Photo by Zhang Kenny
Re-thinking Inner Peace in a Pandemic
This pandemic life has dragged on longer than I think most of us could have imagined. Like many, I’m wondering how the world will be different on the other side of this. Will working remote be a new norm? Will we better value educators and essential workers? Will we know how to come down from this level of heightened anxiety?
I’m also wondering how I will be different on the other side of this. I certainly don’t mind the way new clothes are being delivered to my doorstep and library books downloaded right into my hands. Exercise has become a bigger part of my routine, even though I have to wear a mask while doing it. There is even some comfort in our empty calendar, letting us live more slowly.
When our world shut down months ago, many external factors in our life changed abruptly. We eventually got a foothold in our new normal, and I started making sense of how I was internally affected as well. I began seeing this unexpected year as an opportunity. We were in a social experiment that we will most likely (and hopefully) never experience again where all of the structure of our carefully crafted lives had been stripped away. It wasn’t pleasant, but it kind of also felt like a fresh start, like a chance to re-assess myself in the emptiness. I’ve heard some people who experience the tragedy of a house fire say the process was actually cleansing. Quarantined life has similarly felt like a cleansing-by-fire for my soul. I know I’m an introvert and I’ve had self-care practices in place that help me recharge. Or so I thought. Our shifted world has showed me the nuanced layers of my needs. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned:
Making Room for Depth
Several weeks into pandemic life, it seemed like everyone wanted to catch up over Zoom. At first I joined in, not knowing when we’d see people again, but as time went on, I dreaded yet another Zoom catch-up or virtual game night. It was more than just fatigue from screens—it was the way these events stayed surface-level by nature, which left me more tired at the end. I started seeking out one-on-one phone calls with people that I knew always went deep fast, and I found a new energy. It made me realize that while some of this drain may have been amplified by the pandemic (like the frequency of social requests and the amount of time staring at a screen), our calendar before hadn’t looked that different—seeing our communities in large, social ways but not much time for diving deep. This season has underscored for me that community isn’t just being with people, but being with them in way that allows me to know and be known.
Being Mentally Alone
Being stuck in a single-level apartment with three other people has taught me that there is another layer to my introversion: I don’t just need to be physically alone from others, I need the silence that allows me to mentally disengage too. Which I’m learning is not possible when I can hear my husband and kids stomping to music in the next room or my oldest daughter’s stream of consciousness during her “quiet time.” I didn’t realize until now the way this need used to be filled even on long commutes or stroller walks where the kids stayed content. In order to find this space in our new situation, I’ve started rising before the sun, even though I’m not usually a morning person. I’m surprising myself at how much I’m compelled by the promise of silence (though the promise of coffee surely helps).
Embracing Relaxation without Purpose
I’ve always been a “project person,” but only in recent years have I started seeing that my drive for creative outlets goes beyond a hobby into something I need regularly to function well. I had time in the week carved out for creativity, and when the pandemic hit, I tried to keep this as my one constant. But whenever I sat down to work, I had no energy. I defaulted to more mindless things like yoga, reading, and watching TV. Surprisingly I felt more energized, but I also felt this tug to be doing more. I realized I often prioritize projects above other kinds of rest because they feel purposeful: there’s a finished product at the end, a physical symbol of time well spent. In this time where the whole world has been given permission to be and do less, I’m learning to internalize that for myself far beyond a pandemic.
A few months ago, I think I would have taken these insights and turned them into standards to hold myself to whenever life returns to normal. But if I’m learning anything, it’s that wellness isn’t a check-list; it’s a fluid part of us that moves with our environment and with our changing interests. Much like our spiritualities or our relationships, when we’ve grown, we have to find new practices to sustain us. I cannot always control how transitions will affect me (or even predict it most of the time), but they will happen. If it’s not a pandemic, it’s a move, new jobs, shifts in family dynamics, things planned and unplanned. All we can do is pay attention, be willing to try things on, and give ourselves grace in the growing.
I'd love to hear from you -- what is this strange season teaching you about yourself?