Photo by Dane Wetton on Unsplash

What you might consider before you try to carve out that beach body.

Yeah well. For those of us for whom the idea of a beach bod died several decades ago (my hand is up), lockdown for far too many of us is an additional challenge to prevent an all-out assault past the lips and onto the hips. Given that more than a few of us are past middle age, this is just not good news.

What is, of course, is the relative gift of time. One very close friend is a professor at a Colorado college. Suddenly she was overwhelmed with the demand to, almost overnight, convert all her in-person courses to online.

Look. Unless you’re an instructional designer, and both she and I have been, that can be a monumentally challenging job. Still is, even with expertise. Overnight any semblance of free time flew out the window, and she has had to forfeit time walking her dog and working out to put her course material into online form, and she is now constantly changing and improving it.

Each of us has had a different form of this translated into a temporary New Normal.

Staying in shape begins, kindly, with your heart. I’m not discussing cardio work. I am talking about your emotional heart. Because frankly, if you are in the grip of emotional damage, you are not going to give a flying you know what about your body. Which is precisely what’s going on for so many of us right now. Completely understandable. Please, let’s talk.

People who haven’t done a good job of working through their endings and losses, which is the majority of folks, are having a much harder time with lockdown. As it’s a very human habit to deny the truth of what’s changed, and to wrap both our heads and hearts around what we have lost, none of this is surprising. I read a lot of articles about grief, and have written a number of them about how to deal. They get read and promptly ignored for good reason.

Taking on the tasks of processing grief and transition takes courage and hard work.

Most will avoid, sidestep, and do just about anything to maintain the lie that things are going to return to the way they were before.

First, we probably know at some level that’s not true. And second, we probably also know at some level that the Devil wants his due. We have to pay it. The Devi’s Due if you will, is acknowledging that we have indeed lost a great deal, and for now, none of us has much of an idea what we might get back. If anything.

In that environment it is exceedingly challenging to get all rah-rah excited about a Brand New Handy Dandy exercise program to Get Your Beach Bod On!

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

If I may, please.

With all the compassion I can muster, may I kindly re-invite you to face the difficult process of transition, which can and will lead you to a much better place. Eventually. All things, eventually. However the sooner you and I do this work the faster you and I can start to feel far more in control of our environments. When you get there, you are vastly more likely to take on tricep pushups using your kitchen island.

I do those, daily, because at my advanced age those arm wings are part of sarcopenia. The only way I can head them off without access to my gym is to put in the work and time. But you won’t do that if you Just. Don’t. Care.

About that not giving a shit. There are very good reasons you may be feeling that way.

First, the essential step of recognizing that some things have Ended. Perhaps many. What I did was make a list of everything that had ended for me. That was very painful. As someone who lives for adventure travel and working with very large animals, the two most precious things in my life were ripped away. For the foreseeable future at least. Making that list was like having to come to grips with deaths. These things have died. For now. Facing them was unbelievably hard. I have put incredible time, money and effort into creating that life. Poof. Gone.

Second, I made another list of all the losses those Endings created. That also was very painful. However, looking them in the face at least allowed me to acknowledge them, see them for what they are, bid them goodbye for the time being, if not forever.

Since the beginning of lockdown, those endings have continued. A few days ago I had to finally shut down all my hopes of making it to Mongolia this year. Done. Finished. I’ve tabled that for now, and have fully accepted that this year it’s all over. It would be very different if I were 27 or 47. I’m 67, and the years in which I can do the kind of travel I do are limited. So that in and of itself is a loss. You see what I mean. Nobody cares how I feel about it. It is what it is. The sooner I have the moral courage to face my reality, the faster I can work with the conditions I do have.

Photo by Jake Colling on Unsplash

Endings and losses.

Those two steps allow you and me to mourn. Our society does a terrible job of this. We avoid at all costs. Deny at all costs.

The fact that we both deny and refuse to mourn is what has led so very many to dance with the devil on our beaches, to cram together in the lines at our stores, and continue to behave as though nothing has happened.

Such denial has turned those people into mass murderers and economy cripplers. Our emotional inability to handle the truth has twisted some of us into monsters.

Those who have stayed at home have at least limited their potential impact. However, without doing this difficult deep work, we may still seek solace by drinking the Koolaid of waiting until it all “blows over.” With 30 million on unemployment and our economy crashing, it didn’t just blow over. It came crashing down.

Whether you or I happen to like it, whether you or I happen to be comfortable aren’t the problem. The problem is more that it might just be time to figure out that there is no returning to some magical Way It Was Before, and find ways to work with What We Have Right NOW.

That is what will make taking care of our health, our well-being a great deal easier. For being in grief without allowing ourselves to feel it tends to lead to binge eating, binge TV watching, and a great many other unhealthy behaviors that have an even worse long-term impact on our health.

That’s to say nothing of how our anxiety, anger and pain cascade onto those we love.

