At around day 10 of the shelter in place order, I had big plans for what I was going to do with my new allocation of free time. I was inspired to serve, write, create, and bake sourdough bread. And then day-15 hit, and I found myself unable to budge on any of these plans. This was a creative introvert’s ideal setup, and I was living in it from within a fishbowl.
This blog post is as much to me as it is to all of you. And I write this more candidly, because I want you to know, you’re not alone. And if you’re feeling out of sorts, remember that the world is out of sorts.
Ready or not, we are all becoming agents in shaping how humans will relate to each other going forward in the wake of this crisis, but we’re in this together. How we relate to ourselves will be the basis for how we relate to others. So we continue the series, focusing on our relationship to ourselves as individuals in this Part II of “Love in the Time of Corona“, alternatively titled: “Life Without Deodorant, and Other Fun Surprises”.
Disclaimers and Fine Prints
I want to share what has worked for me and the others in my life, which are the closest data points I have. My hope is that you may not necessarily follow anything mentioned here, but rather you begin to ask yourself these same questions that my friends and I have all been asking. I would also love to hear what each of you are doing to stay connected to yourselves and others. We all have a lot to learn and hopefully we can all become partners in this quest to navigate this very challenging season.
Many of the things here require time to reflect. But there are many who do not have the luxury of time during this pandemic. All the parents of young children, who now have to work full-time, homeschool, and raise their children, at the same time. First-responders who are on the front-lines in hospitals that are over-capacity. Adults who have to work outside of their home, or those having to hustle because they suddenly lost their jobs. While many found more time on their hands in this pandemic, many, many others found much less. A special shout goes your way, you’re definition of being present.
Stay six-feet apart, from yourself!
Listen: “We Can Work it Out”, The Beatles
Without realizing, we were all suddenly thrust drastically into a new reality. When they change the drivers license, we’re given a five-year lead time to adjust to carrying something in our wallets that looks different than it used to. There is no playbook for what just happened here. We have a dangerously contagious illness, overburdened health systems, and a frozen economy. Let’s add to that: we need to be far apart from each other and unable to leave our homes. Loved ones will need to be kept apart, and others will be putting their health at risk to do their jobs.
And if all that wasn’t enough, we still need to keep our lives and our loved ones going. Perhaps our expectations of ourselves could be just a little tempered, or at the very least recalibrated.
The usual daily questions one might ask include: Why can’t I keep my cool right now? Why can’t I sleep? Why do we keep fighting? Why am I tired of people? Why do I want to give my children away? Why am I feeling hungry? Why can’t I eat? Why am I overworking? Why can’t I get anything done? Am I being paranoid? Who’s got the best pizza delivery??? Why can’t I think positively??! The answer to these fine questions and those similar, as spoken in the voice of one of my childhood buddies: it’s because we’re in a friggin pandemic. Get the hell outta here.
If you’re anything like me, you give understanding to others more easily than yourself. My expectations have remained high during this, so you can imagine the frustration when things don’t go according to plan. For example, sometimes I like to think out loud. Now, suddenly because of sheltering in, I think it’s “creepy” and feel weird doing it. I still do it, but give myself the side-eye in mid-conversation. We’re inches away from drawing faces on our fruit.
But, often times our struggles will be much darker and more serious than resembling Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Maybe we can offer ourselves that same room to breath. What if we gave ourselves that same 6-feet of space we are extending to the public. We are gonna mess up. We’re not gonna be cool. We’re not gonna sleep, and if we do, we’ll have crazy dreams where Edith Piaf sneezes on our cheesecakes. It’s fine. We will adjust, there’s no doubt, and like all transition periods, they’re awkward and filled with acne.
Space from others?
Burnt out from all the Zoom parties? The phone calls from that high school friend who you’re not quite sure how they got your number? There have been moments where I’ve been actually more socially burnt out than in “real life”. There’s an unsaid (and sometimes said) expectation that everyone is available all the time. Available all the time? You hear how ridiculous this sounds, right? Yet how many of us are starting to expect that of ourselves and others. This idea is so dangerous to everyone involved. Creating boundaries for ourselves can be a powerful way to exercise self-care. Some would say it’s the basis.
