I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that most of us are sitting around all day in a stew of boredom, disbelief and fear. The good news is that these very conditions provide a golden opportunity for profound personal growth, courtesy of this passage from the wisest book ever written, the Tao te Ching:
“Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place.”
For most of us, especially in America, it is seen as virtuous to “Do, do, do! Go, go, go!” We equate doing with effort, discipline and being a “self-starter.” Sitting around like a bump on a log is looked down upon.
The problem is that the motivation for much of our doing is to distract ourselves from uncomfortable thoughts and emotions about the reality of who we are. The 17th century French scientist Blaise Pascal put it best when he wrote: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Washington power brokers
I saw this on steroids during my fifteen years in Washington, D.C., where numerous powerful people I knew worked themselves to the bone every day until they passed out at night for a few hours of sleep, then got up and did it all over again. I didn’t realize until many years later that many of them worked so hard only to avoid the demons that were lurking inside, waiting to pounce the moment they relaxed.
Therein lies the most difficult aspect of self-quarantining for so many people: the forced confronting of inner demons.
Fine. So you’re sitting in your living room furiously fending off your demons. What do you do?
Obviously, there are myriad things people do, depending on the severity of their particular situation. Some people do therapy. Some are on antidepressants. Most just fight the good fight on their own (not recommended).
Observe your thoughts and emotions
Whatever you are doing, there is one incredibly powerful arrow I recommend adding to your quiver. And that is simply observing any and all thoughts and emotions you may be experiencing. What? Yes, it’s that simple.
One way to explain this is to illustrate what NOT to do. What you DON’T do while sitting alone in your living room staring at the wall is notice an uncomfortable feeling (like “My career has pretty much been a failure…”) and then let it pull you down the rabbit hole where you grapple with it and give it life.
No. What you do is just observe it as best you can from a place of non-judgment. In your head it goes like this: “Okay. Just had a thought/feeling that my career hasn’t gone well.” And you leave it at that.
We’re going to be inside for a while
I know. This sounds ultra-simplistic and therefore unhelpful. And that may be true if this self-quarantine thing was going to end next week. But it’s not. Even the rosiest forecasts have us cooped for at least another month.
Fine. So you have at least another month of this. How should you make use of that time?
Learn to meditate.
What I wrote above about observing uncomfortable thoughts and emotions? That’s all meditation is. Observing what’s going on in the present moment, without judgment.
You just sit quietly and place your attention on something happening in the present moment, like your breathing. Then, when your mind wanders, and it will, you simply notice that that has happened and bring your attention back to your breath. That’s all meditation is.
And when you do this over and over and over again, over weeks, months and years, what you’ll see is that these demons start to fall by the wayside. Why? First, you will have stopped avoiding them and faced them. That is absolutely critical.
Second, when you did face them, you just observed them. You didn’t energize the demons and give them fuel by interacting with them. You neutralized them by just observing them.
I’m not going to lie to you and say that doing this will eliminate your demons overnight. It takes a lot of work over a long period of time. But I’d submit that no work is more worthy of your attention.
And the whole point here is that most of us have nothing but time right now. This quarantine thing is an absolute godsend because it provides a sustained amount of free time to devote to developing a meditation practice.
A simple meditation program
How do you get started with meditation? Contrary to what you may have heard, it’s not that big a deal. When I started meditating seven years ago I created my own program. I made it simple, doable and designed it so that a regular person, like me, would be successful in developing a practice.
The program is eight-weeks and starts off with meditating for two minutes a day then building gradually from there. I strongly urge youto try it. It’s free. You can access it at davidgerken.net.
Do this. I’m telling you that developing a meditation practice could literally be the best thing you ever do for yourself. It will make you a better friend, daughter, son, spouse, parent and overall human being. Now is the time. Go for it.