COVID-19: Cultivating a Positive Perspective

Adam Graver, 22, lives and works in Hextable, Kent and is this month’s guest blogger

It’s a bit of a cliché these days, especially in my area of work (Christian ministry), that perspective is everything. Still, despite being wearied by the endless illustrations employed by well-meaning people endorsing adopting a more positive perspective on life, I do have to concede that they do have a point. When navigating the uncharted waters of lock-down and striving to cultivate a healthy mental state, the way that we digest the news and information around the pandemic is key.

Anxiety is understandably on the rise during the pandemic, according to statistics gathered by the BBC, suggesting the impacts of lock-down on daily life as a critical driver of this. One of the vital hallmarks of an anxious mindset is the anticipation of the worst-case scenario. It is certainly easy to fall into this mindset, considering the unprecedented nature of the situation that we are in. A counter for anxiety of this kind, therefore, is to set our minds on dreaming for the future instead. Let me explain how I do this.

Probably the most challenging aspect of lockdown for me is the separation from those that I love. Adopting an anxious mindset, which would probably be my default, promises many more weeks and months of this separation, and the pain that accompanies this. I question how long I can cope without seeing them, and greatly exaggerate how long this period will be. Approaching the reading of the news with this mindset, I will unconsciously reinforce this worst-case scenario in the way that I interpret what the media is saying. For instance, I will focus on the high death rates and spread of infection and interpret that data to mean that it will be a long time before I can see my friends and family. This mindset is unhelpful for obvious reasons. Early on in the lockdown, it became apparent that I needed a more positive way of thinking.

One such way in which I attempted to do this was looking at other countries, which were further on in their epidemics, and observing how their restrictions were being gradually lifted. What could this look like in the UK, and how would the restrictions easing in a similar way affect my life? What would be the first thing I would do when the restrictions were easing here? Suddenly, in focusing on the possibilities and opportunities that will eventually be opened to me when lockdown eases, my mental state is improved. I can begin to dream of how life improves, what I will say to and do with my loved ones when I see them again, and my mindset is switched from one which imagines the worst-case scenario to dreaming for the future.

Perspective is essential, and the way we think – the way we imagine the future to be is critical during these times, and stewarding our thoughts is vital for maintaining a healthy mental state.

Adam Graver

I did not want to go there

A compass in a hand

Have you ever gone where you do not want to go? Early retirement through ill health brought me to this place in 2016, almost exactly four years ago as I write. I neither saw nor wanted to go “there”. I did not know where “there” was at the time, even now a description tests my ability to write.

When Jesus said to Peter, John 21:18, “When you are old, you will go where you don’t want to go,” the statement came on the back of his restoration with Jesus, after Peter’s denials. The incident also took place after the resurrection of Jesus, in the context of new revelation. The encouragement of Peter’s restoration was tempered by the strangeness of Jesus statement.

Jesus words to Peter were first and foremost personal, spoken in the hearing of the other disciples. It was a private revelation given in the presence of others. It is at this point that the Bible falls silent on the matter, nothing further is said. As is often the case, when the Bible falls silent tradition takes up the thread and makes much of the manner of Peter’s eventual death in Rome, some thirty-five years later. And it is here that the story usually comes to a final rest.

Utterly exhausted by ministry, and never having fully recovered from a mental breakdown some six years earlier, retirement thrust me into a landscape that neither had shape nor form. I sought a road map but found none. I looked for familiar landmarks but found none, and I looked for pathways that others have taken but found none.

I might not have had a road map, but I did have a compass, one that kept me pointing to God, and in time, I ripened for revelation. But before that time came and because the familiar danglements of evangelical vocabulary had worn thin, I re-assessed much of my thirty something-years of following Christ.

At no time did God retreat from my experience, though he did stand back and let me wrestle with my emptiness. But it was not so with my relationship with the church or my first language, evangelicalism. I drifted from the church and felt alienated by my native evangelical language, both of which were in full retreat and distant. I was stripped bare of my appetite for church and lost my desire to use an evangelical vocabulary. I was trapped in the vacuum between the old and the new. We do not usually sign up for nakedness of this kind. Nevertheless, that is where I was, and I knew I had to work with what I had at that moment.

At first, I discovered that as I travelled my road, I neither understood the pain of reconstruction nor, could I see the new. There were no easy answers; nothing was ready-made. I wrestled for everything.

Once I realised that God was holding onto me, and not me holding onto God, I was able to see that God reframed my understanding of who he is, and I would not change a thing despite the personal trials I endured during this time.

Perhaps these thoughts have an application during the Coronavirus lockdown; after all, we find ourselves moving where we do not want to go. In these ‘unprecedented times,’ we should not be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

Check me out: Who do I want to be?

© THE MINDS JOURNAL

In this post, I am using a striking info-graphic that came to me from my daughter, Jo, in Sydney. This image speaks to me. In its condensed way, it helps me to measure up to the challenges of lockdown.

To a large extent, I can choose my response to the challenge of confinement. Confinement is not easy, but I can turn the situation into a growth experience if I make the right choices. I can make considered responses if I have something or someone to inspire me. For me, my faith plays a vital role here. And as I look through the Learning Zone to the Growth Zone, each statement inspires me to change for the better. I am drawn forward.

By starting with the opening question “Who do I want to be?” I check myself, and I am inspired to reach forward. Progressing through the Zones, I quickly begin to measure the state of my attitude.

To succeed, I must face the Learning and Growth Zones and turn my back on the Fear Zone. The Fear Zone only wants to pull me backwards and make me a victim of my appetites, emotions, words, and my reactions. And that is not a good place for me to live.

Suppose I stand in the Learning Zone. If I look towards the Growth Zone and meditate on the statements there, I can create new aspirations for my attitudes and behaviour. Wanting to grow will help me to create the right conditions to help me become a bigger person on the inside.

Now, suppose that I am still standing on the Learning Zone, but this time I am facing the Fear Zone. As I focus on the Fear Zone, I begin to dwell on the five statements in that zone. If I allow my mind to be consumed by fear without any kind of critical thinking, I become a victim of the Fear Zone. In the Fear Zone, I am overwhelmed by my lurking worries

In the Fear Zone, I am dominated by what I eat, what I say, what I hear, and what I hoard. It won’t be long before our mental health is hurtling downwards to a dark place.

I have a choice; which zone should I face? By reaching towards the Learning and Growth Zones, I can stretch myself forward by taking control of my thoughts and attitudes. Each statement gives me something concrete and may form a goal for me.

I am in no way suggesting this an easy take, but I am suggesting with the help of those around us, we can move towards the Growth Zone. There is always something to learn, even in tough times. Perhaps especially in tough times.

Here’s what I need to do:

  1. I understand where I stand now;
  2. I decide I want to take control of my attitudes;
  3. I focus on the things that will improve my response;
  4. I enlist the support of those closest to me;
  5. I start right now, today;
  6. Finally, I will be kind to myself.

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COVID-19: Keep calm & carry on

At a time like this, I need some positives to keep things in perspective. As the old WW2 poster says “Keep calm and carry on.” I have decided to focus on my here and now. Here are my seven suggestions to remain calm and centred:

  1. Hold your gaze on the things that matter most. If you are a person of faith, then your faith will sustain you in times like these; I know that mine is invaluable. By recentering our lives, we allow the essential things we hold dear to have the best seat in our house.
  2. Watch enough news to be well informed but don’t keep watching every media update. While news outlets provide a valuable service to each of us, remember that the media thrive on bad news, problems, and catastrophe.
  3. Embrace technology. I have found that to stay in face-to-face contact with family and friends is essential. And, I suspect that if you are part of a community group you might well have discovered the joys of group video check-ins. Where I can, all phone calls are now video calls. Yesterday, I wished my mum a happy 91st birthday via a video call. I think she understood, though I’m not entirely sure.
  4. Rejoice in the new community that is springing up. I have noticed the kind attitudes those in my local video community. I’m not practising social distancing. I am embracing all the social support I can lay my hands on by enjoying the company of others on Zoom, Messenger, and What’s App and the like. What I am practising is physical distancing, and that is quite different from social distancing.
  5. My wife, Maggie and I sat down on Tuesday 24 March 2020 and devised a new routine. The abrupt change in our pattern of life hit us starkly as our Government instructions reordered our normal.  Suddenly there are no pegs in our lawn, and all we have left is the emptiness of where the familiar used to be. I need structure to function, and now we are finding new ways of doing things.
  6. We are all learning a new language. Our vocabulary is adjusting to words and phrases such as; Social distancing, lock-down, self-quarantine, self-isolation, super-spreader, contact tracing, community spread, herd immunity, and now physical distancing.
  7. And, finally, where will I be while you are reading my musings? Well, I will be in the greenhouse tending my seeds and plants. I all ready have the best lawn ever! In the garden, I talk to my plants; I even talk to myself to ensure that my self-talk is in good shape. If I am not in the garden, then I will be speaking with family and friends, or even a little writing. And, if I am not doing those things, then, I will be walking or lifting a few weights. Whatever your interests, now is a good time to invest in them.

If you are a writer, like me, I consider it an exciting privilege to write in my Commentarium my everyday observations. Each month I will typically write 12,000 words, and in the present emergency, I feel as if I am writing the first draft of history as seen through my eyes.

These are my musings in these unprecedented days. I would love to hear your thoughts and observations. Stay safe and take hold of our new reality. Now, whatever happened to Brexit?