It's week three of shelter-at-home in California. The frantic search for food and items we think we need has calmed some, and the reality that this is a much longer marathon than we could have ever imagined is beginning to be a reality.
There is one thing we know with certainty. We are all struggling. There is no escape from it. Even among the new schedules we have set up for ourselves and the additional sleep we may be getting, jobs are gone, business has tried up, and stocks have plummeted. Even with all the zoom calls that brighten our day, friends and families are cut off and kids are bored and restless. Dear ones are getting sick and sometimes dying. And we are left to hold this all, as well as the vastness of the unknown on a level which is difficult to comprehend.
We need to be quite careful not to turn this struggle into added pressure as we naturally ask ourselves, what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to make things better, to use this time wisely? On its face, of course, this is a great sentiment. We all hope to use our time wisely our entire lives. Right now, however, this concept feels like a double-edged sword. If we don’t come at this idea from a place of curiosity and gentleness, it could generate more stress and feelings of failure. We may feel enormous pressure to accomplish things, or to do isolation well. Yet, in a survival mindset, there is do or don’t, not really a do well.
It feels important to emphasize that none of us, in all of our dreams of extra time in our lives, conjured up this scenario. When we imagine having time, it's usually on a vacation, with our loved ones, in comfort, not fear. Now, we are in this precarious moment trying to make the best out of a terrible situation. In considering what I am supposed to do, I want to add two words to the question: how can I use this time wisely for me? Adding me to the equation opens up the possibility of discovering what I uniquely need to do, rather than doing what I think I should.
How we get to the answer is important. At the beginning of this whole thing, I felt that familiar pressure related to accomplishing--scanning in my head all the large projects that never seem to get done. Yes, I will pull everything out of the barn and sort and organize it. In fact, I will clean and organize everything. No, none of this happened yet. Why? Because I didn’t add in the overwhelm and stress I feel that puts a damper on my level of concentration. Because I did not account for homeschooling, keeping up with a house that is exponentially messier because we are in it all the time, nor the feeding everyone always and the exhaustion I feel from all of this. I don’t want to add another thing to my plate that puts pressure on myself to somehow make this time more meaningful, I’d rather find a way that allows me to uncover the meaning.
If I am going to figure out the best use my time, it's going to have to be from a process of discovery from the inside out, and not the other way around. I have been utilizing mindfulness to figure it out. This is the state of observing myself and what’s going on around me with curiosity instead of judgment. It means noticing sensations and emotions happening in my body without immediately jumping to thoughts about what I notice. Its resisting multi-tasking, so that I can pay attention to the thing I am actually doing. It is about slowing down into each moment. And it's adding breathing to everything. Those deep belly breaths, the ones with the long slow exhale.
This allows me to enter into my beginner’s mind. A place where I don’t have the answers and I am not supposed to have them--a place without assumption. No, I don’t know why my spouse is doing that, maybe I should ask him. No, I don’t know that I am doomed. Or how we will recover from this. I don’t know if I will get the virus or not. I don’t know the impact of this on my child. I don’t really know anything, but I can stay in this moment and discover what’s here. And each moment will lead to another moment. And I can build knowledge and insight from each discovery.
In this process, I have discovered, on a whole new level, the effect of my mood on my loved ones. This is a hard one. I never want to hurt the people I love, or cause them distress, but I do. We are just a little family of three. We are cut off from our community and all the ways that we leave one another and are absorbed and supported by other people when we are annoyed with each another. A couple of days ago, I was irritated with my son because he was not ending his gaming session after several requests. I raised my voice and said enough. He got off, then he burst into tears and said he was sorry and ran to hug me. That was not the correction for which I was looking, nor something that would have happened in the past. We would have probably snarled at each other a bit and then gone elsewhere until the tension faded. Now that buffer is gone. I felt terrible about my impact. As I hugged him tight, I realized that in this tiny family, I am 50% of his feedback about himself right now, so the effect of a moment of anger and disappointment is huge.
A very wise use of my time, for me, is to continue to track myself emotionally, recognize what is happening, and express it in a way that allows my family to join with me, not be pushed away. This doesn’t mean I have to be the portrait of calm. I am not the super cheerleader, although I love to laugh. I have been crying on and off the last two days, as I wrap my head around the idea of no school until fall. And when I just tear up openly, I get some sweet hugs. I still may get some larger projects done, I don’t know. What I do know is that whatever I decide to do with this very strange time, will be because of the discoveries I make in these moments, with my beginner’s mind.