From the window of my second story home office, my desk is positioned to look out over our backyard. During the past few months, from this place, I have watched a house wren family raise and fledge two broods, seen a doe reach her head across the fence to taste my phlox, discovered a hummingbird moth regularly visits my bee balm, and watched countless squirrel acrobatics as those naughty creatures conspire to raid my bird feeders. It sounds idyllic, I know, and in ordinary circumstances I would thrill at the opportunity to, as poet Michael Longley says, go “back to the same place in a devoted way and in a curious way.” But the truth is, I’ve spent far too much time looking out this window lately. I am tired of the view.
I work at a hospital and have been required to report to work throughout the pandemic. So, for me, everything has been the same but not the same. When I return home in the evening, we rarely leave the house. The days have become an unending chain of sameness, rarely interrupted by anything new. This lack of novelty lends a mystical nature to the passage of time. Each day drags endlessly on but the weeks pass as if a breath. Puzzling over this mystery brings to mind the familiar time research by Dr. David Eagleman in which he explains how routine circumstances trick our brain’s amygdala into laziness. The less novelty in our days, the less our brains pay attention to details and time seems to slip through our fingers unnoticed. In my house, we’ve tried a multitude of things to slow the moments: dancing, exercise, new recipes, long drives in the country, zoom dates with friends, kintsugi, wine … the list goes on and on. They all work for a time, until we roll back into that restlessness that comes with confinement.
We want our lives back.
I want to visit with my mother-in-law without worry that my mask won’t offer her enough protection. I want my son to come for a visit without threat of later quarantine. I want to sit in a restaurant and linger over a glass of wine with a friend—without fear. I want to travel to a distant place and see something new and beautiful that will inspire poetry within me.
From the looks of things, it may be a while before any desire for socialization to resume pre-COVID status will be safely realized. When the news hit about a Japanese amusement park that has prohibited screaming while riding their roller coasters, I thought it an apt description of our times. “Please scream inside your hearts,” the park’s administration asks, in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID 19. Isn’t that what we have all been doing?
I have choices, of course I do. I can pursue these desires anyway, flaunting concern for the safety of myself and others. I can stay home and safe and complain about the unfairness of it all. Or I can stay home and safe while nurturing a state of mind that promotes wellness and resilience.
Interested in choosing option number three? Our August book club discussion is just what the doctor ordered.
“Your nervous system is designed to be changed by your experiences … ,” Dr. Rick Hanson says, in Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakeable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness. He goes on to say three things impact your path in life: your world, your body, and your mind. “All of these are important, but growing resources in the mind has a unique power. If offers the greatest opportunity, since you usually have more influence over your mind than over your body or world. It also offers the greatest impact, since you take your mind with you wherever you go. You can’t always count on the world, other people, or even your own body. But you can count on durable inner strengths hardwired into your nervous system…”
It doesn’t look like the world is changing any time soon. And even though I’ve ramped up my exercise routine during the pandemic, the extra time in the kitchen and the wine seem to cancel out all those efforts to improve my body. I think I’m ready to use this increased time at home to cultivate a state of mind that will have benefits for years to come. Are you? Dr. Hanson promises some practical steps to do just that. Join us in August in reading Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakeable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness.
August 12: Part One: Recognizing
August 19: Part Two: Resourcing
August 26: Part Three: Regulating
September 2: Part Four: Relating
And in September, Callie Feyen will take us to the theatre with Sonia Barkat for Winter Stars: Three 10-Minute Plays: From Tragedy to Fantasy to Comedy. These compact little plays carry deep truths we’ll explore together.
Photo by Jenny Downing, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Laura Boggess.
A Novella From Laura Boggess
Lyrical and whimsical writer Laura Boggess brings us an inspiring story of one woman’s quest to put her life back together. Poetry plays a part. But not before a book gets delivered to the wrong house on a windy, impossible day.
Buy Waiting for Neruda’s Memoirs Now