Four landscapes in the pandemic

The current world crisis is taxing all our resources. And it seems that we are trying to navigate our way through a range of complex responses. It occurred to me that, amongst others, there are four intertwined landscapes capturing our attention:

The global human landscape

The global natural landscape

Our personal material landscape

Our personal psychological landscape

Our current travels in the human and material worlds may feel bleak. The global human landscape is in unchartered territory which is frightening not least because it is unfamiliar and currently so uncertain. The global natural landscape seems to be doing better. There are many joyous, if not always true, anecdotes of wildlife returning to places that they have been banished from by human occupation, and we know that our human footprint is reduced for the moment.

For many, the personal material landscape is in crisis. Many people have, for the moment, lost their ways of making a living. The way we live our everyday lives has been radically altered. And although many of us are adapting quickly and changing our behaviour, we may be reeling emotionally.

We may be feeling frightened, angry, abandoned, envious of others who are better off, resentful and even persecuted by the virus and the relentless media. Others may be more philosophical, or even floating around in blissful denial.

However, whatever is going on consciously, there is a fourth landscape that we can attend to. This landscape lives in our internal and less conscious world, where our creative wellspring resides and our deepest and longest term experiences are held. That world is brought to our attention through our dreams while we are asleep, through our body impulses and symptoms, and through the spontaneous images, songs, sounds, symbols and feelings that arrive unbidden in our minds. I have noticed that my dreams in the last couple of weeks have mostly offered a respite from the stresses of the external landscapes, and have offered useful commentary on some of my more outdated coping mechanisms.

This last landscape is the most important. It is here that the psyche offers the essential antidotes to despair and fear. It is worth paying attention to our everyday journey through the realms of the unconscious. For ways of starting see Depth Work During the Pandemic.

Depth work during the pandemic

Right now, many of us may feel that we are living in a terrifying reality, beyond that of our wildest nightmares. We do not know how it will unfold, and the sense-making process may be a roller-coaster of extreme emotions. One of the many challenges is how to relate best to ourselves during this time.

Depth work is the work of attending to our unconscious processes, establishing a connection with the full intelligence of our whole selves. Our psychological experiences extend beyond that which we are conscious of, and often lie beneath the surface, beyond our everyday awareness. Depth work gives us access to greater wisdom, to the endless wellspring of creativity resident in our unconscious minds, to fantastical worlds, to irreverent humour, to a poetic world of symbols and unusual connections, and of course, sometimes, to our darkest fears. Personally, I have always found depth work to be life-giving in the end, despite any harrowing detours along the way.

Depth work helps because unconscious processes are often concerned with the alternative viewpoints of a situation or experience, working with different time horizons, and concerned about deeper layers of well-being than our common daily preoccupations. Very often our hearts weep, while our souls applaud.

Some steps to get started with depth work:

  1. Be receptive to the idea that there is a great deal more to your experience than you current awareness of it.
  2. Notice the signals that may be spontaneously popping into awareness in your body and your mind.
  3. Notice your dreams, or if you do not think you dream, consciously start trying to remember if you do (we all dream).
  4. Notice body sensations and symptoms, and try to unfold and follow their emerging trajectory – what is trying to happen?
  5. Notice which symbols (words, people, items, artifacts, ideas, feelings, places, pieces of art or music) catch your attention repeatedly and or movingly, and work out what feelings are associated with those symbols.
  6. Build a mental or physical dictionary of the most important symbols in your life.
  7. Find some way of remembering, understanding and documenting your own life story, listing key moments, events, people and places that affected you deeply.
  8. Connect the symbols in your life with the key elements in your life story – which fit together?
  9. Notice whether there are gaps in your emotional responses to things: experiences cause emotions in predictable ways. For example: loss causes sadness, threat causes fear, intrusion causes anger, kindness causes warmth. The full rainbow of human emotions have a purpose, each emotion helps us to metabolise a life experience. Which emotions may you have avoided or missed that could help you to make sense of and integrate a life experience?
  10. Notice if any of the signals or symbols from your internal or external world bring you closer to some new or different emotions, and pay attention to them, seeing if you can allow yourself to turn up the volume on those emotions.
  11. Identify companions who you can connect with while you explore new depths – a friend or family member that listens and doesn’t advise, or if need be, a professional who is trained to accompany you through depth work.

Online Depth Work

I am trying to see if it is possible to help people do depth work online in this uncertain time. If you would be interested in joining an online depth group, or would like some online depth support, contact me on

Warm regards
Hélène Smit