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This Crisis is the Curriculum

Owning Your Shadow

“Unless you own your shadow, your shadow owns you.” Carl Jung

Twenty-one days into sheltering-in-place we had a full-on meltdown in our home.

Before that moment, we were doing pretty good. Blessed with our health and jobs that are not going away, we’ve seized the downtime for ping pong and bike rides, dog walks and binge-watching disaster movies. We’ve planted a garden, expanded our home-cooked dinner menu and competed in Zoom sing-alongs with far-away siblings.

But all of that togetherness was starting to wear thin, especially when added to the undercurrent of virus-related news. Monday morning, my almost 21-year old son objected to a suggestion I made over coffee. And the tone of the objection struck a nerve for my husband who was already knee-deep in emails at the kitchen table.

My husband responded. I protested his intrusion into a two-way discussion. My son blasted us both. From there the conversation escalated in a way that had me checking to see which windows were open and if any neighbors were in earshot. It ended with doors slamming.

Anyone else feeling over-reactive? Welcome to pandemic week four.

I was reminded of something mindfulness instructor Jon Kabat-Zinn once said at a conference I attended, “We all think we are enlightened until we return home.”

Certainly, family knows how to push our buttons.

But Kabat-Zinn also said, “This moment is the curriculum” and boy oh boy, has the coronavirus ever given us a curriculum. It’s like we’ve all been sent to our rooms for a worldwide time out.

The Covid-19 lesson plan is pushing everyone’s buttons. It is a crisis that reveals the connection between individual choice and collective consequence. It is a crisis in which the way each of us responds is vital.

This crisis is the curriculum

How are you responding and what are you learning? Are you in a reaction mode, feeling triggered and falling back into default behaviors that devolve relationships? Or are you using this time to pause and consider how to up-level your resilience, bringing your best to new challenges?

How we are pre-programmed to respond is a topic that’s been on repeat for me this week.

First, I listened to Brené Brown’s podcast (Unlocking Us), an episode that explored the habitual ways we respond to anxiety. With credit to Dr. Harriet Lerner, Brené explains how our patterned responses to anxiety develop in our first family. We either over-function (take on the world) or under-function (non-action), but either can cause conflict. Developing awareness about these dysfunctional patterned responses allows us to name them and stop ourselves when we are falling into them. Thinking back to the coffee-hour incident, my over-functioning had run smack into my son’s under-functioning.

I also listened to a rebroadcast of an interview between Thich Nhat Hanh and Tami Simon (the founder of Sounds True) that took place over two decades ago (Insight’s on the Edge). Simon invites Hanh to reflect on his own journey and share core Buddhist teachings such as the freedom found in the present moment. “One challenge to present moment mindfulness,” he says, “is the strong nature of ‘habit energy’ and how it pushes us to do what we do not want to do and say what we do not want to say, often damaging relation­ships. The practice of meditation aims at liberating ourselves from the pull of habit energy.”

Unconscious Behavior

Both podcasts pointed to the unintended consequences of unconscious behaviors. And the framework we use at CultureTalk provides another window, Jungian Archetypes.

Archetypes are universal storylines; they represent human characters that are rich and colorful, yet flawed and relatable. We think about the ‘strengths’ and ‘shadows’ of each Archetype as a continuum of behavior that can either serve or hinder success.

In times of crisis, understanding our Archetypes can help us recognize our own reactive and dysfunctional behavior patterns. With that gift, they open the opportunity for us to pause, reflect and respond instead with resilience, up-leveling our interactions, relationships and experiences.

Archetypes in Crisis

The illustration below offers a glimpse of how each the 12 Archetypes of CultureTalk might react to Covid-19 triggers or respond with intention.

How will your Archetypes respond during challenging times? Unconsciously behaviors may be reactive, but with awareness, each Archetype can be resilient.

Lessons for leaders and teams too

Never before has the connection between individual behavior and collective success been clearer. And the same paradigm is true in organizations; the success of one depends on the health of the other. Individuals and organizations are inextricably intertwined.

As we each work to navigate the unknowns, how you respond is vital. Of all of the challenges and changes brought on by coronavirus, ask yourself:

  • What triggers me?
  • Am I am reacting unconsciously and how is that impacting others?
  • How can I transform my response and build the resiliency of my team or company?

Choose wisely

After the morning meltdown, my son and I sat down to listen to a Sarah Blondin meditation together, Our Warring Self vs. Our Infinite Self. In it she reminds us, “ “There are two polar energies, forces living within you, choices for you to make at every triggering moment in your life. Choose wisely. The quality of your life  and love depends on it.”

Yes, choose wisely. Our world is counting on each of us to master this crisis curriculum.