Discover more from The Comma Project by Devin Baker
Introspection in a COVID age
Maybe we can take something positive away from all this
I’ve heard a lot of talk about the negative mental health impacts this months-long forced isolation experiment that is the COVID pandemic is having on us, and rightly so. Many of us are experiencing these negative side effects, ranging from mild to the severe - I’m certainly feeling some.
But what’s not being talked about nearly as much are some of the positive things this has brought us.
How often does a 25-year-old that lives an untethered life in the “always on” mecca of New York City have weeks on weeks of extra time (hours of no longer commuting during the week, entire weekends) with no plans? Sure, we’ve filled it with some less productive binges, but there have also been those quiet moments (some deliberate, some not-so) where you’re forced to sit with your thoughts.
You come to see how little you need when your social calendar is empty and you have nowhere to go, nobody to see. I’ve been living out of less than one suitcase since I left the city in March. But you also come to see how much you need and come to miss the important friends and rituals you share with them when the empty social calendar stretches on a little too long.
You see how simple life is, or at least could be, and is now during this months-long experiment.
By forced process of removal of components of our typical lives from the before-times, other aspects stand out in stark relief. Family, friends, human connection, community - no surprise there. But how about work? In this sort of weird dystopia where life as we know it has stopped, I’ve thought about meaning, purpose, and risk - when I don’t need as much, and can’t have as much, what matters? There’s no doubt we have to do something that would be considered work, but when, with the rest of your life, your old groundhog day-like daily rituals of showing up to the office, doing your job, and leaving disappear, the metaphorical lines delineating what “typically” matters, or at least what mattered before, and why you’re doing what you’re doing get lifted and you’re left with a clean slate of sorts. It’s really taken my mind to this weird openness that I’m sure has been there before, but that I’ve never felt. It begs the question - if I were given a clean slate (which in many ways it feels like this weird time has given us) and had to drawn the lines myself, what would I draw?
Stepping out of the usual has led to a shift in viewpoint, one that I happen to think has proven, in addition to largely unsettling and unclear, impactful and productive. It’s certainly additive to the perspective and experience I’ve had thus far in life, which has been largely uniform, particularly since leaving college. Not that there’s anything wrong with this “path” I’ve largely followed (in fact, it’s been wonderful and I’m not blind to the immense privilege I’m blessed with), but I’ve been driven recently to think differently about the prospect of change and the possibility of options that may have previously seemed risky by nature of deviation from the uniformity of the path I’ve lived. In a weird way, the instability of the world in the context of COVID has led to a greater degree of openness to the possibility of embracing change in my life - I’ve come to see how life often happens at the fringes of the path, not always right down the middle.
This shift in viewpoint is similar to one I’ve recently been reading about from that of scarcity (negative, lack of options, what isn’t) to that of abundance (positive, possibility, what could be). It curiously resonates with the framework shift that comes from having the hypothetical lines of the life you’ve lived removed, removing the scarcity and boundaries of those lines, and being forced to draw your own, with a sense of abundance of space in which to do so.
I don’t mean to diminish or reject the struggles of this time, as we have all experienced them to some degree - plus, plenty people have shared thoughts on the topic. I only point to an alternative perspective, one that requires a shift in perspective, that could allow for us to ensure that we aren’t “letting a good crisis go to waste” as Winston Churchill said.
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