For any of you out there who feel like you’re not handling the sudden working from home, schooling from home, exercising at home, entertaining at home, etc., here are some tips to add to the thousands circulating in the media, and social media, right now:
Just kidding. Like you need more. I’m kind of irritated at that advice right now. There is also plenty of debate about whether we are doing the right things, at the right time, to the right extent, to balance the many important, and often competing, considerations in this health and economic crisis. I’m just trying to understand, and then comply, with what I’m told (a rarity for me).
Clearly, the main thing we are being asked to do is to physically stay away from each other. And in spite of my considering myself perfectly comfortable alone, and my lifetime of trying to develop the mental and physical “resilience” practices, I’m losing my mind! I’m going stir-crazy! I am realizing more clearly than ever how much I crave social interaction–even with relative strangers. I am also recognizing how much I have built my activities around social interaction–again, even with strangers.
About a week before we were all sent to our rooms, I hurt my back–not enough for medical intervention (yet), but bad enough that even walking was (still is) challenging, so running was truly out. I started cross training on a bike or stair treadmill, and weights, at my gym. Then, my gym closed. On the one hand, my back truly needs the complete rest (which I would not have had the patience to give it), but my super-regular and relatively rigorous stress release of cardio exercise has been eliminated by this injury and our physical distancing measures. I am not surprised that I miss my workouts. What does surprise me is how much I miss going to the gym, to see the other people there–just strangers coming and going. As the days have passed, I have concluded that I miss the social interaction of my exercise routines MORE than I miss the exercise.
What about meditation? I can still do that with a hurt back, and it seems perfectly designed for physical distancing, right? But, it does not help much when the problem you are grappling with is, well, physical distancing! Contrary to popular misconception, even meditation was, and still is, a social event in the oldest traditions. Meditation does help me gain some perspective on the challenges we are facing, but I am discovering that I am less in the mood to do it, and more distracted than ever. It used to be a temporary unplugging from social interaction–which I also think we need (in smaller doses than I previously believed), but now that the lack of interaction is the problem, I don’t find it as helpful. I also think that my long runs burned out a lot of stress, and made me feel like I could really settle in when meditating. Without the cardio burn, and with the added stresses of what is happening in our world, my meditation practice suddenly feels unequal to the challenge–especially when the challenge is that of feeling isolated. I have sought out a couple live streaming meditation sessions (one by a group of lawyers, of all things), and it was pretty cool–for other reasons. Because everyone is online, can’t see each other, and everyone is sitting quietly except for the guide, it was really like meditating alone. Not much help combating my physical distancing blues.
And work? Here I am in my home office. Not even my cat is with me at the moment. Like many of us, I am learning more than ever about video conferencing. I think this is a good thing. I just participated in a deposition this morning where I was in my den, the defense attorney was in his living room, my client was in a classroom at her church, and the court reporter was in her office. And everyone but me was actually in Tucson! Through our web cameras and microphones, we could see and hear each other seamlessly. I suppose that things that are truly “just business,” I can handle this way. But, it does little to satisfy my social interaction instincts–so I suspect there is part of us that knows we are not really “together.”
I am also observing that I really dislike doing even my “alone” work, well, alone. My brain likes to have something going on around me before it settles in to concentrate. Honestly, as with most occupations, some of what I do is pretty tedious–like reviewing thousands of pages of medical records to understand my client’s injuries. The quiet of my den, or even my work office, is not the place I do my best reading, thinking, or writing. My senses like the background buzz of human activity near me, so I have my work “hangouts.” These are a handful of cafes or coffee shops (for me, herbal tea) either near my office or my home. This is where I honestly do my best work, and I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve read novels whose authors claim the whole work was written at a local coffee shop–not in their home or office. That’s me. I am just writing legal stuff instead. I miss the background movement and noise of complete strangers, the chatter of the ASU students talking a couple tables away, and the banter of the civil servants from the town hall around the corner. I don’t need it all day, but I need some of it every day. If there is a coffee shop equivalent on social media, I haven’t found it. I’m not talking about scheduling an online meeting of people I know–that I can do. I want to be among a bunch of humans, and just sense the energy of their sound and movement.
Hundreds of thousands of years of human development did not yet produce a natural immunity to this new Coronavirus. But, it did wire us deeply for social interaction. That sapien wiring drives nearly everything we are and do. Some of that social interaction need can clearly be filled through the likes of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Facebook, Google Hangouts, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. (Yes, I know that list was already too long, and still only hit about half the platforms). But, this experience has shown me that I crave the physical presence of other humans–even if they are strangers. I hope never to take for granted again the simple blessing of being out in “public.” So, even if I don’t know you, I look forward to being able to rub shoulders with you again–as soon as possible.