10 Survival Strategies for Tough Times

Image: Toy boat floats on green pond water. Photo by SofiLayla/Pixabay.

Here are the things that keep my boat afloat during these difficult times.

  1. Rituals. Life’s small rituals are very important. When I get up, I want my coffee. But I don’t want someone to hand it to me, I want to make it, because the making of coffee is one of my morning rituals. I measure the coffee, put it in the cone, heat the water, pour it over, and… coffee! After I have drunk the coffee, I’m ready for the world. For others it may be a bedtime ritual, or a bathing ritual, or the ritual of putting on cosmetics. These little rituals of life orient us so that we can keep our equilibrium.
  2. Prayer. I put my worries and my hopes into words, and I either write them out or say them. When I have no words, I listen, in case God or the Universe or somebody wants to communicate. I also say the prayers of Jewish tradition that help me navigate, that remind me of my path.
  3. Charity. The Hebrew words is tzedakah, but it means giving from the cash resources I have to alleviate the suffering and privation of others. This reminds me that there are many people in the world worse off than I am. Tzedakah helps me keep my perspective.
  4. Acts of Kindness. These are also known in Hebrew as gimilut hasidim. It isn’t enough for me to give money. I spend some time doing acts of kindness, which have gotten tricky in the age of Covid. Used to be, I did volunteer work. Now that I’m sequestering away from the virus, I do acts of kindness by being a better listener when someone needs comfort. Or I cook some food to share, and drop it off on someone’s porch.
  5. Study. Torah study serves several purposes. If I aim high enough at difficult material, studying completely occupies my brain, and gives me relief from worry. I can’t translate Aramaic-infused Hebrew AND perseverate over the government at the same time — I’m just not that smart! — and by studying Torah, I am learning more about that map I’m trying to follow.
  6. Busy Hands. This takes several forms: cleaning the house is mundane self-care, but it also reminds me that I am responsible for my corner of the universe. Gardening gives me a sense of connectedness to the natural world. Knitting literally keeps my hands busy, so that I don’t eat my emotions, and it gives me things to give away to friends and the many support people in my life.
  7. Creative action, aka Arts and Crafts. I am not a great artist, but I enjoy putting the colors together for my knitting. I draw cartoons — mostly pictures of turtles or lions– on blank cards, for my wife to color. She loves to color, and I love to draw the cards. Then we put notes on the bank and mail them as postcards to friends. Finally, we cut each others’ hair and laugh at the results. Making a little bit of beauty in the world makes us feel better. Getting our hair out of our eyes is a relief!
  8. Saying “I love you” and “Thank you.” I try not to let a day go by without letting the people I love KNOW that I love them. I might say it straight out, or I might tell them something specific for which I’m grateful. It lifts them up and it lifts me up, too. Another daily vitamin for the spirit is gratitude: thanking someone. They might be a public person who has done something I like, or someone who has done me a kindness, but I try to give thanks to someone every day. Thanking God is good, but I find that thanking people has a special oomph of its own.
  9. Care of the Body. Eating right, keeping clean, and exercising are not glamorous activities, but they are another way of acknowledging my place in creation. I’m a bodily creature, and I’d better take care of this body if I want to keep living in it.
  10. Music and Art. I try to read something good, or look at art, or listen to good music every day. I need the art of others. The arts affirm the best in humanity, including in me.

Looking back on this list, it seems so mundane! But it’s the truth, it’s what keeps me going. If you have a little Jewish knowledge, you may also have noticed that most of these things are mitzvot, commandments. Torah is an excellent guide to living!

What keeps you going in these difficult times? What keeps your boat afloat?