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Thoughts for a ‘dark’ lockdown

So here we are in lockdown again and this time without the sunshine!

At least, as my oldest son said ruefully, we know what to expect! Familiarity is a great comfort to humans and one of our great strengths is adaptability. I was noticing yesterday how familiar wearing a mask feels now – sometimes I even forget to take it off when I don’t need it any more – whereas when we were first asked to wear masks, I thought I would never get used to it. Perhaps this is another moment to stop and notice what else we have learned from living in a pandemic?

Going forward, it might be good to plan how we will manage lockdown in the darkest weeks of the year. I’ve written in the past about the benefits of the Danish concept of hygge and that’s definitely worth re-visiting.

Personally, I’ve invested in the box set of the OLD version of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ which is a million times better than the new one and a source of gentle cheer in difficult times. Let’s not forget that James Herriot himself got his job in the Dales in the thirties, when unemployment was at unprecedented levels and the economy was in freefall. In order to make ends meet, my own grandmother took the bold step of splitting the family, leaving her husband to manage the family farm whilst she took several children and several cows to set up a dairy in one of the old cow-houses of Liverpool! I can hardly complain about having to wear a mask and stay cosily at home with my boxset!

Perhaps it’s yet another time to reflect on our take on life. One of the great benefits of any counselling or therapy is the opportunity it gives us to stop steaming on through life without much consideration of what we are doing, why we are doing it and where it is taking us. I am a huge believer in considering the wisdom that greater minds than mine have brought to us over the centuries. It’s easy to think that our world is so very different from times past that old wisdom is irrelevant - but people are still people!

I was very struck by the photograph at the start of this blog which I recently received on a postcard. At first I thought the young man was a modern film or rock star. He could easily be a sixth former here! In fact, he’s Lewis Powell, who attempted to kill William Henry Seward (part of the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln) and was hung in 1865 – and yet he looks so modern! We haven’t changed in any significant way. We may be more sophisticated technologically now but our mental and emotional systems still work in the same old ways.

my top favourite

My current reading includes ‘The Art of Living’ by Epictetus (AD 50 – AD 135), in a modern translation by Sharon Lebell. It’s a wonderful introduction to some of the Stoics’ thinking, which underpins Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, both of which are part of my practice. I highly recommend it for a reflective read on these dark, lockdown nights. If you want a flavour of Epictetus, try Brainy Quotes: https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/epictetus-quotes

It’s echoed by Viktor Frankl, philosopher and survivor of Auschwitz, in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ another inspiring read for the dark times.

These two philosophers were writing about two millennia apart – but essentially said the same thing.

Fortunately, we’ve had the good news recently that a vaccine is much nearer to being available than we had thought. Let’s not, however, forget all that we have learned from the rigours of lockdown and self-isolation.

There are just two vital aspects of ourselves that we can control and which can help us, whatever our situation – our attitude and our actions. These have never changed, not since the dawn of humankind: they are still the key to us finding light and hope in dark times.

by Meg Harper, Head of Counselling, Warwick School