How to practice self-renewal in the age of uncertainty
By Barrett Freibert
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
“When you come to the edge of all the light you’ve known and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: you’ll have something solid to stand on, or you’ll be taught to fly.”
— Patrick Overton
Renaissance is a French word for “rebirth.” It marked a passionate period of artistic, economic and cultural “renewal” following the Middle Ages — a time of darkness, which consisted of the bubonic plague, unrest and little growth. Sound familiar?
With the COVID-19 pandemic, violence and major unrest across the globe, it feels as if we are living in modern day medieval times. The good news is we can choose to practice self-renewal and grow, even when the future is thick with fog.
As the world re-opens and returns to pre-quarantine routines, this is the perfect time to marinate on how you would like to return to the world post-COVID. You may ask yourself, what have these dark times taught me? What does my ideal renewal look like? How can I take something old and make it new?
Renew means “to restore to freshness or vigor. To begin again.” The first thing I associate renewal with is my family log cabin, Old Pond Place. Thirty-one years ago, my father had a dream to build a log home completely from salvaged wood and stone. My parents visited old abandoned cabins across Kentucky and what many saw as dilapidated homes, my father saw as an opportunity to practice renewal.
Growing up at the cabin, my brother Bart and I would race to the bottom of the lake to pick up fistfuls of muck on summer dares. The cabin taught me that silence says more than words themselves; that listening to my breath and birds’ songs is a breath of fresh air; that watching the sunset bleed cotton candy colors between tree branches is sweeter than Derby Pie.
The simple and free moments have had the biggest impact on my sense of vigor in this age of uncertainty. Here are seven tools to practice self-renewal, get clear on what you do want and get comfortable sitting in the discomfort of the unknown.
This is the simplest, most effective tool I know to calm the mind and ground yourself in the present, which is where joy lives. Meditation is imperative in nebulous times. Research now shows that the benefits of meditation are endless. It alleviates anxiety and stress, promotes stronger memory, focus and creativity, promotes a sense of peacefulness, deepens sleeps and cultivates joy.
Many friends and clients have told me, “I don’t meditate because I am not good at it. I have too many thoughts.” But having thoughts is being human and also part of meditation. If you are new to meditation, there are many free apps available. Insight Timer and Calm are two of my favorites.
Abica, owner of YOGAST8 yoga studio in Louisville, says her meditation practice gives her a sense of renewal in these dark times. “Any time I sit down and meditate, there is a sense of renewal. I feel revived. We have to charge our phone every night or it will die. And we have to recharge ourselves too or we will stop running. In the chaos of watching the world crumble and having zero control of it is terrifying. Meditation or getting on the yoga mat is a calming reset. You can take the chaos in the world and find your calm. You can’t control all these big things, but you can control the little things. In understanding that power, there is a renewal and less worry.”
2. Holy Pause
Before you roll out of bed and beeline to your caffeine fix, pause and scan your body. Notice, do you feel refreshed or tired? Choose your waking thoughts wisely as they set the stage for the rest of the day.
Throughout the day, check-in with yourself and take 90-second pauses. Notice, is my breathing shallow or deep? Am I shrugging my shoulders or furrowing my brows? What emotions are bubbling under the surface?
Like meditation, a holy pause or check-in also grounds us in the present, which is where joy and creativity live. In Western Culture, we are conditioned to believe that humans can embody the energizer bunny with one more cup of coffee. But research shows that taking small breaks to check in with yourself not only promotes productivity, it also cultivates a deeper relationship with ourselves.
When I take my pauses, I like to imagine myself as a little girl. This helps to cultivate compassion for myself. I wouldn’t tell a little girl who is tired to “push through” or “drink an energy drink!” I would suggest a nap or lying down to read.
3. Time Blocks
Time flies, especially since quarantine. If we are not intentional with our time, it sinks like quicksand. Bart Freibert, co-founder of Reign Together, a CBD skincare company, says creating time blocks helps him stay sane and productive. “Time blocking is a form of scheduling, where every hour is accounted for. It’s a way for me to stay on track to create a productive and fulfilled day. It’s important for my sense of sanity. During quarantine, I started doing time blocks, because the days fly by. I am going to get distracted at home because my routine is disrupted. When I have scheduled time blocks the night before, the next morning I get out of bed and don’t snooze because I know what I am doing.”
Planning our days helps us to feel renewed and accomplished. These little milestones make the big ones seem in reach, which is imperative in these strange times.
4. Mindful Movement
Exercise is not just about looking good, it’s about feeling good. And who doesn’t want to feel better when the world is in mayhem? Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist, says exercise, “sensitizes your brain to pleasure. It teaches your brain to expect things to be pleasurable and enhances your brain’s capacity to enjoy everything from good food to a beautiful sunset, to interactions with your kids or friends. It makes everything that feels good feel better.”
Abica reflects this sentiment when she said yoga helped her feel renewed mentally during the pandemic, “it’s not as much the physicality of yoga, but the mental side of yoga that was forced to come out [in quarantine]. The softer side of yoga, like breathing and stretching, was so helpful to clean out my muscles and clear out my mind.”
I grew up a competitive swimmer. After I quit, my fitness decreased. So I began exercising daily because I wanted a beautiful body. What kept me committed and then inspired me to make a career out of fitness was not the physical aspect, but the mental one. That every time I showed up I felt lucid, joyful and courageous.
5 . Reflect to Renew
In order to know where to focus, we must know what we want and reflect — to learn from our mistakes and our successes. Take a holy pause, feel, reflect and renew intention.
Baba Serikali, founder of Nu Chapter Tai Chi Chuan & Qi Gong Institute says, “Especially with the pandemic, people are more mindful of where they go, who they are with, what is working and what isn’t. It’s called adapting. Success comes through our habits and our habits are what make us go forward. Having the ability to change, our mission is not to change the world, but to change ourselves.”
In order to change ourselves, we must get quiet and reflect to move forward with purpose. One of the best places to reflect or simply be is outdoors.
6. Spend Time in Nature
During challenging times, nature always offers me peace and clarity. At the cabin, I love to lie on our wooden porch and gaze up at green foliage that sparkles in the sunlight. Many times I see red-tailed hawks soar above me and am reminded to keep a bird’s eye view or to see the big picture. Watching baby buds bloom in spring and burst in summer reminds me you cannot rush a good thing. Watching the orange, yellow and red leaves fall in autumn reminds me that the only constant is change.
Bart Freibert says, “Louisville has amazing trees throughout the city. There are many different kinds of trees and beautiful canopies. Take time to appreciate them. It’s summer and the leaves are out and the trees are renewed.”
Science now shows that spending time outside expedites healing, reduces stress, improves cognitive ability and renews us with vigor. So leave your phone inside, take a holy pause and commune with nature. Nature has so much to say. And in silence, answers appear.
7. Back to Basics
Dr. Andrew Bourne of Bourne Chiropractic says he associates renewal with this quote, “‘Mastery is basics at their finest.’ Let’s get back to the basics. We need to get back to nature, creativity and whole foods. This shut down gave me a lot of time to do things that gave me joy that I had neglected. Got me back to my grassroots.”
Renew yourself and your perspective by getting back to the basics. Try a healthy new recipe from the internet and play your favorite music while cooking and singing along. Go on a hike and make friends with each tree, plant and bird you see. Take a pause to see how plants change color in dusk’s light. Slow down enough to notice how much nature has to say without using one word.