Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Are we languishing or is it more than that?

 I recently read an article by the New York Times, recommended by a friend. We had been having a conversation about so many people describing a lower mood. Not a clinical depression but a greyed out life experience. A lack of energy for living. Not the black dog, more I can’t be bothered to walk the dog.

Perhaps you recognise this in yourself? I admit I did.

The article was describing this and said the term ‘Languishing’ had been captured to describe the state. Feeling Blah During the Pandemic? It's Called Languishing ...https://www.nytimes.com › Well › Mind

‘Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.’

The article describes that languishing is somewhere between a clinical depression and flourishing and that it can be a precursor to depression if left to decline. I found myself react to the medicalisation of what seems to be such a common reaction to this pandemic and how it has disrupted our lives, especially social connections. Do we need another medical term with which to diagnose our lives just now? 

But the suggested way out of the fugue rang true. It was to be in a state of ‘flow’. This isn’t about blissed out relaxation, rather it’s about being involved in an activity that is challenging enough to engage you and that will leave a sense of achievement and happiness at its best. https://www.headspace.com/articles/flow-state.

For some it will be a work project, a piece of writing, a creative task , or it might be something more everyday such as a jigsaw, gardening, golfing, redecorating, knitting, working on couch to 5k and so on. Crucially to achieve this we need minimum distraction. So being caught in emails or Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and whatever is the next social media fashion is a real disruption to flow. The advice is to have dedicated, ‘No Disruption’ time.

Maybe it’s worth exploring to see the impact? I find writing difficult if I’m ‘languishing’ as it’s hard to engage so cognitively in a project but I do find a new project will find me energised and ready to engage again. Knitting for me is a valuable way to achieve flow and I’m honestly not that good! Get good wool is my hot tip; then it hides my own deficits but produces something of value. Seeing a baby wrapped in a blanket I’ve knitted is so heart warming. And seeing my Granddaughter in the jumper I knitted was just wonderful. However so far that has been my peak, the next one went in the bin with some adjectives to guide it. I do agree that undisturbed time to achieve flow is well worth exploring. And if you are like me enjoy the flow but let go of perfection.

Yet still a medical term for this time feels at odds with some of my own reflections on this space we are occupying. At this time in Scotland we are creeping out of lockdown. I’ve enjoyed visiting new places recently and part of me wants to plan trips to see friends and family. But another part of me is really quite resistant.

I notice that something in me has also flourished in the space that lockdown has created, the simpler routines and resting time too. There is a concept in gestalt which is called ‘the fertile void’. Fritz Perls was the first to describe it, ‘When meaning making ends and being begins’. What if we are now able to be in the fertile void 

Those of us who can accept that we have no power over the pandemic and it’s impact on us and accept uncertainty will find greater peace of mind. For this there needs to be naming of what we have lost and let it go. And currently we are not yet in the often longed for ‘new’ normal, many of us are instead on retreat from the everyday routines of busy lives. 

In the work on Transitions by William Bridges, this time would be the space between the old and new realities. For organisations in transition ( as so many are) this is when we experience churn, movement, change and if we are living through this we are likely to feel uncertain and even fearful with a lack of trust. 

 The concept of the fertile void reframes the negative narrative to be the space for creativity and flow. The creative void as it is known in gestalt is uncomfortable but it is where possibility and surprise lie, waiting to be ignited. No wonder I’m reluctant to let it go; whilst destabilising it’s also the space where we can create different norms of living, working, flourishing in a more equal world. I feel strongly I mustn’t waste that opportunity and I need to keep the space to just be, to trust deeper truths to emerge and be willing to be in flow with what is next. 

Its not a small ask, but what’s the alternative? And we don’t need to change the world, we just need to start with ourselves. 

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