For many of us, the disruption brought on by the Covid-19 Coronavius Pandemic is a time of loss, uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and isolation. Questions about how to manage "social distancing" are answered by public health experts with vague and varying responses. While I share many of the concerns I hear voiced by friends and colleagues, I am less worried about the potential isolation, in part because I've already been intentionally practicing some social distancing this past year.
For several years, I have enjoyed a life that, by many measures is one of privilege - health and well-being, a supportive, loving spouse and caring family, a beautiful home, economic stability with resources to spare, and the freedom to pursue my creative work. But all that security has done little to assuage my tendency to fall into the melancholy, self-doubt, and restlessness that have plagued me for most of my life. The thing about spending more time alone is that it's harder for me to hide those seemingly less appealing aspects of myself, which I often successfully do in social settings. Engaging with others gives me the opportunity to engage the parts of myself I like, like being creative and expressive, engaging in meaningful conversations, teaching and playing music, helping others, dancing, laughing and celebrating with friends. Thanks to some valuable work I've done with a dear friend and spiritual advisor, I've started to recognize my insecurities less as character flaws and more as the shadows of my best self.
What does all of that navel gazing have to do with the Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic?
Well, my self-doubt and insecurity have kept me from sharing this new professional endeavor I've been sitting on for the better part of a year. In light of recent events, I've realized that there is no better time than now.
In a culture where life is dominated by external events and information overload, there is a real tendency to face unpleasant realities with distraction, entertainment, avoidance, obsession, and work. I'll be the first one to admit that I have had grand plans to tackle unfinished home projects and institute scheduled at-home academic and cultural activities for my kids during this disruption.
But today, I took the time to be quiet and contemplative, and I was reminded that what could be most nurturing for me and my family right now - for our whole society - could be to enter into this period of isolation with a shift toward quiet and simplicity, rather than filling our time with busy work, Netflix, the never-ending news cycle, and a social media frenzy. What would it feel like to actually allow ourselves to become more contained? To learn to be OK with being alone and bored and disconnected. To acknowledge fear and anxiety and uncertainty, not to wallow in them as I sometimes find myself doing, but to recognize those impulses as merely shadows of our best selves. To intentionally invest in creative, life affirming, restorative, healing, and constructive practices that will sustain us in difficult times and give us the capacity to engage more meaningfully with others.
There is no better time for that than now.
One of my favorite contemplative practices is walking the labyrinth I taped out on the basement floor with painter's tape. The metaphor of repeatedly journeying inward to the center of ourselves and then coming back out into the world has resonated deeply with me after many decades of viewing life as an finite and linear path.