If you wake up these days feeling the tone and outlook of the world around you has taken a surreal shift, you’re not alone. Like many of us, I have enlisted my feet and hands in fuller engagement in our democracy. It feels good. But as much as that outer expression helps, I’ve felt a parallel need to process these changes inwardly.
Six friends and I took two hours on a recent Friday night to ground ourselves in the new reality through a series of short writing exercises followed by honest conversation. We explored questions about ourselves and shared what we came up with in the hope of finding a path forward.
These six friends and I—we call ourselves The Circle—have been meeting semi-monthly for about fifteen years. We’ve explored our lives through various prisms, including dream interpretation, Jungian archetypes and the 17 stages of the Hero’s Journey. We take turns orchestrating the evening, using various tools with the aim of distilling insight.
On our first post-inauguration meeting, it was my turn to lead the evening. I came up with a short visualization to help put us in touch with our inner wisdom. Afterwards, we took up our pens and worked silently together to explore five sets of questions in the hope of shielding our inner weather from the outer climate.
Having the Courage to Explore Your Canyon
When I was in college, I had a powerful dream that I was standing on a cliff over a vast, vaporous canyon. With me was a giant Great Dane with the heart of a horse whose job was to lead me down the trail. Later a Jungian dream analyst told me the vast space was my soul, not to be feared but to be explored. The dog-horse was my guide, and if I didn’t descend on my own, life would take me there. Better to go voluntarily.
If you’ve ever trekked the real Grand Canyon, you know the river that formed it was a buzz saw through time. Each descending layer of rock represents billions of years. The deeper you climb, the more you penetrate the oldest part of the canyon. We are like canyons, too. We operate on the busy surface, preoccupied with the here-and-now of careers, family and friends, but it can be enormously grounding to take time to journey down to our center.
The hectic surface of life is full of the people, places and situations that occupy the here-and-now. They reflect back the refrains that circle in our heads. But if we take a moment to step back from fires at work, interpersonal conundrums, political chaos or whatever weather is raging on our cliff top in order to slip down into the peaceful space of our inner canyon, we can gain clearer perspective.
The constant noise of life can make us skittish about silence, but the deepest part of you, ancient and timeless, is your pure essence, the you-ness that would still be you even without your job or family or even your name—the core of your being that carries and supports you. It’s worth a visit.
The levels of rock in a canyon are like the layers of your experience, the storms and earthquakes you lived through, both personal and collective. They can remind us of how we’ve reacted to difficult times in the past, moments when we stayed centered or lost touch with ourselves. We can begin to notice our signature reactions and go-to patterns. Maybe we’ve been operating on autopilot without realizing it. Even a moment of introspection can help us retake the reins.
CENTERING QUESTIONS IN TIMES OF CHANGE
Alone or with friends, take a few minutes to write your reaction to the following questions, picking and choosing the ones you are drawn to, or better yet, the ones you absolutely do not want to answer. Exploring the question you have the most resistance to may give you the biggest payoff.
1. DO I TRUST MYSELF AT WORK AND IN LIFE?
In what situations at home or work do I not trust myself? When have I acted in a way that’s not true to myself? Do I believe more in outer or inner security? Have I paid more attention to the care of appearances or my deepest instincts?
2. CAN I LOOK MY FEAR IN THE EYE? HOW ABOUT MY POWER?
If my anxiety were visible, what would it look like? When does fear take hold of me? In what circumstance do I hand my power over? Does lack of self-trust allow fear to control me? If I could look my own power in the eye, what would I see?
3. WHICH NETWORKS IN MY LIFE ARE SUPPORTING ME? OR DRAINING ME?
What alliances am I part of at home, at work and socially? Which groups strengthen me? Which are draining? How can I fortify my healthy networks and disentangle from the others?
4. WHAT EXPERIENCES AM I SEEKING?
If I’ve deliberately chosen to be in my current life circumstances, in this space and time, in my current relationships, job and society, what am I here to experience? How can this changing time enable me to become my truest self?
5. WHAT GIFTS DO I BRING?
What is my highest inner priority, my driving force? How can I strengthen it? What gifts, talents and tools can I offer to changing situations in my job, relationships or society? How can my contribution make me more myself?
After exploring these ideas alone or with friends, the storms on the surface of your life may still rage, but your inner weather may be calmer, clearer, and renewed with self-trust.
