AS A CANADIAN living abroad, the border restrictions prevented my family from reuniting for 18 very long months. When the time finally came for us to fly north, I braced myself for the new challenges of pandemic travel (my three-year-old now thinks we’re getting a COVID-19 test every time we pass a pharmacy).
What I didn’t anticipate, though, was the underlying anxiety that so many of us are carrying. There is an undeniable tension that accompanies the seemingly simple interactions we’ve been so long without, and despite our best intentions, the impacts of pent-up expectations and a longing to connect can be stressful.
So how do we make the most of the time spent together, at last, without laboring over what could or should have been? With all the turbulence the pandemic has created, there is also a beautiful silver lining — we just have to train ourselves to see it. After what ended up being a revitalizing, heartwarming reunion with my family, I’m reassured by the simple ways we can anchor ourselves to that which matters most: presence, connection, and joy.
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COVID-19 has impacted each of us differently, so instead of assuming you know what it’s been like for a loved one or that they’re still into X, Y, or Z — ask! Curiosity leads to connection and asking questions is the ultimate recipe for reuniting with compassion.
“Catching up” can be overwhelming. Where do we begin and how can we possibly cover all that has transpired? Instead of trying to make your way through a long list of topics, simply listen with a deep desire to learn. You may be pleasantly surprised by how the conversation organically unfolds. Let yourself lean into whatever feels most important in the moment, instead of adhering to a predetermined highlight reel.
When gathering, especially with kids, it’s important not to be too rigid about a sequence of events. Maybe a little one needs to nap before they join the fun. Maybe someone’s become vegan in the last year and can’t eat what’s being served. Anything that seems like a curveball can also be a conduit for connection if we remain open and nonjudgmental.
One of the greatest pandemic silver linings is the forced reprioritization of quality over quantity. Although you may not get to see each other as often as you’d like to, or as often as you used to, there’s an opportunity to make the most of that time by naming what matters most. Depending on your communication style and the nature of your relationship, it can feel awkward at first to acknowledge the ways in which someone is special to you. However, shining a light on the things you love and respect about someone goes a long way toward strengthening a bond.
At the core of mindful living and gathering is the practice of recognizing all that you have, all that’s going well, and those in your life whom you love. While it’s easy to get caught up in negativity bonding — the simplistic connection that comes from complaining about the same things —listing everything that’s challenging or stressful simply perpetuates the notion that these are the areas most deserving of attention. Instead, commit to leading with at least one thing that you’re grateful for. And remember, simple can be sacred, so anything counts, from your health to your new house plant.
What’s the point of taking a vacation if all you do is worry about work the whole time? If you notice yourself lingering on a memory from the past or planning ahead on tomorrow’s to-do list, make the most of your interactions by anchoring yourself into the present by way of your body and breath. Notice your posture, the seat or the floor beneath you, and deepen your inhales and exhales. This simple technique for self-soothing will set the stage for less effort and more grace.
Whether you have an upcoming family reunion of your own to look forward to, or simply want to make the most of your next social gathering, I hope these techniques will serve you well in holding space for others to meet you in the here and now.
Jenn Tardif Writer
Jenn Tardif is the founder of the mindful collective 3rd Ritual, a certified aromatherapist, and a writer. A devout student of Taoism, yoga, and mindfulness, Tardif is a firm believer that wisdom lights the path to well-being, and has made a lifelong commitment to share the teachings with anyone curious enough to learn more.
Jessa Carter Photographer
Jessa Carter (she/her) is a multimodal omnidisciplinary artist compelled toward the collapsing of categories, systems thinking, and collective healing. Carter’s work/play traverses ecosystem and egosystem to trace the leading lines of value, ownership, authorship, identity, time, performativity, language, and labor.