Looking for the Light at the End of the 2020 Tunnel

Now that a couple of vaccines have been approved and have begun to roll out, I’m seeing a lot of memes about glimpsing a light at the end of the tunnel. Many, if not most people are really, really looking forward to 2021.

This has been an extremely challenging year for humans worldwide. Between the pandemic, grief, furloughs and financial challenges, not being able to socialize in the usual ways, a raging narcissist leading one of the world’s largest countries, the simmering tension of the US election… it was a lot.

Barring the unforeseen, three weeks from now, there will be a sane and compassionate human being in the White House, and I’m really looking forward to that. (He even has dogs!) Yet in this moment, the pandemic and unemployment continue, and so many are exhausted from navigating everything 2020 has thrown at them.  It’s no wonder that we look to 2021 as a beacon.

Yet despite serious financial challenges, 2020 hasn’t felt bad to me. In part, that’s because the cultural changes align with my preferences for quiet and solitude. In part, I attribute it to having my first book published. In part (for sure) it’s because I live in Canada, where our government took care of its residents and allowed health experts to lead the pandemic response. Last March, I went back on a very low dose of a non-stimulant medication that helps with ADHD, and that, in turn, has helped me remember the rest of my practices. (That will be a separate post.)

Most significantly, I suspect, I have felt mostly peaceful because I have spent the past decade practicing coming back into the moment.

Don’t get me wrong: There was plenty in 2020 that I didn’t like, both in the world and in my life. I wrote the best essay I’ve ever written, and I haven’t been able to place it anywhere. I have a sleep disorder that means I rarely awaken refreshed. But I’ve learned that it’s a waste of energy to rage against what exists. My opinion of this moment is irrelevant; it simply is. A far better use of my energy is accepting that the situation exists and finding ways to contribute to change. I spent decades as a drama queen with extreme emotions; when I can accept that people, places and situations are as they are, it’s incredibly peaceful. (It’s also much easier said than done!

Finding the Good in the Dumpster Fire of 2020

There’s an old joke about a man who is eagerly shoveling a pile of manure. A stranger asks what he’s doing, and the man exclaims, “With all this shit, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”

One of the positives I see coming out of the pandemic is a greater awareness of our interconnectedness and interdependence with not only all humans, but all of nature. We see more clearly how deforestation, climate change and disregard for wild animals have led to cross-species infections. We understand on a much deeper level how our actions can affect human beings we’ve never even met. And we understand on a really deep level what “supply chain” means, and how many blue-collar jobs are far more “essential” than many white-collar ones. Finally (and all at once), people around the globe have been forced to slow down and pay deep attention to their surroundings and their actions, perhaps for the first time.

Make no mistake: This is the year that took the lives of hundreds of thousands unnecessarily. Millions are grieving and/or without income. I have six friends (so far) who have lost a parent to this virus. Friends with other serious health conditions have had to wait for treatment. The malignant negligence of the leader of the United States caused immeasurable damage. It also woke people up to systems that not only no longer serve us, but for centuries, have only served the white men among us.

In my experience, the world around each of us is a reflection of our inner selves. If someone is snippy to me, I look for where I’ve been snippy to someone else. Global upheaval is a chance for us to go inward and consider how we’re contributing to the problem on an individual, energetic level. The murders of George Floyd and countless others, Black Lives Matter protests and the disproportionate impact of COVID on BIPOC communities have inspired at least some white people to reflect on their own white supremacist conditioning, as well as how we can do better and be better.

That’s part of why I believe it’s essential for me to focus on Living the Mess right now. This blog is about undoing our conditioning and learning to navigate the world in a different way. That includes, but isn’t limited to, identifying and releasing white supremacist, patriarchal and classist conditioning.

My New Year’s Eve Tradition

In my 30s, I began making commitments instead of resolutions, because I could see that making a “resolution” was setting myself up to fail (and therefore, to feel badly about myself). Then I began setting intentions. That worked a bit better, though I quickly learned that life often has other plans. A few years ago, I stumbled across a post about someone choosing a guiding word for the year, and that really resonated with me.

I love bubble baths, and I often take one on New Year’s Eve and reflect on the peaks and valleys of the past year. I don’t often reflect on what I’ve accomplished, but more on how I’ve grown and how I’ve felt about the changes in my life.

Here are two of my 2020 highlights:

    • Holding my book for the first time. That was definitely a peak professional experience, along with the gestalt of having the book published. For almost four years, I’ve known that nothing is guaranteed, that anything could happen. So I was almost surprised when it actually did come out!
    • Being interviewed by Tami Simon for her podcast, Insights at the Edge. (Tami Simon is the Founder and Publisher of Sounds True and someone I respect immensely). This was both a one of my best and worst experiences of 2020. Worst because I prepared for months and then botched the interview terribly. I spent the weekend in bed with a shame-flu, and the episode never aired (to my relief). Yet I really enjoyed talking with Tami, and I think she enjoyed talking with me. Besides, how many authors get to spend 90 minutes in conversation with their Publisher?!

Next, I consider how I want to grow in the new year. I bring into my body how I want to feel as I go through the year. I formulate intentions, particularly for practices that help me feel peaceful regardless of external circumstances. I let myself fantasize about the best possible things that could happen, and how I imagine I’d feel if they did. And again, I look for ways to bring that feeling into my life right now. (Pro tip: Being in a bubble bath really helps. Unless you dislike baths.)

I consider what I want to release down the drain as I move into the new year. I thank whatever I’m releasing—emotions or stories—for teaching me ______. Emotions and the stories we create around them are frequently ways in which our conditioning tries to protect us. When I can identify what the old story was trying to protect me from, I thank it for that. When I emerge from the bath, I mentally leave all the “old stuff” in the water and watch it flow down the drain, to be recycled elsewhere.

