In the UK where I moved a month ago, social distancing measures are introduced with delay. Compared to countries like France, Poland or Austria, it seems like we’re a bit behind.
This is changing, though. Boris Johnson already talked about new measures last Monday. For me, however, social distancing already started on Friday night. I decided it for myself after I read THE article by Tomas Pueyo.
The decision to stop seeing people and stay home brought mixed feelings. Or course, a big part of me feels anxious about what’s happening. The idea of being isolated and limiting my interactions to my only flatmate is uncomfortable.
But to my surprise, there are also other feelings surrounding this decision. Feelings of relief, calm and stillness.
As crazy as it sounds, I think a lot of people can benefit from social distancing. It depends on how you look at it. You can see being in lockdown as terribly depriving.
Or, you can look at it as an opportunity to do the things you wouldn’t normally do.
You can use this time to learn how to be alone and be fine. This is how I try to see it — and I encourage you to do the same.
We’re all going into our personal retreats
I don’t know if you have this experience, but I actually paid to be isolated a few times in my life. Just last January, I went on a 3-day silent retreat to give myself a pause. It seems funny now, but I bought myself distance from the rest of the world.
Now, we have it imposed on us. For free.
I spoke to a friend yesterday on the phone. She lives in the French Alps, next to one of the most popular ski resorts. She said that everything but essential facilities is closed. The French are even thinking of shutting the supermarkets if need be.
‘How I see it’ — she said — ‘is that we’re now all going on personal retreats. We have no other choice but to look within. Maybe that’s exactly what the world needs more of right now.’
I took comfort in her words. That’s what I’ve been thinking, too. I now have unlimited time to spend in my own company and Nature. Surely, my beloved Holyrood Park won’t close?
But even if it would, there are still so many other ways to benefit from this time of isolation.
It’s like going on a retreat. The outer circumstances impose certain behaviours on you. You’re forced to live differently now. Quietly. Mindfully. And you don’t need a guru or teacher to tell you what to do.
You can embrace your inner guidance.
You have extra time to catch up on things
If it’s challenging to be alone with your thoughts for too long, that’s fine, too. You don’t have to go into full monk mode.
We’re lucky to have technology that allows us to stay in touch with each other. We can call, Skype, Zoom, and attend digital meet-ups. Most of us also have a project or two that we’ve been postponing due to the “lack of time.”
But fewer people will complain about lack of time now. Of course, this doesn’t apply to health workers, food suppliers and decision-makers. These people are on their life missions, on the frontline of fighting the crisis. I am of course grateful for their work — but this goes beyond the scope of this post.
If you’re in lockdown with fewer things that you need to do, you may find the time for things you want to do. Write that book. Spring clean your house. Learn a new language. Spend quality time — or any time at all — with your kids.
When events are being called off and venues are closed, we’re forced to look for other ways to spend our time. You may discover that, in a way, this is exactly what you needed.
Maybe, just maybe, the coronavirus will make you focus on things that matter — which you wouldn’t have done otherwise.
You can afford yourself some stillness and deep reflection
Entering a “doing” mode isn’t the only option. The crisis we’re experiencing forces us to slow down. This means un-doing. This means focusing on being.
Allow yourself moments to pause and experience life exactly as it is today. Nobody knows how tomorrow will look like anyway.
For me, these past few days have been the best time in months to practice mindfulness. All the thoughts and anxiety arising in response to the news are perfect material for observing your inner world. Finally, you can grasp what it means that “your thoughts are not reality.” You can see the difference between projecting dark future scenarios and being present in the moment.
All such observations aren’t obvious while we go about our business as usual. Most people I know (including myself) fill their days with activities. We often have commitments lined up back-to-back, without giving ourselves any room to breathe.
The space to do nothing but breathe opens now. As your plans are cancelled, you can choose not to fill that time with anything new. Allow some space. Give yourself the time to just be.
Being alone is a big lesson under any circumstances
But now, it can show us more than ever.
Pablo Picasso said that “without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” While he probably meant creative work, we can also understand this from another angle.
The serious inner work that so many people say they want to do requires one to be alone.
It’s only when you stop consuming other people’s thoughts that you open up to hear the voice within. This voice is often silenced when we spend our days in constant company. Now, because of social distancing, your interactions with people are limited. This affords you an unprecedented opportunity:
To learn more about who you are by simply being with yourself.
There’s a lot of talk going on about the need for a consciousness shift. I always felt attracted to those slogans. But it’s only these days that I’m grasping their actual meaning.
The “changing of paradigm” or “changing the system” requires many people to transform on a personal level.
Is coronavirus a gateway to a new society?
When you learn to be on your own, you discover that it’s possible to live differently.
Maybe you don’t need to consume as much as you thought you did. Maybe you can find fulfilment in internal experiences, rather than external achievements.
When we understand ourselves better, it’s easier to find kindness and solidarity for others. When we realize we share the same predicament, compassion follows naturally.
Because of the coronavirus outbreak, NASA observed a dramatic drop in air pollution in China. According to one study, this may result in 50,000 fewer deaths than would otherwise occur as a result of bad quality air. If that’s true, it could mean that the coronavirus saved more lives in China than it took.
The current crisis will transform us as individuals. And it’s up to us whether it’s for better or worse.
If we decide to change for the better, maybe this will allow us to build a more harmonious society once the pandemic is over.