Ok, no more soap box. Ok, just one more:
And let’s do ourselves a favor, and take social media feed with a grain of salt. Mark Mason describes the “tyranny of exceptionalism” that oppresses us every time we open our social media feeds from celebrities and friends alike, and COVID-19 is not the time for that. Many will appear like they’ve conquered sheltering-in living, as if they’ve been training for this for years. It’s an illusion. Yes, that instagram yoga pose in that perfectly decorated living room is so zen. I’m sure that homemade ramen is as delicious as our phones make it look. Remember, no one’s truly got this. You’re in good company.
Listen: “Metamorphosis”, Philip Glass
You might be thinking, “Oh great, another blog about mindfulness”. If you thought these words you might want to skip over this section. Look, I can’t talk about love of ourselves without talking about this topic. Simply, it’s loving and caring for ourselves enough that we want to develop an awareness of what’s happening inside and around us. It’s not about being perfectly peaceful and happy, and it’s not feeling at one with all around us and all those warm and fuzzy feelings. It’s just about being curious enough about what’s going in inside us, and around us, and open enough to get answers. These are some things I’ve been trying to be mindful about.
Mindfulness of being
Who do I want to be right now? I saw this great infographic on LinkedIn last week, asking the question, “Who do I want to be during COVID-19?” It poses a roadmap for us, to move from a place of fear to a place of growth. But that’s what I relate to. What do you relate to? Who do you wanna be? And regardless, how do we get there?
Some recommend the beginning of change is in silence, stillness. Lao Tzu, says “Be still. Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity”. I take that to mean that there’s a great wisdom we can learn if we just stop, and that includes about ourselves and our role in all this.
This is our time to pause. A friend of mine says “this is a time for the extroverts to learn from the introverts” and I couldn’t agree more. If we’re just going to fill it up with things to do and try to keep going as if nothing has changed, we’re missing a golden opportunity. This could be an amazing time to take stock of our lives and our impact on ourselves and each other. This is where we can learn how we can start giving back. Or maybe we can just enjoy a natural state of silence for its own sake.
Just like the universe is burst forth out of a singularity in a vast sea of nothingness, I really believe new aspects of our lives are born in a stillness.
Mindfulness of restoration
Do you know what restores you? Do you know what gives you peace of mind?
A former colleague and friend gave me the wisdom of “Body first, then mind, then spirit.” I’ve not looked back. Movement has become a great way for me to work out the stress, which in turn opens up my mind to both expand to new ideas, and to process some more difficult emotions. Which then in turn makes me more able to connect with myself on a soul level, which for me then opens me up to connect with others in nurturing ways, which in turn inspires me to continue to nurture myself. You get the picture. How do you restore yourself?
Mindfulness of schedule
I annoyed a friend of mine today because I scheduled a 30 minute window where we could speak. He was more amused than annoyed. We connected 10 minutes before the window was over, and a few minutes after my stop time, I said my goodbyes. After giving me shit, he understood. I’d say especially for those who are sheltering-in, and schedules have gone amorphous, it’s time to get stricter. Now more than ever, we need to be mindful of how we’re expending energy.
We don’t have the luxury of changing locations in order to define a schedule for us. We are not always going to be available, and that’s ok! There’s still only 24 hours and 0.63 milliseconds in a day and we’re still human, and our brains haven’t become suddenly great at multitasking, just because everyone now knows where we are at all times: home.
Some friends are praising the fruits of having a solid morning routine to anchor the whole day. Others are using Google Calendar or other calendar apps to segment even more mundane things. Remember there is no perfect routine. A friend recommended the Fablous App as a way to develop good life habits. I finally downloaded it, let’s see how it goes!
