At this current time, with the outbreak of covid-19, we are encouraged to distance ourselves from others. This is for the sake of self-preservation as well as the safety of those around us. Although this may seem like a very logical thing to do, it’s also very counter-intuitive as we thrive on social interaction. As a society, we are already so worried about what future has in store that taking away what is the most precious – the closeness of our loved one, actually feels detrimental. When we feel down and isolate ourselves from others, our worries tend to be more overwhelming.
Surrounding ourselves with the right people is vital to our mental and physical health and can even help boost our immune system. Neuroscience can offer a wealth of evidence about the importance of relationships for our wellbeing. Brigham Young University professor Holt-Lunstad said: “When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks.”
As our brain is naturally wired to think negatively, it’s no wonder that we worry about so many things. In isolation this may be even more prominent because there are so many factors challenging us at once. On top of this, we have nowhere to go to clear our mind or find some time out from being contained in the same space with others. Freedom is in the mind, they say. Now, this may sound easier said than done. However, we can decide where to focus our thoughts and energy. Even when it seems like there’s nothing you can do to feel better about the situation, there’s always something. Have a little think. What little thing could make a big difference to you?
Freedom is in the mind
I’ve always loved learning languages and I used to learn French in my formative years. This experience has stayed with me but I haven’t had the opportunity to improve it after that. Well, not until I was in my 20s when I decided to go to France for a while and work as an au-pair. Very soon I found a family that was running a restaurant at a French ski resort Villard de Lans. This is located at 1050 metres altitude in the French Alps. “Wonderful”, I thought. “Food will be provided and I may even try skiing”. It was December and very soon after my arrival a very thick snow started covering all the pathways. I was stuck indoors with 4 children and nowhere to go. The highlight was that I shared a room with two of them, which I didn’t know anything about until I got there! I had books I brought with me but with children sleeping in the same room I had nowhere to read them! Well, not until I realised one morning that we had a very big bath! So I would get up very early, put the towels in to make it warm and comfortable and read, read, read. “The autobiography of a yogi” by Yogananda certainly helped to transcend the situation I was in.
The only way is through
Self-isolation naturally encourages all of us to do a bit of soul-searching. Shutting down the demands of the outside world and turning inwards definitely helps with this. We may finally get the chance to explore all the emotions that have been there, maybe even without us noticing.
The daily grind might have kept us so busy that until now we haven’t had much time to check with ourselves: “Am I where I want to be? What do I want from my life? What is my purpose?” Whatever answers you get, even if you don’t like them at first, they can be seen as a starting point towards something new. They can be the beginning of exploring why you feel the way you do and what you can do differently next time.
Opportunity is in the eye of the beholder
Now, with the prospect of all of us having to stay at home for months, some people may feel like their life has come to a standstill. Instead of taking action we are supposed to slow down and be in the moment. It can be a tough one, right? Now, when you think of that, it’s also an opportunity to see the things as they really are. Sometimes, being busy does not necessarily mean that the choices we make are right for us. Very often, we may just be reacting to things in front of us or doing what we have been doing before, without visibly improving the situation. Now, with the rest of the world being in quarantine, you too can decide to slow down and create that necessary space to focus on the things that matter. What is there that you’ve always wanted to do but just didn’t have time for?
As Lama Willa Miller said: “In a pandemic, self-isolation is called quarantine. In Buddhism, it is called retreat. From the cave of our home, like the meditators of ancient times, we can consciously kindle the lamp of compassion and connection.”