Becca Balint: Shifting into new patterns

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As I headed out on my morning jog yesterday, a movement caught my eye; I looked up to see my neighbor pulling the shades up on her window. She peered through the glass and looked out as the sun just poked above the mountaintop across the river. I'd done a similar thing just minutes earlier. This simple gesture — unremarkable in so many ways — holds so much more meaning for me these days. The global pandemic has reshaped my thinking about so many things, and daily rituals have become imbued with meaning. The world feels so dark right now; my neighbor and I were literally letting in more light. But I need to do this in the figurative sense, too.

My days run one into another. Some of my friends and colleagues have taken to calling each day "Blursday" because we have all lost track of time, and our days feel remarkably the same. When I spend hours a day stuck in the little virtual squares on Zoom meetings, there's little to differentiate between gatherings. Work feels plodding — not dynamic — and it takes longer and is invariably choppy. Human connection brings a smoothness to the edges and gives energy when a flat screen just takes. The online gatherings aren't energizing to me, no matter how hard I try to bring a lightness and humor to the task. What's a gal to do?

For me, letting in more light when everything feels so dark requires a change in routine and in scene. I realized the old frames weren't working anymore because they were pre-pandemic frames. The hikes and runs I took before COVID-19 hit weren't soothing to me in the same way. I associated them with a time and place that felt somehow more carefree. Sticking to my pre-pandemic routine depressed me; it reminded me of a time before the quarantining and the social and physical distancing measures. I didn't want the constant reminder. But I still needed to get outside and move my body each morning.

So I began taking different routes. I reversed the direction of previous runs or hikes, giving me a literal and figurative change of view. These small changes also reminded me that we humans are adaptive and resilient. We can integrate new information. We can absorb and process a great deal of pain when we have built-in outlets and releases. We can find more lightness when we create small moments of relief. We can build in breaks from the relentless anxiety caused by this pandemic's shapeshifting.

I've also changed my morning routine a bit. I normally start each day with coffee and skimming several newspapers online. I'm a news and politics junkie, so I've always enjoyed this brain food in the past. But I've found that, for right now, I don't need to start my day this way, confronted by darkness. I made a plan to read the newspapers later in the day when I felt more emotionally equipped to process the news. This tiny shift in my habit has made my heart a bit lighter, and that's in turn made me feel like my days hold more possibility and promise.

A pandemic is as good a time as any to make a major shift in your life, and I know some friends are doing just that. But for many of us, small changes in routine can also provide solace. Make a small tweak to your agenda today. Focus on bird sounds for five minutes; take a different walk; make time for music; stretch for a few minutes on the grass; or open the shades and look out at a hillside.

Becca Balint writes from Brattleboro on history, politics and culture. She currently serves as Senate Majority Leader in the Vermont Legislature, representing the Windham District. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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