Flouranguishing: the state of simultaneously flourishing and languishing (see also: being human)
Recently a number of my friends circulated an article about the blah many of us currently feel as COVID drags on. The author named the sensation as languishing. Even as we get vaccinated, so much still seems risky or is outright closed off to us. We aren’t quite depressed, but we aren’t quite happy. We are in the doldrums. Sigh. Some days I languish more than others. Yesterday, for example, halfway through breakfast, out of the blue, I was afflicted with a deep sense of oh-what’s-the-point. As the day progressed, I started to perk up, but I could still feel the layer of languish in the background.
Because, generally, despite all during this pandemic, I feel like I’m flourishing (about which I feel some guilt and self-consciousness and even shame—because, how dare I flourish during these dark times, doesn’t that just indicate I’m an entitled, selfish so-and-so?).
The pandemic’s Zoomification of our world made it possible for me to start training toward a certification in Non-Violent Communication (maybe … I’m not 100% committed to the certification process yet, as I write this the sign-up page for the next phase is open in my browser). NVC then led me to some Internal Family Systems training. I have discovered new ways of working and being. I’m exhilarated every time I uncover yet more ways in which NVC and IFS connect into and inform the work I was already doing (workshops on emotional intelligence, among other things). Athena Casey recently interviewed me for The Intolerance Podcast, which gave me a great chance to synthesize this understanding for myself. Talking with her got me excited all over again about this path I’m on.
Except … for the days when I wonder why I thought it was a good idea to add in a whole different discipline at well into my fifties; and further wonder whether all this curiosity can actually lead where I want it to lead, or whether I’m just an eternal dilettante, destined to pedal as hard as I can, but never go anywhere, a stationary bike I can’t get off. Uh oh. Languishing again.
Then, I perk up. Again. A friend recently mentioned that when we are low about the future, it is helpful to simply change the time horizon. That is certainly true for me. When I look forward a year or further, I can see where I’d like to be, but not how to get there. That’s a languisher, for sure. But when I shorten the time horizon to, say, the next two days, I’m looking at a 2.5-day NVC workshop on gratitude and I know it’s going to be fantastic and I’m going to love it. That’s a flourisher.
Back and forth. Again.
Oh, and that’s not all. There has been other flourishing, too. In response to the languishing article, another friend sent a piece about flourishing during the pandemic, which pointed out a bunch of ways we might discover new richness in our lives these past months. One was connecting with friends and family in a different rhythm. Well, that’s happened for me, too. Pre-pandemic, I was in regular communication with my mother via text, but we virtually never talked on the phone. I’m a phone-o-phobic, so I’ve never been good about calling. Now? –we are having long Zoom confabs twice a month. Sometimes my two brothers join, one of my sisters-in-law and some nieces and nephews. We’ll have New York, Calgary, London (Ontario) and the other London (UK) all together. I’m also zooming with friends in other cities and countries, with whom I was only sketchily in touch before. An IRL friend recently asked me why I was still doing friend-zooms. Why would I stop? I’ve made space for them in my life. Why would I want to diminish the joys of being more in touch with geographically distant friends?
Because, it turns out we can use space, just as we used time, to alchemize some flourish out of languish. Here’s a Zen story:
A student of Zen came to their teacher and asked her how they could learn to feel less frustrated and angry and sad and disappointed. They wanted to know how to calm their pervasive anxiety and sometime depression. The Zen teacher asked the student to bring her a teaspoon of salt. When the student came back, the teacher presented the student with a beautiful, clear glass of water and asked them to mix the salt into the water and drink.
“Pthaugh. Yuck,” the student said, spitting out the salty water. “How is that going to help me?”
The teacher then invited the student to get another teaspoon of salt and meet her down at the lake. At the lakeshore, the teacher asked the student to mix the spoonful of salt into the lake, then fill their glass with the lake water and drink it (this is the land of Zen myth, the lakes are unpolluted, pure and potable).
“Aah. Delicious,” the student said. “But … ??”
“Your mind is a glass of water. Now, make it a lake.”
I already mentioned how we can change time to our advantage. Well, it turns out we can fiddle with space, too. Gratitude, for example, is a huge space maker. For me, if I can make my mind a lake, I make room to access the flourish-nutrients available just from noticing what is going well and being grateful. I’ve stayed healthy, so far. I have continued to run and mountain bike and ski and spin and Pilates and, and … The spring cherry blossoms were fat and fabulous this year. My partner and I celebrated 27 years together.
Flouranguishing is the art of being present to our humanness. We are rarely all one thing. And we are certainly not a duality either. We do not languish OR flourish. We are rarely (if ever) experiencing one single emotion, one unique condition of being. We live in a soup of simultaneous states. How we use time and space determines which ingredients dominate.
Here’s the constant that I’m trying to work with right now. I have the power to choose what flavours I focus on in the soup. Languishing may feel like it is imposed on me from the outside, due to circumstances beyond my control (the pandemic, the inherent uncertainty of the future). Yet, I can still make the choice to focus my attention on what’s flourishing. As hard as it may seem at times, I want to be present with what is good, right now. To be grateful, even and especially for the smallest things. To engage with life. None of this is to say that I’m pushing the languish away, or compartmentalizing. No. I recognize and even honour the languish. At the same time, I set the intention to notice the flourish.
Running this morning, my body was so tired. I heard out the part of me who was exasperated with my exhaustion. In fact, there was a pretty extended discussion between the various voices in my head about whether I should cut my run short. But then I picked my eyes up off the pavement and noticed what a beautiful morning it was, how good the air felt on my skin and remembered that the only measure of success that mattered today on my run was pleasure. So, when the option to abridge my route came up, I ran right past. I wanted to stay with the trees in all their fresh green. And, when I made that choice, my body suddenly felt more ease, the run more fluid.
Another day, the choice to shorten my run will be the one that resonates for my body and grants ease. My work is to listen for when a decision is about languishing and when about flourishing. With time and space at my disposal, I have powerful tools to support my intention to savor the flavour of flourish.