What I’m releasing this year:

    • Self-doubt
    • Clinging to invisibility

After the bubble bath, ideally with a cup of hot cocoa, I journal about what I’ve contemplated. I don’t “write” in any formal sense—it’s more automatic than that. I note what I’ve released as well as my intentions and desired feeling for the new year. How do I want to show up in the world? Over the past five years, I’ve tried to distill that down to a single word.

The word I’ve chosen for 2021 is “trust.” It encompasses both “confidence” (trust in myself) and “faith” (trust in something bigger than “me”). And it scares me to write that! Developing this blog means becoming more visible and opening myself up to potential criticism.

Becoming more “visible” is a huge learning edge for me. It’s one thing to go over the thousands of notes I’ve made in the previous decade in private. It’s another to pull these together into posts that will help others. Also, I’m mindful of how “helping” posts can come across as sanctimonious and smothering. I really don’t want to do that.

My intentions for 2021, with full recognition that life may have other plans for me are to:

    • Continue the practices that keep me rooted, so I can write from a place of creative flow
    • Develop Living the Mess into a more professional blog
    • Continue building my freelance book editing business, which is my primary source of income
    • Place a couple of articles in outlets like Mindful or Lion’s Roar magazines, or Greater Good Science Center’s blog
    • Begin making short (one-minute) videos on the topics I blog about
    • Possibly create a Patreon, in the interest of creating month-to-month financial stability 
    • Trust in my own writing and the guidance I receive, so that I’m not still revising posts eight years after I drafted them (yes, true example)

My Predictions for 2021

Here’s what will happen as the year unfolds:

There will be moments of unexpected joy and unexpected pain. There will be plot twists, mentors and unseen helpers, as well as welcoming new friends and saying goodbye. I’ll make some plans that work out, and others that won’t.

I will cook meals, clean the litter box, go for walks, bask in nature, meditate and do laundry. These moments, big or small, are life itself. The life we’re waiting to resume is happening right now.

Time doesn’t actually exist except as a human construct. The first part of 2021 is likely to be much like 2020, pandemic-wise. All we ever have is this moment, right now. That’s why I feel it’s imperative to develop this blog based on my personal experience with deep, survival-level challenges and learning to navigate life in a way that’s counter to our cultural conditioning, yet so much more effective. 

I wish you all a peaceful New Year’s Eve and an ability to stay centered no matter what 2021 brings.

Over to You…

  • What was your best experience in 2020?
  • What are you releasing?
  • What intentions are you setting?
  • How do you want to feel?
  • If you have a word for the year and are comfortable sharing, please share it in the comments.

Photo credit: Unsplash

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Sarah Chauncey

For more than two decades, I struggled multiple treatment-resistant mood disorders. I spent more than 20 years in psychodynamic therapy and tried 18 different medications. In 2010, I began searching for ways to rewire my brain naturally for inner peace. I write about the practices and insights that have improved my mental, physical and spiritual health.

10 Comments

  1. Sarah A Chauncey on December 31, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful reflection and retrospective on a year that has been challenging, humbling, and frustrating. I am thankful that January 20th will bring some sanity to our country. I love your book, and I’m excited to hear that you will be blogging more regularly (no pressure). I’m afraid I have to break the rules – I have two words – faith and patience. May the new year bring you happiness and peace, Sarah.

    • Sarah Chauncey on December 31, 2020 at 4:27 pm

      Thank you so much, Sarah! May 2021 bring good things to you and your family.

  2. Shivam Kohls on December 31, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    Sarah – I LOVE your writing! it is delightfully easy to access and feel what you are conveying through words – meaning I get a felt sense of what you’re saying. I love your vulnerability and honesty.

    My prediction for this year is that we will both find the key to good sleep forevermore!

    Shivam

    • Sarah Chauncey on December 31, 2020 at 6:46 pm

      Thank you so much, Shivam! And I apologize–I think I owe you an email from back in the spring. I love your prediction! Made me laugh out loud–YES!!!

    • James Kall on January 1, 2021 at 7:45 am

      Having witnessed your journey, your struggles, your growth and your endurance for several decades, I remain inspired by your words and grateful that I am a part of your journey. Keep sharing your mess! Thank you for your openness.

  3. carol newall on January 1, 2021 at 1:26 pm

    Hi Sarah, Thanks for sharing your journey. We’re all thinking differently after months of isolation. I just finished reading, “The Midnight Library”, a great book that imagines parallel universes in which we can live many lives, depending upon our choices along the way. It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately–what if I’d gone to a different school, not agreed to that blind date, taken a different course at university, married soon, later, or never, etc. My new book to start the year is, “Breath”, because, apparently, we’ve been breathing all wrong.

    • Sarah Chauncey on January 1, 2021 at 3:12 pm

      Thanks, Carol, and Happy New Year (and happy reading) to you!

  4. Carrie on January 3, 2021 at 10:22 am

    I am a continual work in progress of releasing chaos and uncertainty in all aspects of life – work and personal that came with 2020 and my 43 years before that. I am setting the intention of making my new place feel like home – it still feels very temporary and that is unsettling. I want to feel secure within myself knowing that no matter what…I’ve got this.

    Thank you for being a source of love and light in all aspects of my life Sarah. I love you my friend and when the time is right I hope that we can have that visit. ❤

    • Sarah Chauncey on January 4, 2021 at 4:06 pm

      No matter what, you’ve got this, Carrie! Happy New Year, my friend. I look forward to being able to visit in person again!

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