I wrote this post in September 2020, six months into COVID, and also back-to-school time and the start of the holiday season. More than a year later, many of these experiences are still resonant for me now.
Time is an illusion right now. A global pandemic and resulting shelter-in-place, now six months and counting, has limited our social interactions, shuttered businesses, and restricted travel. It’s been an unprecedented shared global experience, which of course has looked different for different people.
For me, it’s looked like spending every day in my apartment with my partner and our cat; trying to connect with friends and family via FaceTime and Zoom; staying put for what has been the longest period I can remember without traveling; missing out on many of my favorite activities like going to the movies, bars and restaurants; and desperately missing my hairstylist.
During a time when many of us are working from home full-time and feeling limited in our free time and self-care activities like exercise, social connections, or just being out and about in the world, I’ve heard a lot of questions circulating, “what are you doing with your time?”
At first, I treated shelter-in-place just how I survived eight brutal Chicago winters: hunker down at home (preferably with a lot of snacks and liquor) and just relax until we come out of it. I kind of embraced the opportunity to let go of my self-imposed need for productivity, and I really, really enjoyed all of the yummy foods I was cooking up for me and my partner.
But, then I started to notice the other ways that people were spending their time during shelter-in-place. Some were inventing fun games to play with their family, finding new ways to enjoy each other’s company; others were writing and expressing themselves creatively; I even saw not one, but multiple friends launch a new business! IN 2020!
Cue my inner critic. My internalized capitalistic need for productivity showed up, and I began to feel bad about myself -- was I wasting time? What was wrong with me for not being able to be more resilient? Why wasn’t I producing anything?
Around the same time, our country began to hit a near-boiling point with our long history of racism and injustice (now I know we were still warming up...). The disparities in COVID illness and death, the economic impacts on communities of color, and the murders and violence on Black bodies by police are resulting in more protests and civil unrest than I have ever seen.
I’ve known for a long time that my sensitive nervous system easily absorbs the emotions and stress of others, but rarely have I experienced it at this level. The daily news, constant external threats (did I mention there are also hundreds of wildfires raging across the state of California?) and the general unsettled state of our society has my nervous system in overdrive. Each day, and sometimes even by the hour, I am having to do the inner work to tend to my activated nerves.
Fortunately, I have learned a lot about what to do when this happens: take the time to listen to my body, and to care for myself and my emotions. I am building a practice of meditation. I pay attention to my breath. I rest when I need to rest. I grieve and feel sad when I need to; and I still find moments of gratitude throughout the day. It is hard work, and I recently decided to seek some additional support through therapy. I am surviving right now.
As I reflect now on the question of “what am I doing with my time?” I recognize the privileges I hold that keep me physically safe and with enough resources to allow me to stay home. I’ve also realized how valuable this time has been to invest in my growth -- seeds that I feel will surely bloom in the future.
So for now, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate everything I have been learning:
I am participating in a cohort to deepen my understanding of body liberation. I have begun to let go of food guilt, which has been so critical during shelter-in-place when food has literally been nourishing my body and soul. I am also developing a more positive and powerful relationship with my body.
I am taking an 8-week course on anti-racism, led by the East Bay Meditation Center. Through this course, nearly 400 white-identified participants are working through concepts of whiteness and white supremacy culture and practicing actions to be better allies, while leveraging our meditation practices.
I started a weekly discussion group with two friends, where we unpack issues of internal, interpersonal, and systemic racism and support each other to unlearn our racist thoughts and behaviors.
I am practicing coaching! I have taken the opportunity to informally use my coaching skills with friends and colleagues who needed support.
I recently started an online course for Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) to learn coping mechanisms for managing your energy.
I am reading a lot of books and articles, and probably too much news on Facebook and Instagram.
As you might imagine, these activities take up TIME! But, because our society only validates time spent producing something or generating money, these activities were almost invisible to me when I wanted to justify my time. Turns out my brain requires some re-training to value the time I spend investing in my inner work, and understanding it as an investment in ME -- and all of the parts of me.
What have you invested in during quarantine? How are you taking care of yourself? How have you rested?
One of my favorite educators on how to “disrupt and push back against a system that views you as a machine” is The Nap Ministry, a Black women-led organization that examines the liberating power of naps. I will leave you with a quote from their Instagram:
“Until capitalism crumbles we will have to be inventive, subversive, flexible and committed to radical community care to sustain a personal rest practice and a collective rest movement. Our refusal to donate our bodies to a capitalist system and align with white supremacy will be our foundation for creating a rested future. You are enough. We are enough. We will rest.”