Mindful of going inward. Or outward. Or both
I’ve found myself at times reaching out to a higher power. I can be one of those, pray when things get hard kinda guys. I turn back to my tradition for tools that help me connect in this way. The familiarity alone is grounding when so much is in flight. A friend sent me his rendition of the Prayer of Thomas Murton. I was so moved by the honesty of those words:. “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.”
Whether you’re more like Don Draper (or Jack Black), no doubt you’ve dabbled in meditation at some point. I’ve done my fair share of meditation over the last few weeks. These are honestly some of the best moments I’ve had during this time. I’ve had the opportunity to meditate alone, and with friends. My left foot has fallen asleep while sitting cross legged so many times, I often just have a limp now. Meditating with others especially has really surprised me in how powerful and invigorating it can be. I think it’s because it’s the same concept of reaching out to something bigger than ourselves, some reach out to the supernatural, some reach out to nature, and I think equally valid is reaching out to the collective “us”. We together are bigger than ourselves. And we together are what we have to help get us through this. I know you’ve heard this all before, just reminding.
Mindful of media
Let’s be real. We just can’t help clicking on horrifyingly sounding headlines. Maybe we could do less of that? I was so refreshed to find this blog, Reasons to be Cheerful. Because it’s rare to find a publication consistently talking about the positives that can come from this and other difficult situations.
Dance with a stranger, responsibly
A friend of mine hit a wall a few weeks in as well. He is also sheltering alone. The lack of human contact has been making this experience more difficult than expected, and he is very much an extrovert. On a walk around the neighborhood, he stopped by one of his favorite overlooks. A woman walked over near where he was and draw a line on the floor, near where his foot was, to the edge. He took offense to this, as to him it looked as if she was re-emphasizing the 6-foot barrier between them, lest he forget the obvious. Giving her the benefit of the doubt he asked her, “what’s the line for?”. She gleefully replied, “We’re having a dance party! Every box is a place where you can safely dance. You wanna join?” A warm glow surrounded him, as he felt a great heaviness being lifted from his shoulders. He had no idea how important this benign invitation could be, and it clued him in to what his mind and body has been missing. He decided to go with what felt necessary to him, even if it wasn’t his usual M.O. This is a good time to take risks as well.
On Mental Health
For many, this is not simply just a “difficult time”. There are serious mental-health implications and warnings, given by experts, in the wake of lengthy periods of stress and/or isolation. A New York Times Op-Ed poses an interesting paradox: “Social distancing” is required to prevent infection. But loneliness can make us sick. Kaiser Foundation published a study recently, saying that half of all Americans feel they’re experiencing a decline in their mental health. Please, when it comes to your mental health, take it seriously. Ask for help. From a friend or family member. Many people, some whom you’ve never met before, want to be there for you. Reach out. The CDC offers a set of resources and hotlines to connect with if you are in a state where help is needed.
Change yourself, change the world
Ok, let’s wrap up this chapter. Thank you for reading so far. For those of us in the USA, the time of isolation and social distancing is just getting started. But already, conversations are happening about how we will return to work and towards social integration. We’ll likely not return to “normal”, nor should we necessarily want to. This is not just a temporary interruption in service, this could be the beginning of a paradigm shift. And in the context of the countless dangers and unknowns that we’re up against as a species, biological or societal, Albert Einstein’s advice echoes appropriately from a century past: “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”
Whichever way the world shifts is up to us. How we respond individually and collectively will trickle up to the larger scale. Yes it’s true there are serious implications on how society will operate in the wake of these events, from easing regulations on virtual healthcare, to the potential decline in political polarization that has been ripping us all apart. There could be some revolutionary things on the horizon! Let’s pause for a moment, and zoom-in on the self and the opportunities to connect and serve around us. I’d argue that our commitment to these smaller scale changes that we can control, are just as crucial. How we relate to ourselves and our communities will inform the larger systems on what will work and what will not, what we will accept, and what we can’t.
Ok, now onto the juicy stuff! In part III we’ll talk about connecting with others. Until then, let me know your thoughts! How are you experiencing Love in the Time of Corona? Send me a note at paulkist AT g mail. Those bots will never figure it out.