This quarantine has me thinking continually about all the pieces of my life, including what I’m good at and what I could do better. Much of that, of course, has to do with the impact of my actions on other people, most of whom are only virtual recipients during this time. But, because I’m alone so much more now than usual, the parts of me that are only about me stand out. It’s like seeing myself unfiltered for the first time ever.
In one of the thousands of ways that the pandemic is reminding us of what’s important and what’s not ... it’s also making me see myself in a new light.
I am particularly aware of my low level of patience now when there really aren’t other people to blame, for example. I am also painfully cognizant of my discomfort with small talk, when Zoom meetings have me fidgeting with my phone even more than usual. In one of the thousands of ways that the pandemic is reminding us of what’s important and what’s not, and what we value and what we don’t, it’s also making me see myself in a new light.
One of the big lessons I’m learning is how mechanical (and not all that natural) it is for me to get myself to a calm place when I need to. Even though I might consider myself to be a rational, levelheaded person in most circumstances, all of this time away from "real life" reminds me of how poorly I handle stress. Most of our lives are filled with nerve-wracking situations, whether we’re working or not. Whether it’s tense meetings, problems with our kids, worries about money, or health issues, we each face our own set of demands in a day.
In the pandemic, I am acutely aware of how quickly I go from the stimulus to the response. In other words, something stressful happens, and I take a bullet train to Worst Possible Outcome. Almost immediately, I'm worrying, grieving, and imagining all of the horrible things that are going to happen next. This, naturally, does not make me feel better. It only heightens my stress and leaves me much less likely to do any useful problem solving.
Despite these kinds of reactions on my part, I’m fairly certain that there are places to turn around on the road to Worst Possible Outcome. What if I slowed down the trip and stopped instead at a Place of Reason? Then I could spend my time managing the situation from a less desperate position. The great thing about being as old as I am is that I know this more tranquil place exists. I’ve been there, I’ve enjoyed the scenery, and I’ve felt myself relax there a few times.
I am not a great meditator, although I’ve tried it a few times in my life because I understand its benefits. My own inner voice often gets in the way, though, and throws me off. But it’s called meditation “practice” for a reason. It’s a chance to practice going to a calmer place. It provides us different routes to get there, where there is peace, quiet, and ... well … reason. If we practice meditating, concentrating on our breath, focusing on our sensations, or just letting go of our thoughts, it really is a pretty quick trip to a place where we can think things through and manage our own emotions.
And even though I don’t usually get there by meditating, I have my own ways. Sometimes, it’s just writing down my thoughts. Other times, it’s stopping and going for a walk, or looking at something beautiful. But it stops the speeding train for a minute, and I remember that I’m safe, that the world isn’t totally falling apart. It also reminds me that I am capable of rational thought. I like knowing this place exists in me. And I like it that I’ve gone there enough times in my life that I have a little bit of a route memorized now. This does not in any way guarantee that I’m good at getting there. I get lost or rerouted on a daily basis.
But once I reach my own place of reason, I can work through pretty much anything. It doesn’t mean it all works out perfectly, but it keeps me from panicking and from making bad decisions. It also keeps me on much better terms with myself.