conversation to say, look, human flourishing requires minimum lee an intent, a mindfulness that opens the door to some degree of greater anticipation, meaning: we are meant to look forward to bring our imagination into play with the realities that we are in many ways bound to. Fantasy is an escape from reality. Imagination is an honoring of reality, but a movement toward what is meant to be. So we can’t flourish without intentionality or without some degree of anticipation. But I’d also say: we’ve got to have some taste of reward. When Proverbs says in Proverbs 13:12, “Hope Deferred makes the heart sick and a joy fulfilled is a delight of life”. So we need clarity about what flourishing is in this season. It isn’t returning to what was it is not in some sense, presuming we can remain where we are, but we need that play of intentionality of anticipation and and reward. Like are we letting ourselves celebrate even the little versus looking at what’s left with judgment. I’m speaking to myself, I’m speaking right now to my piles. I will get to you! But I will not get to you in the next day or two. I will touch you. I will move some of you from waiting to be done to being done to then being able to be put in my circular file and then moved into whatever. But I won’t do it quickly. I won’t do it well, I won’t do it in a way in which I will get done. Can I celebrate that? And I say all that because I know in my spirit what I’m saying is, “Hell no!” Are you kidding!? That’s just crap! You got to get it done and you got to get it done now, and you got to get it done well!” and you go, uh, maybe that’s a large measure why I’m not flourishing at the level I could. So before we end, I just want to see what thoughts you have Rachel. And then at least next week we begin to put words to what we’re finding to be helpful or at least partially helpful as we attempt to grow into this new period.

R: Yeah, I feel like you’ve summarized that so well. I feel like it is, it is a season and a time to practice joy. and to lean into different kind of gratitude to really mark where there is movement. and again, how do you do that while also honoring? We’ve been changed. we’ve learned a lot and we still have a lot to learn and we have a lot of opportunity to really live differently in this season ahead. and not drastically. and so, you know, I think how we’ve done that in our home is just trying to really celebrate that we got to have baseball season and really live into it and enjoy it., you know, to just to take each week and be like, oh, it’s practice night and there’s a game tomorrow. And I mean it is the sweetest thing, like the boys will put their uniforms on like at 7 30 in the morning can wear them all day, and I just love it and just trying to take it in. I’m just trying to take it in. And so how do we, how do we make room for the weirdness, the weirdness of returning to familiar things, how it may not feel, feel familiar anymore and how do we learn what it feels like now? And so I just feel like, um, can there be a graciousness, can there be a curiosity? and can there be an intentionality, And in some ways an honoring that we may be slower, we maybe have less margin than we’ve known ourselves to have another seasons, and we may feel a little bit out of sorts in places that were used to feeling really at home. And, can we be patient? Can we be patient?