Updated: Mar 31, 2021
By Holly Lynn Payne
This is Part Two in a three-part series on Designing our Way Through Crisis. Please enjoy Part One, How to See and Seize the Design.
One year into the pandemic, the veil is beginning to lift. We’re recounting stories of horrific human and financial loss while also bearing witness to our individual and collective stories of resilience. A hidden gem was buried beneath the cascading negativity. We grew stronger and became more aware. The crisis took from us, but it gave to us, too.
"...being active in creating this agency is one sure way to regain a sense of control in the midst of crisis. Simply put, do something that restores your well-being."
The choice to see this duality enables the grief to co-exist with positive growth. Each aspect of post-traumatic growth requires us to become an agent in our own healing. Like grief and resilience expert Alison Gilbert mentioned in Part 1 of this series, being active in creating this agency is one sure way to regain a sense of control in the midst of crisis. Simply put, do something that restores your well-being.
Gaining appreciation and forming deeper relationships are two restorative aspects measured in the post-traumatic growth index. PTGI researchers Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun from the Department of Psychology at University of North Carolina at Charlotte have found that appreciation restores our sense of inner calm. The act of appreciating is a simple and powerful tool available to everyone—by choice. By choosing both, we gain new footing in designing the opportunities often hidden inside a crisis.
It is possible to change our responses to pain when we consciously attempt to appreciate, according to research from the Heart Math Institute, the 30-year old organization dedicated to the research and development of scientifically based tools that bridge the connection between heart and mind to help people reduce stress and increase resilience.
The act of appreciation actually changes our heart coherence. “Coherence is the state when the heart, mind and emotions are in energetic alignment and cooperation,” according to HeartMath Institute Research Director Dr. Rollin McCraty. This state is associated with sustained positive emotion and a high degree of mental and emotional stability.
When we reach higher heart coherence, we also shift our brain waves from beta to alpha states—when we feel calm and clear in our thinking. “In coherence, energy is accumulated, not wasted, leaving you more energy to manifest intentions and harmonious outcomes,” according to Dr. McCraty. Appreciation then becomes a powerful tool to transform anxiety and fear into mental stability. It’s an opportunity to seize for its immediate and positive effects.
Kristen Firpo, a sound healer and global innovation consultant, has understood the link between sound frequencies and heart coherence for years. “When we drop out of the beta brain state, our body starts to slow down and we enter a natural state of appreciation. We are no longer judging, and we are not in fear or comparison,” Firpo said in a recent interview.
When the pandemic hit and so many people went into shock, Firpo offered free sound healing workshops around the world on Facebook from her living room. “I knew people needed to shift from this state of anxiety,” she said. “Sound healing calms the nervous system and slows our brain waves, so we can release resistance. When we do this, we raise our vibration.”
Choosing to raise our vibration from lower emotional frequencies is another opportunity to develop agency during a crisis. In the groundbreaking book The Map of Consciousness Explained, the late David R. Hawkins, M.D., PhD, cites different levels of consciousness by giving every human emotion a numerical value. Shame, guilt, apathy, grief and fear all score at or lower than 100 on a logarithmic scale of consciousness—with the highest score of 1000. It makes sense then why we feel ‘down,’ when we are feeling shame, guilt, apathy and grief. Our brains are literally experiencing a lower level of consciousness in brain waves.
Adversely, when we engage in heart-centered communication like an appreciation, we raise our frequency to 500—the score for love itself. In this way, we can understand how the act of appreciating can exist in the midst of the chaos swirling about us. It is even possible to find inner calm in the midst of horrific circumstances in the way Holocaust survivor Dr. Edith Eva Eger describes in her TED talk, “The Journey of Grieving, Feeling and Healing.”
Time to Slow Down and Focus
In a recent Facebook poll, friends from around the country shared their appreciations during the Pandemic and subsequent shelter in place orders. The recurring theme was time and slowing down. This time has given us so much more time for the things we took for granted or hadn’t prioritized: our immediate families, home cooking, home projects and the ‘unsung heroes’ like healthcare workers, grocery clerks and farmers market sellers that made our daily lives possible.
Silicon Valley executive Jeff Paul recounted a new and balanced life without a long commute. “My commute in the mornings was about two hours and in the evenings it was up to three. I got home at 7:30 or 8:00. Because I’ve been able to work from home, I’ve been able to have dinner with my family almost every single night,” he wrote. Award-winning investigative journalist Shannon Service spent years flying around the world for her job. When she and a new partner met each other just before lockdown, they discovered they got about “seven years-worth of relationship experience in one year.”
Many people who spent their careers in a plane, squeezing in a relationship and barely having time for themselves shared their appreciation for slowing down. The crisis afforded them the opportunity to form deeper relationships. And it is this same slowing down that Firpo explains takes our bodies from beta to alpha—and literally opens us up to a state of appreciation.
Redefining and Forming Deeper Relationships
It’s ironic that in the midst of crisis, nature is at work—restructuring our worlds with new relationships that arise in the ‘gap’ between our old world and the new one. Redefining our relationships is one of the most significant opportunities for growth during and after a crisis.
Scott Foreman, a filmmaker and founder of Cultivator Labs, changed his life to support his father after navigating a challenging relationship with him for more than twenty years. After travelling for clients non-stop for 15 years, Foreman found himself appreciating being grounded and seized the opportunity to rebuild his family.
Redefining our relationships is one of the most significant opportunities for growth during and after a crisis.
“I was in the middle of a shoot when my dad called to tell the news that he and his partner had broken up for good. He suddenly had no place to live. I am in my 40s. My dad is in his 70s. I thought, What do I do with Dad? I’ve got to find a spot for him,” he said in a recent interview.
Crisis was preparing Foreman for huge growth. Three years prior, he received advice from a counselor and wrote a letter to his father. The exercise was to write in order “to right” his own ship but not to send the letter. The writing had become an act of appreciation and a way for him to forgive and accept his father. When the pandemic hit three years later, he could respond to his father’s call from a grounded place and be in the position to help—something he appreciated most from last year.
Foreman had bought a house for his mother in Idaho and was considering purchasing a ranch. His father’s call motivated him to execute on that decision in three days. He picked up his dad in Texas, packed his belongings in Arizona and drove to Idaho, where he purchased a ranch near the Grand Tetons, replete with a barn, river, truck, tractor—and a broken fence.
Foreman’s fondest memory of 2020 is literally taking down the fence with his father. “I live in Arizona, I don’t need a chainsaw, but we bought one in Idaho to cut that old fence into wood for the fireplace to heat the house.” After years of not talking much, the two repaired their relationship and grew closer, fly-fishing, playing cards and making meals together.
“I’m most grateful for this opportunity,” Foreman said. “When you’re in a tight spot, to be able to say to your loved ones, you know what? We’re going to figure this out and I think I know how. That is rare. I grew up in a broken family and felt so grateful to be in a position to be generous.” Despite disparate political views, Foreman and his father were able to focus on “the things that were connectors and not dividers,” he said. “There’s no other way to survive this. You have to focus on the things that join you and your combined opportunity.”
Choosing appreciation and forming deeper relationships, in the midst of a crisis, are powerful and transformative ways to transcend anxiety and fear. Foreman’s story, and so many others from the past year, are proof of the opportunities we have to turn our darkness into light—and to begin seeing possibilities for an even more meaningful life.