At the beginning of the lockdown, the isolation from my children and grandchildren was really impactful. I had a new granddaughter arrive who was a month old before I was even able to hold her.
Isolation, as we’re experiencing it now, is primarily about our sudden loss of connection. It’s also about the loss of routines, activities and the complex array of things that make up “normal life.” But rather than give into loneliness, is there a way we can use this time as an opportunity to go deeper into ourselves in a healthy way?
It’s important to recognize that isolation is different from loneliness. You can be alone and not feel lonely. You can also feel intense loneliness when you’re surrounded by others. This is because loneliness is an emotional reaction to circumstances. This reaction is often fueled by fears of uncertainty and inadequacy, and it will pull you right into self-pity if you let it.
In the 1994 movie, Nell, Jodie Foster plays a young woman found living by herself in a remote cabin in the North Carolina wilderness after the death of her mother.
The story focuses on the local doctor and a researcher on autism who reach out to Nell and try to determine what would be best for her future. Is she capable of taking care of herself? Is it healthy for a young woman to live in such remote and primitive conditions? Even the language she speaks, an unrecognizable dialect of English, is a product of the extreme isolation that is her life.
The climax of the movie happens in a courtroom where Nell’s mental capacity and ability to live independently is about to be decided.
At a pivotal moment, she turns to the courtroom audience and says…
“You have big things.
You know big things.
But you don’t look into each other’s eyes.
And you are hungry for silence.”
I think this scene speaks to the opportunity our isolation brings to cultivate mental and emotional depth and an appreciation of quiet moments.
The truth is, very few of us know how to be silent or still. When we find ourselves isolated from friends and family and cooped up at home, we just don’t know what to do with ourselves. Many of us turn to our devices to fill the time we might otherwise spend socializing, going to the theater, eating out, or whatever else we once did routinely.
Isolation is a fact of life in the time of Covid, but I would urge you to take a lesson from Nell and use this time to cultivate an appreciation of time that’s actually free of activity and, yes, a time that is silent and still.
Here are some tips for doing just that:
Practice Mindful Breathing
When you feel yourself struggling with isolation, take a moment to breathe. Focus only on taking that breath in, and as you breathe back out focus on letting your shoulders relax. Stay here for as long as you can, with your mind focusing on nothing but your breath moving in and out as you relax and soften your posture.
See if you can remain present enough to appreciate details of the room around you. Then, allow your attention to focus on the world outside. Do you notice something you hadn’t before, like a lovely angle of light through the window, a hummingbird at the feeder, the grain of your hardwood floor? See if you can pay more attention to what your eyes take in. Notice the tiny details of the everyday that we stop paying attention to as we rush through life.
There is a calming effect this can have on your mind and body when you take the time to breathe and really take things in. Seeing and being instead of rushing and doing are the gifts this period of social distancing can bring to us if we shift our focus to the here and now.
As you move through your day, don’t hurry to get the task behind you. Instead, enjoy the process and all the sensations that simple activities can bring when we do them mindfully.
When you feel uncomfortable, notice how your impatience drives this feeling. The present moment will be behind you soon enough! In the meantime, it isn’t productive to make judgments about it being too long, too difficult or too lonely. Again, do your best to stay in the moment and silence such judgments when they come up.
It’s important to accept your situation for what it is. For now. Things won’t be like this forever. You don’t have to like it or be happy about it. But it is what it is. Make the best of it by reading the first book in that pile you’ve been meaning to get to. Or cooking a new recipe. Or calling an old friend.
Be willing to live in this current reality rather than longing for certainty that isn’t going to come. I can’t overemphasize how important willingness is here. Resisting the circumstances isn’t going to change them. It’s just going to make you more frustrated. The willingness to let things remain unresolved will allow you to cope much better.
Part of being in the present moment is allowing your feelings to come up. Let yourself grieve. Give yourself permission to feel sad when you look at photos of your friends and family. Acknowledge that you miss them deeply.
Focus on the Essence
Until you feel safe having dinner parties again, how can you make life “delicious” in the meantime? I would suggest finding purpose in the moment and trying to look at things differently. For example, consider the ways in which you might actually have been craving quietness.
In another blog post, I write about the importance of essence for living a more authentic life. When you think about the essence of what you want to experience (for example: feeling connected) versus how you feel now (for example: lonely) it can drastically shift your perspective in a very positive way.
There are many ways you can bring essence into your life. If what you’d like to achieve is being a part of something growing and alive, plant something. This could be as simple as an herb garden on a kitchen windowsill or adopting a new houseplant. A friend of mine exchanges seeds with her brother and they text photos back and forth, celebrating each other’s progress.
If the essence of what you are missing is camaraderie, maybe you can start writing letters instead of email for a more personal touch. What other ways can you think of to connect?
If it’s giving, consider making your holiday gifts yourself this year. Rediscover sewing, knitting, painting or photography. Experiment with collage, pressed flowers or sunprints. Create handmade cards.
If it’s sharing, you don’t have to wait for the holidays to send care packages and home baked goods. Leave surprises on neighbors’ porches. Share recipes like your mother did, written out by hand on cards. Or send your friends the same recipe to try and have everyone meet on Zoom for a virtual meal. When you send out things like this, people are more likely to share with you in return. You can also look into joining, or starting, a local Buy Nothing group.
In between these moments of connection, try to take pleasure in breathing. Create a sacred space. Move around. Explore a different perspective. Ask different questions.
When it all seems too overwhelming, as every now and then it likely will, take a moment to slow down. Focus your attention on relaxing your shoulders and breathing until you regain an inner sense of calm.
Take good care : )