So again. If I may, at the risk of sounding repetitive. Please. Start the deep work for that is what will allow you and me to move forward unburdened. If for no other reason than you will gain respect for your courage. That respect has a lovely way of seeping like a super power into those parts of us which ache for self care. Like: eating well. Exercising. When it is time, and not a moment before.

List what has Ended. List what you have Lost. Honor those things in every single way. Let yourself take the time to grieve, to mourn, to bury what has died. For in the best possible way, doing so fertilizes the soil of your soul for what’s coming.

Those of you who have indeed done this work are now in what William Bridges called The Neutral Zone, or that middle period where nobody has a clue. Of course I have lived there most of my life, but I digress.

What this Neutral Zone offers is the chance to learn to live in the question.Depending on your personality style, this can be the Land of Great Opportunity, for all bets are off, or the Land of Constant Frustration, for your need for predictability and linear progression and stability is thwarted.

Again, I’ve got plenty of articles about this very thing (see below) but here’s the short stack:

If you’re the type who loves a certain anarchy, this time is yours. You’ll find yourself thriving in the chance to try new things, change the status quo and look for all the nascent opportunities that do indeed exist. You may well be the Pollyanna people hate because you’re looking at the lack of pollution, the quiet, the birdsong, and all the incredible good that is happening. And you’re looking for new ways to apply your skills to what is instead of what was. You’re also likely to royally piss off everyone around you who happens to have the opposite style.

If you are that opposite style, the lack of certainty, order and daily routine is likely to cause you real grief. You may well be the person who watches constant reruns for the simple reason that since you know the outcomes, it gives you a sense of both familiarity and comfort. You may well be avoiding the news or sucking it down, looking for a way to calm your nerves, or for signs that the Apocalypse is over. Either way, this is a time of deep discomfort.

Both approaches are normal, predictable, and in every way, part of how we as humans process transitions.

I might ask that if you’re sharing space with someone whose way of being during this difficult time is your opposite, please don’t attack them or make them wrong. Or berate yourself for not doing what they do. We are wired differently. We came out of the womb this way and there is nothing fair or kind about demeaning different ways of coping. However, when and if your ways of being descend into the dysfunctional, such as bingeing or personal attacks, those are red flags.

You may find that the emotional burden of avoidance is the heart’s equivalent to trying to move forward carrying a 100 lb backpack. Now look. Army soldiers regularly carry from 60–100 lbs. If you’re not trained to do that, I don’t suggest it. But you are in fact doing just that with your heart when you don’t do the deep work.

We are slowly but surely moving towards an eventual New Beginning. That is going to be different for each of us, depending on our work, our situations, our industries. It’s likely going to take a while. In the interim, we are in the Neutral Zone. Might as well learn to settle in and make the best of what we have. There is enormous grace in this. Not only that, the critical life skills you and I build while moving through transitions serve us for our entire lifetimes.

You can indeed work on that beach bod. You can indeed learn to do in-home workouts. You can research what Brad Stulberg suggests, which I recommend. There are hundreds if not thousands of workouts on line for that very thing.

But folks, if your heart’s not in it, if your heart is burdened by avoidance and deep pain, then nothing you read and no DVD is going to make the slightest damned difference. There is absolutely no sense in berating yourself for not leaping into a difficult new exercise routine when your heart is simply broken.

Nature deals us some pretty tough physical outcomes when you and I deny what is broken in our emotional worlds.

Below are the articles I’ve written about the transition process. You can also buy Bridge’s lovely little tome Transitions. All the same to me. What matters to me is that you don’t berate yourself for not leaping straight into a massive new exercise routine that is going to turn you into a fitness model by June 1st.

Because being a fitness model is not going to make a damned bit of difference if your life or big parts of it went to hell in a handbasket. All that does is move the deck chairs on the Titanic. Nice view but you and I are still going down. We might be wiser to build a new ship entirely.

Please. Have a heart. Unburden your heart first. Take the time to tend to the damage that’s been done. The inevitable losses that you and I and everyone else has suffered. For until you do, you will likely feel the suffocating weight of denial, avoidance, and unacknowledged pain. It will make you sick. Guaranteed. You don’t even have to get the virus for these Conditions to nearly kill you off. Please see:

Anxiety and physical illness - Harvard Health
With headlines warning us of international terrorism, global warming, and economic uncertainty, we're all likely to be…

If you’re ready to take some baby steps into this work, please see these pieces. The answers to what to do before you try to force yourself into a new fitness program are woven into these articles:

Endings and Losses
The first phase of moving through transition
Saying Goodbye and Formalizing our Losses
How to create a ritual to allow ourselves to process grief
Understanding People Under Stress
How you can better manage your own, and others’ stress responses
How To Manage the Fear of the Unknown
Living in the question can be a curse and an opportunity. Here’s how to make the most of this time

We’re a month away from summer. I would posit that the kinder thing might be to table those beach bod compulsions, put on the table the work that would help you process your losses, and allow yourself the time and grace to get this work done. When you are ready, you will commit to the physical work.

Because then your heart really will be in it.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash