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Gifts amid the rubble of pandemic

There is nothing that we as a community could have gained during the first year of the COVID pandemic that could possibly mitigate a quarter million dead Americans. Yet I am not the only person who is noticing how changes I have enacted to keep myself safe have wrought changes in how I think and live my life that will outlive this pandemic.

As a retired senior, I don’t have job and child-rearing fears, but I do have a serious underlying condition and have not left the house or seen human beings except masked, outdoors and at 10-plus feet since February 2020.

How the human brain works is that ANY change in routine will be perceived as negative. So you have to keep doing the New Thing over and over, and with a cheerful heart, for quite some time before your brain can change its expectations and beliefs. If you do, with a cheerful heart, the joys and positives of the new normal will have a chance to blossom and shine. Here are some of the more obvious changes:

I’ve enlisted my household in Virtual Vacations (VV) and have VV’d using YouTube, guidebooks and websites (3-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, for a week, in our case), as well as TheGreatCoursesPlus.com travel classes. We’ve been everywhere from polar exploration to African safari, Hawaii to America’s State Parks. The key is to truly mentally BE in the place: turn off the phone and be away for several hours.

We set aside one night a week for wisdom writings and religious education. We take personal retreats to leave the lists of chores behind and focus on inner development. This has built resilience. I am facing death if I get COVID; we both need inner resources. We rabid YMCA-partisans have become more positive about non-gym exercise routines, including brisk walks, weight-training DVDs and yoga. I’ve forced myself to make time for more in-depth fun learning.

We are more mindful of the natural world around us, and it’s more than just bird identification. Birds, animals, plants, weather: it’s all in our Nature Journal based on the book “The Curious Nature Guide.” We allocate time for reiki and hypnotherapy healing of mind and body. We are saving containers and reusing and repurposing in place of buying, as inspiration strikes.

Hubby and I taught a class on creativity for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at SOU, completely online, on a work at your own pace platform with some supplemental Zoom video. Interacting with so many wonderful people exploring so many different kinds of creativity filled me with more ideas for my own creative work. We work on different types of creativity two nights a week that are set aside exclusively for that.

A commitment to creativity flushes out stress chemicals for body and mind. We are not creating for sale. We are creating for our souls — poems and novels, painting in every media, pencils and pastels, collage and altered books, and much more.

And I am spending much more time seeing and spending time with loved ones: deep meaningful or funny mundane talk, meals and art creation, all via video. When “getting together” with local pals required driving somewhere and allocating hours, it was harder to schedule. When in-person was an option locally, I could not get commitments to short video chats. Now that people are used to video, I know I’m physically isolated but socially much more connected. I doubt that I will have to work so hard to get video dates in future.

I am asking “Why not?” and “How else could I solve this problem and be happy?” This change in my mental and soul landscapes is permanent. These gifts of the nightmare pandemic will never be “worth” the lives of hundreds of thousands of loved family members, or people made homeless and lives derailed permanently. But if we all make of the lumber of this time a temple, not a tavern, we will emerge wiser, stronger and with a quiver-full of new joys and mental tools — ready for, as Eleanor Roosevelt put it, the next thing that comes along.

Victoria Leo is an author of novels (“Heroes,” “Alliances”) and non-fiction (Bloomsbury Books, Amazon) and a producer of every imaginable kind of creativity. She recommends lots of creative arts and video conferencing for mental health. Did she forget to mention? She’s a retired therapist. Email 600- to 700-word articles to Sally McKirgan at innerpeaceforyou@outook.com.