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Being Un/Productive in the Time of COVID-19

Like many of you, I have been a sponge this past few weeks.

Taking in news, stories from friends, and feeling the weight of the COVID-19 global crisis.

Many of us have expressed feelings of helplessness, fear, being overworked or at-risk with our age, immune system, or socioeconomic status. If you are at home, staying a distance from neighbors, family, and friends this piece is written for you. In principle, these concepts can be applied to the thousands of brave people in our communities who are in hospitals, making our food, or working in our factories, but maybe discern for yourself how this message applies. Also, thank you.

One of the lingering question marks that circulate our conversations is, how will life be after this?

Although I don’t have that answer, I do think there is a better way to be in the now and that will prepare us for the future. One of the things we can do now is learn how to be present with ourselves. Blaise Pascal once said, “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Hopefully after all this sitting alone in rooms all around the world, we’ll have fewer problems as a species. Though sitting and being present to ourselves is no easy task.

During this time of shelter-in-place, one of the only ways that you can positively serve the globe, your communities collectively, is to first take inventory of yourself.

Here are ways I’ve found to be helpful in cultivating presence.

1. Turn off your electronics and have strict rules around them.

Just 30 minutes of reading the news and checking social media I see my mind spinning out of control, losing all agency I had for my day. One cannot truly be there for anyone in this state. Therefore, it’s good to set rules around my electronics. For example: I won’t be with unnecessary applications on my phone between the hours of 8am-8pm. Or, for the more extreme, I will check the news and social media once, maybe twice a day. I have done both these and have found this first step to be the most helpful step/restraint one could take in cultivating presence. Our phones are meant to serve us, not to power over us with a lure of information, entertainment, or momentary dopamine hit.

What if overdoing one tool of connection actually left us feeling farther from one another?

I noted to my friend recently that social media feels like an overcrowded concert hall with everyone talking really loudly, trying to be heard and not fully listening or intaking the other. Because of course, how could you, there is so much going on!

Like many of you, I have been witnessing enough content via email and social marketing for a lifetime. Business owners, parents, and friends all seem to be doing the same thing; push-up challenges, sharing projects they are doing at home, free delivery from chipotle (okay, I didn’t mind this one at all), etc. And don’t get me wrong, the internet is a wonderful tool and giving us social creatures platforms to stay connected right now. Just remember to limit oneself to a small dosage of these messages. It is physically impossible to take it all in.

Having these rules give me the space I need to breathe, think, and figure out how I feel before I see how everyone else feels.

2. Sit with yourself.

What if everything you needed was already within you? Look inward and notice what comes up.

I recently read this article by someone outlining the “dangers of meditation” (remember there is distorted information on the internet, shocker!) In this article, an online writer warned potential meditators that people who meditate become despondent and possibly depressed after they sit with themselves.

I would argue, these folks were already depressed and despondent. And possibly calloused to this fact finding pleasure with T.V., takeout, their iPhones and things that keep them busy.

One mistake Americans are famous for making is searching for pleasure instead of enjoyment.

Ya’ll we have been given a gift. The things that keep us busy have been temporarily taken away. Why are we trying to fill them up with more things? Rob Bell notes, ‘busy is a drug that a lot of people are addicted to’. It may be frightening to not be busy right now and that is okay. To cultivate presence, I urge you to sit with yourself. Learn the gift it is to be with yourself and learn yourself. What if you had everything you needed right inside you? Your beautiful mind, your hardy body, and generous heart.

When I am with myself, I ask how can I help in this climate? What do I personally need?

I am no meditation master. I sit for 10 minutes a day in silence. And the more I do this, the more I crave this space to be connected to the world at large and feel grounded (presence).

In this space I have come to see myself: the things I obsess over, the petty ideas that keep me preoccupied, and I get to choose to shed them. Imagining putting them on a leaf and floating them down a river. We also take the posture we hold into meditation into other areas of our lives becoming more nuanced and thoughtful beings.

When heavier items do come up, I discern whether to consult a licensed counselor or process with a close person. I first learned how to sit with myself in the book, Everyday Zen, by Charlotte Yoko Beck. Secondly, if you try this and feelings that are unsettling do come up that is such a good sign of healing. My friend Ryan is based in Southern CA and is currently taking clients remotely.

3. Reclaim your agency and enjoy!

Out of a place of presence, choose how to spend your time. Hopping back up to step number one real quick, Jaron Lanier in this book, 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, notes in the premise of the book to be a cat not a dog. A dog is trained; it comes when it’s master calls. A cat does what they please and only goes to the master when they choose. Be a cat when it comes to your electronics, and in this case, how you spend your time.

I am seeing so many positive and good ideas out there circulating! From reading all the Harry Potters, to getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, making a painting, picking flowers, sewing masks for hospital workers, setting up regular Zoom calls with friends, and more. Find something in this time that brings you personal enjoyment and satisfaction. Not sure what that looks like for you? Read this blog on Dreamscaping my husband wrote and start imagining and remembering the things that bring you enjoyment in this life.

I know we start seeing the life’s paradoxes when we truly engage with these concepts. There is something beautiful happening in the world right now living alongside a whole lot of pain. I am encouraged to see the ways humans are coming together collectively and heart broken by those whose worlds have been shattered by this virus; loved ones dead.

Overall, I hope we don’t miss this opportunity to see ourselves more accurately, so that we can exit this pandemic as the kind of people ready to do the work to heal the world. We are in this and suffering together.

I am not alone in my tiredness or sickness or fears, but at one with millions of others from many centuries, and it is all part of life.  —Etty Hillesum

If you are on the frontlines of battling COVID-19, I cannot thank you enough for your bravery and the years of work you’ve put in to be well prepared for this moment. If you are someone who is protecting the planet by staying home and, like me, doing what feels like a whole lot of nothing, I encourage you to take this time to learn yourself, cultivate presence, and give what you can.

Ashlee Sikorski

EQ Coach, Gardener, Based in Portland, OR.


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