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Mood & Stress

What Do You Do With Your Own Stuff During a Pandemic?

Life is filled with uncertainty, especially at times like this. While many things remain outside your control, your mindset is key to coping with difficult circumstances and facing the unknown.

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One of my best friends in the world is Jeannette Bessinger, also known as The Clean Food Coach.*

Earlier this year, she heard the words no one ever wants to hear from their doctor: You have cancer.

And then the pandemic happened.

Well, it all worked out, (Jeannette is amazing and if you don’t know her inspiring work, check her out here). She recently sent out a newsletter asking an intriguing question:

How do you deal with your own stuff in the middle of a pandemic? I’ll bet a lot you are asking yourselves the same question right about now. After all, relationship issues, body dysmorphia, economic worries, personal insecurities … all that stuff doesn’t just disappear because we’re in lockdown. Under these weird, unusual circumstances, many of those issues actually seem magnified.

What to do, what to do … Well, I don’t have the answer to that question. But I do have a roadmap for how to solve it.

I simply ask myself: “What would Rob Kapilow do?”

What Would Rob Do?

About a hundred years ago when I was a pianist/musical director in New York City, I studied with an extraordinary conductor named Rob Kapilow.

You don’t know him, but imagine a young Leonard Bernstein. Conductor, pianist, composer and world-class teacher who also happened to be a Division One level tennis player with a black belt in martial arts. A cheerful, upbeat guy with a kind of inner Zen that made everybody want to be around him.

One day, Rob gets called to fill-in for Sarah Caldwell, the quirky, legendary conductor of the Opera Company of Boston. Caldwell was sick, and they needed someone to conduct the weekend performance of a famous Verdi opera. As I remember, the opera was about three hours long and the score was several hundred pages.

Rob had never conducted the opera before.

I was there when the call came in to Rob’s studio on the upper west side of Manhattan. The task seemed monumental, undoable, impossible. I mean, how do you learn a 3 hour opera by the weekend? And conduct it in front of an orchestra and chorus of seasoned professional musicians who do not, I might add, tolerate fools gladly?

“How in the world are you going to learn this?” I asked Rob.

He smiled and shrugged in his cheerful way.

“Simple”, he said.

“One note at a time.”

One Note At A Time

Though that happened nearly 30 years ago, I remember it vividly because it illustrated a way of thinking about problems that has served me well for the last few decades. It was a musical version of “one day at a time,” which many of you will recognize as the mantra of 12-step programs.

In an era of COVID uncertainty where down is up and up is down and most of us can’t agree on which is which, Rob’s words — and the mantra of 12-step programs — could not be more relevant.

There may not be a perfect answer to “how do you handle your own stuff in the time of COVID”, but whatever your personal answer turns out to be, you’re much more likely to find it if you approach the challenge with as much inner calm and peace as you can muster.

Rob could learn a huge score in a week for one reason only: he got out of his own way. He was able to defuse the anxiety and worry that gets in the way of learning, and actually focus on the material that needed to be learned.

Once the fear/ anxiety/ anger/ worry/ resentment is disabled, solutions show themselves much more clearly. And much more quickly.

Getting that Rob-like Zen state of mind may not be possible for everyone under every circumstance — it certainly isn’t for me — but to the extent that you can do it, you may see things a lot more clearly — including solutions.

There’s a reason “one day at a time” has been around so long and helped so many people out of so many challenging circumstances.

It’s because it works.

*Jonny Bowden and Jeannette Bessigner write Better Nutrition’s monthly column “Healthy Dish.” Read their latest column here.