The Marine Corps motto is ‘Semper Fidelis’ – Always Faithful. For those of us who served in the Corps, there’s another motto we heard regularly as well: ‘Semper Gumby.’ This amusing saying means ‘Always Flexible.’ I’ve been thinking about it a fair bit as the latest pendulum swing of the pandemic knocks over various events, gatherings, and otherwise makes a mess of the lives we were rebuilding. I’ve noticed that although I’m a bit grumpy about my plans being shifted, I’m nowhere near as upset as some of my close friends and loved ones. I suspect that my reaction to the new shift is rooted in my old Marine Corps mindset.
There’s a lot of ‘hurry up and wait’ in the Marines. An inspection at 8 AM meant assembling at 6 AM meant prepping at 4 AM meant that the inspection would be canceled at 8:30 AM because…reasons. Orders would change, plans would shift at the last minute, and something that was SET IN STONE yesterday would be completely reversed tomorrow. If you were too rigid in your adherence to plans, policy, and schedule, you’d lose your mind.
So, Semper Gumby. I can still recall my Staff Sergeant’s voice saying it when I was fussing about the latest change to whatever was going on. “Semper Gumby, Grastorf.” I repeat it to myself now when I’m shifting over the rituals and gatherings of my community to Zoom. “Semper Gumby, Glasse.”
There’s a need for an attitude of flexibility right now and I’ve been trying to break down how to describe it in a way that might be useful. So, here goes:
Hold Plans Loosely. Right now, everything we put on the calendar should be written in pencil. I include the phrase ‘pandemic allowing’ when talking about events in the future. If I go in knowing and prepping myself for the possibility of change, I am less upset when plans have to shift or transform. For larger scale plans, like travel, this means spending the extra money on everything being refundable. Don’t want to spend the extra money on travel insurance right now? Then it’s simply not the right time for larger scale plans. Allow planning for the future to have a fluid property to it. Have a Plan B already in mind for some of your activities and be prepared to develop a Plan B for others.
Choose patience. I know, this one sucks, but it’s true. I struggle with impatience and that seems to be true for a lot of people I love. However, patience is a quality that improves and increases with practice. You know what now is a good time for? Practicing patience and getting a little better at it. The way that works for me is to consciously relax my body and decide to allow whatever is happening to unfold in its own time. It’s a similar feeling to when I’m interacting with a very small child – let go of the ‘goal’ mindset and just allow. Take deep breaths. Shift from the Driver mindset to the Passenger or Witness mindset. We can’t control the roller coaster, unfortunately. We have to let it run its course. Like a forced march, this will be over when it’s over.
Reflect on your resilience. Having to shift plans again is annoying, but remember that this is not our first time at the rodeo. We know how to change our social gatherings to video conferencing platforms. We know that the meeting really could be an email in most cases. We know the tools and techniques for slowing community spread of the virus. We did this before, we can do it again. And, it’s different this time – the vaccines and boosters offer us greater resistance to the virus. We got through 2020, we will get through this winter. Remember how dark and hopeless March of 2020 was? We are light years from there now. Try to compare now to March of 2020, not prepandemic, and everything looks a bit less bleak.
Have a little faith. In the Marines this meant trusting that the higher ups knew what they were doing, so we’d just shrug and go with whatever the new plan was. With the pandemic, the trust is less in a specific mortal authority or power center and more generalized. We know from history that plagues pass. My own family lived in Philadelphia during the Flu Epidemic in the early 1900’s. It was awful, but the flu did pass. The coronavirus pandemic will as well. We just need to remember that this weird back-and-forth is temporary and have faith that the passage of time will lead us out the other side.
This also means keeping the catastrophizing to a dull roar. If you find that you get into an emotional tailspin when it comes to reading about the pandemic or discussing it, it’s time to reduce the flow of information. Choose one unbiased source to check in with one time per day and try to limit your exposure otherwise. We have to balance our mental and emotional resilience with staying informed. A constant barrage of disaster news stories will not help you be better informed – it’ll just keep you in freak out mode.
Add some stretches. This comes from the yoga teacher part of my brain – our bodies and minds are connected. Where the body goes, the mind follows. Where the mind goes, the body follows. To cultivate a little more flexibility – a little more Gumby – stretch your body. One of my favorite stretch-breaks that can be done while seated is:
Reach your hands up overhead and interlace your fingers. Turn your palms to face away from you and stretch up as high as you can reach. You’ll find that your breastbone naturally lifts as you do so.
Keeping your arms extended, stretch over to one side, then to the other. Try to hold a count of five to fifteen for each stretch.
Turn your interlaced hands so that your palms face you. Keeping your arms extended, lower your hands to shoulder level directly in front of you. Round your upper back as you press the backs of your hands away from you while you drop your chin to your chest.
Unlace your hands and bring them to your sides or lap. Turn as far as you can to one side, twisting in your chair. Hold for five to fifteen seconds, then twist to the other side.
Scoot your chair back from the desk and fold forward over your legs. You can step your feet and legs wide, scooting toward the edge of the chair to create more space for your torso if needed.
If you enjoy stretching and want to add more, consider looking up some full body stretching videos on Youtube.
So, Semper Gumby, friends. We’ll get through this part too. Do you have some good ways to stay flexible and roll with the punches? Hit me up in the comments. You never know when your idea is exactly the advice another person needs.
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