Day 20 of our self-imposed isolation and I have to confess, I haven’t really maximised the opportunity to self-actualize. Not that there’s been any shortage of resources or recommendations shared by beautiful loving-minded friends – how to work from home, how to be healthy when completely alone, how to learn a second language, spring clean your house, meditate every day, practice yoga from your living room, how to make your own cleaning products, how to kickstart home schooling with a ton of resources, how to set up learning games around the house to keep a house-bound kid from tearing it apart…
Are you fucking kidding me?
I haven’t done any of these things.
Like the meme said: “I always said I’d have a cleaner house if I had more time. Turns out that wasn’t the problem.”
I’ve received the suggestions gratefully, and then felt an increasing sense of Overwhelm, (which I asked to go outside and wait for me to meet it there, maybe on Saturday morning, if I can get away for a private little cry, because I’m trying to maintain some psychic equilibrium inside the house for the kid’s sake.) I already had quite a long and stale-smelling to-do list (that included plan garden, put will together, get kid’s Australian passport, do reading for online study course on grief, meal plan for next week, practice Ucwalmicwts, do meditation, be a better person), that wasn’t getting addressed, and now, I’m trapped in a (quite lovely and relatively spacious) house with two (quite lovely and healthy) humans who feel an absurd need to buzz me whenever they’ve done a poo so I can commend them on its size, shape and colour. (I should NEVER have told them that in Chinese medicine, your poo can tell you a lot about your health. Now I’m the consultant on call. “You’re fine! You definitely don’t have the virus.”) I am trying to work from home. But I keep “checking facebook” and getting completely distracted by the thousands of posts of uplifting feeds, science articles, local initiatives – my brain melting into the great psychological cauldron that probably is being turned into an immortality elixir that will keep Mark Zuckerberg alive forever. 400 open tabs later, and it’s time to shut things down already and do my best to be a worthy playmate for a 7 year old who’s imaginative demands are increasingly difficult to live up to.
I’m wondering how long it will take for the work to dry up. I’m wondering what will happen next, how long this will last, if I’ve been too extreme about staying at home and should have been running every day, if I’m going to run out of wine, if the panic is going to get worse, if that whole exponential thing is manifesting already, if I can go back in time and unwatch Contagion. I’m envying people with compost, without kids, with better homesteading skills, with bigger family units, who just posted pictures of themselves at the top of a trail, then hating myself for being petty. I’m hoping there is a great silver lining to this, but I keep checking the virus tracker and updating my stats spreadsheet. I’m reading about grief and caterpillars and the opportunity embedded in this. I’m rationing my snacking and wishing my husband had taken me seriously when I added 10 blocks of chocolate and 20 tubs of ice-cream to the grocery list. (Not hoarding. Just 2 weeks of meal planning, as my local grocery store recommended.)
In short, I’m not self-actualizing. At all.
I’m holding it together, for the most part. But I’m having a lot of below-the-line thoughts – envy, frustration, longing, irritation.
The emergency handbrake has been pulled on business as usual and life as we know it. (On some levels, on ecological levels, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Pollution is way down. That’s a plus.) But I’m rubbing my neck from the whiplash and staring at a stripped down dashboard with just two buttons to choose from: PANIC. Or PAUSE.
And I keep coming back to this, in every moment I start to feel stir-crazy, nervous, frustrated, feverish, hungry, thirsty, anxious to check Facebook, anxious because I’m on Facebook, lonely for my friends and that bookclub conversation we might not have: panic or pause. Panic or pause. Keeping it that simple (not a list of 10 top tips, but a simple bit of binary code, that even a machine could understand) is what is getting me through. Panic or pause. Okay, I choose pause. How do I pause? I take a breath. A deep breath. I can feel my heart rate slow a little bit. Then I see a picture in my mind of my yoga teacher, a meditation friend, a ton of resources that have been sent my way in the last few days, and it starts to escalate again… and then, panic or pause? Oh yes. Pause.
This is a massive pause.
And we’ve been living in a rapidly accelerating world, where the solution for every problem was “go faster.” Stay in motion, and make sure when you’re ready so when the music stops, you dive for one of the few remaining chairs.
Time for a new program.
We don’t know what’s on the other side of this.
I remember something Ryan Proctor shared with me, a few years ago, when I interviewed him about a mountain bike accident that ended in serious reconstructive surgery on his face. As he was being wheeled into surgery, he surrendered himself into the hands of his doctor, with the thought, “you gotta put your trust in someone.” That stuck with me, as a hard and beautiful lesson. We have learned somehow, in these recent years, to trust no one. To earn, spend, spin, keep moving… and if the shit hits the fan look out for number 1. Hoard, and trust no one. I think there’s an aspect of that swirling in the air right now – as much as I see beautiful inspiring gestures online, I can feel it swirling in me too. And yet, my friend in Squamish Danielle Baker has been baking bread to gift people some comfort. #Kindnesspandemic is trending. Choral groups are singing in 20 part harmony via the internet. The aquarium webcam is adorable. My favourite farmer delivered two boxes of potatoes to my door. And the surgeon repaired my friend’s face.
You have to put your trust in something. In each other. In our own capacity to know the appropriate response, to know what is called of us. I can settle into that sense, of stillness, of surrender, of calm – out of which courage and kindness arises. But first, gotta stop the panic. Choose pause. Take another big breath.