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For as long as I can remember, I have ducked out of anything that required me to be too introspective for too long.
I pulled an existential Irish exit before I got too drunk on self-reflection.
In bits and pieces, I liked dusting off the parts of myself that needed exploring, but only until it got too dirty and cluttered to breathe. I was the laziest kind of cartographer and only made tiny, safe maps that wouldn’t take me into uncharted territories.
When things felt suffocating or too heavy to carry, I would distract myself immediately by consuming other people’s thoughts via social media or immersing myself in real-life social activity that did nothing but numb me.
The first few weeks of this pandemic hit me hard.
I may not have contracted COVID-19 but had found myself stricken with a deadly case of cabin fever. I wasn’t bored; I was dizzy. My inner dialogue, bad habits, autophobia (the fear of being alone), unrelenting self-doubt, narcissistic tendencies (thinking I’m the worst and everyone is talking about it constantly), and rethinking every poor decision from age 10 until now—everything was coming on full force, and there was simply no more outrunning them.
A rush of clarity came over me when my grandfather and I had a conversation about what the Buddhists call the monkey mind—that all-too-familiar feeling of jumping from one thing to the next, unable to soak in the simplicity of silence or routine. We are choking on it now more than ever.
In the beginning of quarantine, I was too busy burying my head while I sat in silence and criticized myself for all I had avoided and how behind I was as a result. The self-destruction was absolute insanity.
The things that I “loved” or that made me “thrive” but I never had time for—I still wasn’t doing them and there was absolutely no reason not to. I had all the time in the world (in fact, time didn’t even exist anymore).
Those paintings I started, the scripts that were only two pages long, the letters waiting to be mailed, and article submissions sitting in my draft folder—it was time to touch them, but I couldn’t.
After two weeks of pathetic self-pity, I realized this was the time I should feel most alive. Truths were coming to the surface and floating out of me faster than I could grab them. Some even trickled into my personal relationships and burst a lot of bubbles that I had built around them.
It was all purposeful, and it still is as we learn to navigate the new road maps we’ve been given for this unforeseeable future.
No, we aren’t going to travel abroad and take in the quiet magic of a life we’ve never lived, seeing extraordinary meaning in someone else’s ordinary routine. We won’t be road tripping to see musicians bring together rooms of people singing the same songs and clapping off beat. There won’t be last-minute adventures to small towns we’ve been meaning to pretend to be locals in.
Right now, we can only delve into the small little worlds inside of us, and take steps to become the people that we are meant to be—the person we owe to each other.
I’ve found beauty in its uncomfortable nature, and have laughed out loud at what its presence has been so obviously chanting at me: slow down, relax, remember.
So, these are the lessons I am committing to memory as I tame the monkeys in my mind:
1. Tiny moments we used to walk right past mean more than they ever have before.
The way laundry smells when you hang it outside on a line to dry—the reward of sleeping with sheets that have the scent of spring and remind you of your grandmother’s bedroom.
The quirky sight of a flower standing all alone, peeking through the grass and being wild and happy all by itself.
The act of hanging up a piece of art and how it probably makes your wall proud of itself, like it’s showing off something that makes it different than the rest.
Tedious and daunting things that used to murmur in our ear—they’re the tiny moments keeping us alive and well.
2. Honesty isn’t just the best policy—it’s an actual life force.
Whatever our souls are made of, honesty is the seed they were grown from.
I hadn’t been completely honest with myself in quite some time, and was habitually using outside factors or check marks on my resume to assure everyone (and myself) that I was “doing just fine.” Little white lies were being used as hideous, half-assed fences between myself and the world around me.
The truth was that I wasn’t alright, and I don’t know if I would have taken off my own rose-colored glasses if I hadn’t been forced to. Sure, I was blind for a little while after removing them, and I am definitely still getting used to seeing things with a new pair of peepers. But the new sights I’m taking in are worth the strained vision.
I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t trying, I wasn’t me. And without being forced to see the unrecognizable person in the mirror, I would have continued to near the brink of extinction.
3. Relationships are shared threads we used to string ourselves together and make sense of the world.
They’re not security blankets to protect us from the unknown.
Whether it’s a boyfriend or a best friend, I have woven the same pattern in life that manifested as an ugly sweater of codependency.
I love with everything I have, and I don’t want to discredit the amount of effort I have poured into my closest bonds, but I realized my motivations have not always been pure, however accidental that was.
This time in quarantine has taught me about connection in a way that I have never stumbled upon before. I realize I need people and their stories—strangers and lifelong friends alike. And I’ve grown a new appreciation for making sure they know they can need me, too.
We have seen humanity in a completely new way through this pandemic. Kindness sprouting out like grass through cement, in places it had never grown before. Phone calls mean so much more. Seeing a face on Zoom can bring tears to your eyes. A walk outside with a friend is a new kind of wonderful.
Make sure you write the love letters you’ve been meaning to send, tell your friends the truth about how you’re feeling, interact with purpose, and always think about the why in what you’re doing and saying.
4. Conscious consumption is for the mind, body, and soul.
During the first few weeks of quarantine, I was taking too many trips to the fridge and too many “work breaks” on social media.
My butt was getting bigger and my brain was getting smaller. It was becoming all too easy to have a second dinner (as my good friend Kevin from “The Office” would call it), and increasingly harder to tell myself that I needed to write instead of study how to become TikTok famous.
I was consuming trash and then questioning why I felt like garbage. We all have experienced this same type of self-sabotage where we stunt our growth by burying our feelings in something unhealthy.
When we choose to do the things that seem impossible, we see that the possibilities we have are really endless.
I’ve cooked more than I ever have in my life, and even made vegan muffins that were edible. I stopped watching people dance around on an app I’m too old to be on, and started painting amateur watercolors to send to my friends and family (unsolicited, but it’s the thought that counts).
We are what we eat, plain and simple. Let’s start digesting things that get us closer to who we are instead of make us sick of ourselves.
For many of us, this time has shattered shields of beliefs we used to protect ourselves. On the large scale, we’ve experienced untimely deaths, injustice, inhumanity, and political unrest. On the small scale, we’ve lost our daily lives as we knew them before. What we tried to drown, both as individuals and as a society, is being washed ashore and is now impossible to ignore.
We must find the lessons. We must find the truth and swallow it whole.
We must tame our collective monkey mind and come out of this as better people, and hopefully as a better world.