April 30, 2020

Boring & Overwhelming, Lonely & Suffocating, Joyful & Painful: the Many Faces of Quarantine.

Check out Elephant’s Continually-updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon

Honestly, I’m not interested in trying to find an online replacement for human connection.

There is nothing more nourishing to me than eye gazing, and the space between my face and yours when we’re learning each other, fighting each other, and exploring how close we can be.

I refuse to believe that face-to-face can be replicated, and I choose to embrace this time as an experience with my own presence.

I struggle to know myself without understanding what others need from me. It’s possible that one of the gifts of this time, for those who are alone, is to understand our own needs outside of the perceptions of others.

Who are we when there are no expectations to be anything other than ourselves?

One experience of spending time with myself looks like doing not much, while simultaneously feeling like I’m in a straightjacket of my own anxiety.

Should I read? No. That’s not productive. I should do something that benefits people. I should write a blog. No one would read my blog. I should just apply for another job. No, I should use this time to get calm. I will meditate. Meditation doesn’t work.

Another situation, when I turn off social media and shut the blinds, looks like me exploring the many colors of my insides. I write imaginary stories about Susie needing space from her husband, so she makes excuses to go to the grocery store. I learn about somatics, listen to trauma theory podcasts, and learn how to play Mr. Rogers’ songs on the piano.

The experience reminds me of an ancient story, which says: we’ve all been given a knife to create something beautiful, but it’s our choice whether we grab the blade or the handle. We have all been given this time, and those of us who are in the privileged situation of being able to choose how we spend it, get to decide if we’ll go crazy in its pain or embrace its opportunity.

And yet.

Even another option presents itself: why not go crazy, get creative, do nothing, and maybe do something at the same time?

One moment, it feels right to teach that we must endure our darkness, and the next, I’m so exhausted from shaming myself to do anything.

Has anyone else discovered the beauty of their contradictions in this time?

Because, honestly, I also desperately need a replacement for human connection. Sometimes I think we have no other choice than to adapt to what technology has offered us. What can we discover in the depths of Zoom? How can I use FaceTime for the same raw presence that I try to cultivate in person?

I’ve been leading online “Authentic Relating” sessions where people from all over the world gather to answer prompts designed to encourage vulnerability and introspection. We gather in one “meeting room,” and then partners break into side rooms for one-on-one sharing. From my lens, as the facilitator, I feel like I’m sending my friends off into “7 Minutes in Heaven” closets where I have no idea what could happen. I ask that they spend the first minute in virtual silence.

They stare into their monitors at a stranger, somewhere across time zones and geographical distance, and are asked to look around this person’s screen. They can look at their room, into their eyes, around their face, and simply notice what they notice. The first prompt is usually, “What I notice when I’m with you is…”

The responses I’ve received from these gatherings are remarkable.

Things like, “I didn’t realize I could feel the same nervousness and presence online that I do in person,” and “I worried about judgment and artificial connection, but in reality, I received connection and kindness.”

What is the full range of possibilities we could explore for intimacy from a distance?

And still, I think, Will it ever be enough?

To me, it’s not enough to purely let myself wallow eternally in the abyss of non-productivity, and it’s completely unacceptable to shame myself for “doing nothing” based on the engrained capitalist mindset of my worth being linked to my efforts. It’s not healthy for me to “socially distance,” but to force constant social engagement over 2D platforms makes my heart and eyes ache.

I want to know what the middle way of the Coronavirus looks like.

Can I embrace days of immobility and depression while at other times kick myself to get up, stand outside, and smell the rain?

Can I bask in days of self-isolation with the sound of my own silence (or loudly singing to Fiona Apple) and spend other days begging to be seen?

We are beautifully human in our complexity.

What does it look like to accept a time that is inexhaustibly riddled with pain and discomfort while simultaneously a potential incubator of creativity, self-revelations, and periodic bouts of joy?

Can we feel pleasure and misery at the same time? What would it look to hold space for both?

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