Monet’s famous paintings of water lilies in a pond in Giverny, France, famously presented us with the beauty of lily pads, wonderfully green and flowering, anchored by their roots in the murky bottom mud of the pond — a scene made for contemplation. Who knew they could also be a useful symbol of survival through dark times?

“Lily-padding.” That’s what my wife, Karen, says she will be doing to get through the next few months.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The fall of 2020 promises to be challenging, to say the least. A good strategy is in order. Hiding under the covers until it’s over? Not a good strategy. Maybe denial? Outsmarting? Perhaps we can try blame! That will fix things, right?

The most useful strategy I have employed so far is “one day at a time.” Let’s keep that one. However, lily-padding takes it one step further, so if you like the “one day at a time” method, you might be inclined to try lily-padding too.

We have a joke in our family about getting through the Holidays, which seem to start in September these days. “Geez, don’t ask me what I will be doing next year, I am just trying to get through Halloween.”

Of course, the joke involves the expectation that you will say that you are trying to get through to a holiday with more gravity, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. Nobody sets Halloween as their endurance goalpost, except for perhaps witches and goblins. This joke references the utility of setting our sights on a reachable goal and date, rather than leaving things more general, as in “just trying to survive.”

Lily-padding is the conscious selection of events, dates, and even objects, adopted as a sequence of rewards or goals over time. This sequence allows your psyche to “leap” from one to the next in a rhythm which always gives you something current to look forward to, much as a folktale frog might travel across a pond leaping from one lily pad to the next. It’s an elongated version of “one day at a time.” Each next selection is your lily pad, and the object of this mind game is to place them within leaping distance of each other.

Leaping distance varies for all of us, but generally, it’s about how long you feel you can go between things that will captivate and enliven your spirit. It’s the distance you must travel before the outside world starts closing in on you again. This may appear to be about distracting yourself from the real world, but rather it’s more about not letting the world around you distract from what is real to you.

Ah… that’s the real deal. Leaping from real to real, rather than falling into the abyss of what you fear, internally or externally. Lily-padding is a strategy for resilience. How do we survive — and indeed, thrive — during a journey through these times, no matter how long these times last?

Karen’s lily pads are anything that give her joy. She has designated the following: visits from our grown kids and other family members, a short trip to a safe destination, birthdays and holidays, a proper, socially distanced happy hour at a neighbor’s house, even weekly pilates sessions online. All of these things form a bridge from now to a set time in the future, after which, hopefully, more lily pads have been or will be designated.

It’s a trick, I admit. You are tricking yourself into anticipation and gratitude for things large and small, for simply having life, love, and comfort in whatever form it might take over the next few months.

Lily-padding is about accepting what is, and being okay with it. Our lily pads are strategically placed psychological perches allowing us to leap, leap, leap until we get to the other side. The good thing about lily pads is that they are usually found right there in plain sight once you know how to look for them. The simple act of looking, seeing, acknowledging, thanking, experiencing, and then moving on to the next will allow them to emerge for us, almost like a water plant growing up from its roots deep below the surface of a pond.

We are meant to move across this time and circumstance. It’s hard, I know. It necessitates having a plan to allow us to build on what is and what we can make of it.

***

When I was a kid, I loved those movies about people being shipwrecked because the plot usually involved the castaways finding and using unexpected things around them to build shelter and sustenance, gradually re-establishing life despite their circumstances. Disney’s “Swiss Family Robinson” was a favorite, but of course, the most famous of these by far was Gilligan’s Island. I loved the resourcefulness of the castaways, but also the back story of people able to make-do and even thrive in totally new environments. Lily-padding is part of this spirit.

Back in March 2020, we were led to believe our hard times would be over in about three months. Simply “a three-hour (month) tour.”

But now here we are, still stuck on this island long after the scheduled three-hour tour. What can we do? Start finding, building, imagining, planning. Ultimately, we can make this place our own, even though we would have never chosen to be here. We need tools, crafted from whatever we can find. There are valuable resources everywhere — you just need eyes and a heart to recognize and use them.

***

As previously mentioned, lily pads can be things that are on your schedule, or items discovered. However, another way to construct your lily pad path is from lists of ancient virtues — virtuous lily-padding. One such list comes from the New Testament: kindness, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, and humility.

Or maybe you would prefer the Seven Virtues of Bushido (the way of the Samurai); Integrity, respect, heroic courage, honor, compassion, honesty and sincerity, duty and loyalty.

You get to pick and choose your own virtuous lily pads, Here are my seven: joy, mystery, faith and hope, acceptance, humility, kindness and the finding of alternative paths (contrariness). Yes, you counted right — that’s more than seven, so I’ll add yet another: not being too hung up on exactitudes. As you get out there in the pond, you might need an extra lilypad or two, so add on virtues as you go.

The trigger for your virtuous lily-padding is your contemplation of each, on a designated day. Each virtue becomes your theme for that certain period, a lens through which you view your everyday life, actions and your world. Today, I will emphasize kindness and humility. Tomorrow, I will seek to discover and accept the mystery in what I encounter. On Friday, I will practice contrarianism and do things the opposite of the way I normally do them.

And so it goes. You manage your path through times with your own conscious presence, rather than focusing too much on the future.

Lily-padding is about creating value with what is in our life now . It’s the equivalent of Gilligan crafting a drinking cup from a coconut shell. It can be kinda fun if you let it be.

***

I don’t know when we will get off this island, what vessel will we choose to drink from, or where our path of lily pads will lead to. But I do know that it should be our own path and our own walk. How we choose to walk that walk will go a long way toward making our way forward to whatever is next.

Here’s to adding a little leap — or twenty — along the way, to make the journey a bit more joyous. See you on the other side of the pond.

Finding connectivity in all things. Our world is interesting, unusual, and full of unexpected people and stories. https://www.stringtheorybyraybrimble.com