It seemed like everything happened overnight because, well… it did.
One moment, my team and I were business as usual, running a multi-million-dollar edible cookie dough company I built from scratch in my at-home kitchen five years ago and the next we were sitting in an emergency management team meeting asking ourselves, "What do we do now?" Things had escalated in New York, and we were all called to do our part in "flattening the curve" and "slowing the spread."
The governor had declared that all restaurants immediately close to the public. All non-essential businesses were also closed, and 8.7 million New Yorkers were quarantined to their tiny apartments for the foreseeable future. Things like "social distancing" and "quarantine" were our new 2020 vernacular — and reality.
What did that mean for us? Our main revenue source was the retail part of the business. Sure, we offered delivery and take-out, but that was such a small portion of our sales. I had built a retail experience where people from near and far came to eat edible cookie dough exactly how they craved it. We had two stores, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, which employed over 55 people. We have two production facilities; an online business shipping cookie dough nationwide; a wholesale arm that supplies stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments with treats; and a catering vertical for customizable treats for celebrations of all sizes. And while business and sales were nearly at a complete halt, we still had bills. We had payroll to pay, vendors we owed, services we were contractually obligated to continue, rent, utilities, insurance, and none of that was stopping.
How were we going to do this? And for how long will this go on? No one knew.
As an entrepreneur, this certainly wasn't my first-time facing challenges. But this was unprecedented. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Certainly unplanned. This control-freak type-A gal was unraveling. I had to make decisions quickly. What was best for my team? For my business? For the safety of my staff? For the city? For my family and unborn baby (oh, yeah, throw being 28 weeks pregnant and all those fun hormones in there, it's real interesting!). Everything was spiraling out of control.
I decided to take the advice I had given to many people over the years — focus on the things you can control. There's no point worrying about all the things you have no control over. If you focus there, you'll just continue spiraling into a deeper, darker hole. Let it go. Once you shift your perspective, you can move forward. It's not going to be easy; the challenges still exist. But you can control certain things, so focus your energy and attention on those.
So that's what I did. I chose, for the safety of staff and customers, to close the retail portion completely — it wasn't worth the take-out and delivery volume to staff the store, open ourselves up to more germs and human contact than absolutely necessary.
I went back to our mission and the reason I started the business in the first place — to spread joy. How could we continue to bring happiness to people during this uncertain time? That's our purpose. With millions of people across the globe stuck inside, working from home, quarantined with their families, how can we reach them since they can't come to us? So I thought back to how and why we got started.
Baking, for me, has always been a type of therapy. I could get lost in the mixing bowl and forget about everything else for a moment in time. Sure, I have a huge sweet tooth, but it's about the process. It's about taking all of these different ingredients and mixing them together to create something magically sweet and special. It's about creating and being creative with the simple things. It's about allowing people to indulge in something that brings them joy — a lick from the spatula or a big batch of cookies.
It's about joy in the moment and sharing that joy with others. So my focus is back on that, and it feels good.
We could still ship nationwide, straight to people's doorstep. So we are making it easier and less expensive to send the ultimate comfort food (edible cookie dough) by introducing a reduced shipping rate, and deals on some of our best-selling packages.
In a way for us, it feels like we are going back in time… back to our roots. When I first started the business, we were only shipping nationwide. There were no stores, no big team, no wholesale. It was just me, a small crew juggling it all, and we made it work then. And we'll make it work again. We have to leverage our online business and hope it floats us through this time.
We are focusing our digital content strategy on sharing recipes, activities, and at-home treats with our engaged, amazing social following so they bake with their families and stay busy at-home. We started live baking tutorials where our fans can bake-along with me and I can share all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years with them.
I've leveraged the cookbook I published last year, Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share, to come up with fun content and additional things to do at home. We started shipping it and our at-home baking mixes for free to encourage people to get busy in their kitchens!
And as a business, we will continue to connect with our community to bring them joy and focus on what we can control, including our attitude and outlook first.
During times of uncertainty, which this certainly is, you should do the same. Identify the things you can control and focus your time and energy on those things. Distract yourself with the positive. Force yourself to stop asking and worrying about all the what-ifs. Do what you can for the moment and then the next moment. Make a list, and take it day-by-day.
It's going to be okay. You will be okay. We will all be okay.