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What You Can Learn from Restlessness

As unsettling as "shelter-in-place" might be, it's a way to reveal your authentic self.

As the fitness clubs and other social spaces close, many of us are posting our anxieties, wondering, “What will we do?” Some are binge-watching movies. Others are playing video games. Still others are online shopping, hoping that two-day shipping won’t go away.

We crave distraction.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

When we are blocked from doing what we want, we feel an overwhelming sense of restlessness. We crave our freedom. We ache for what we desire. We cling to what we can’t have.

We also resist the fact that not only do we lack control, but also we have no idea when we can be “free” again to do what we please.

Our restlessness, our resistance, is a portal of inquiry. If we sit with this restlessness, it can be a truth-teller.

Where have we become complacent in our routine?

How many of us have ached for the time to do something, but instead continued with routines, habits, and behaviors that no longer served us?

For myself, I had complained that I didn’t have time in the morning to write, meditate, and work out. Because I no longer have my 30-minute commute each way, I now have an hour left in my day to pursue things I enjoy. I also don’t have to spend too much time in the morning getting dressed since I can complete my work with bedhead.

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

When our routine is uprooted, how do we react? If we panic, it might be a cue that we had become complacent, and our growth had been stifled. It could also signal that a change in direction is needed — that we took things for granted.

What have we taken for granted?

If we dwell on how inconvenienced we are at the moment, we are adding to our suffering. Much of the stress we endure in our lives comes from our reaction to circumstances. We go through much of our lives assuming that this day will be the same as yesterday. We take a lot for granted.

Instead, we can consider what we presumed — like enough toilet paper — with gratitude.

We also question the importance of what we had valued in our daily lives. Is a manicure that important that you can’t live without it? Perhaps it’s a chance for us to reconsider what beauty really is.

We might see that we took our stressed-out bodies for granted. We fear losing all those “gains” from the gym, but perhaps we might reconsider our definition of fitness. Perhaps we might consider a more holistic path to fitness — such as a walk in our neighborhood — to nurture body, mind and spirit.

Image by Hermann Traub from Pixabay

Where have we fallen asleep to ourselves?

With social events canceled and social spaces closed, we can embrace this time to ask ourselves this — Who am I outside the safety of my social life? Can I spend a day, or maybe an evening, just enjoying time with myself?

Who am I outside the safety of my social life?

We might be tempted to binge watch television or videos on social media, but it further distances us from necessary reflection. Thomas Merton criticizes our heavy reliance in technology because it causes us to lose touch with ourselves.

“We no longer know how to live, and because we cannot accept life in its reality, life ceases to be a joy and becomes an affliction.”

Rather than use technology or other media to distract us, we can use this time to embrace our solitude. Just like our bodies need rest, our minds need to rest in reflective moments.

Being mindful of our restlessness can teach us many things. Most of all, it’s a matter of accepting what is, and opening up to what we can learn in this moment.

“Practice not doing, and everything will fall into place.” Tao Te Ching, v. 3

This article was previously published on Medium.

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