Turning the Ordinary into the Sacred

COVID 19 is a highly infectious viral disease. With no natural immunity in the community and no vaccine available to inoculate people, the only way to stop the spread of the virus is to keep people away from each other.

Physical distancing has been a key plank in the government’s plan to keep the virus in check.

For many people, the ‘stay at home’ directive has disrupted daily routines and decimated weekly schedules. Diaries reflect some of the chaos with appointments cancelled, ‘to do lists’ shelved, and contacts revised. The calendar on the wall is largely ignored. Holidays have been scrapped, cultural events delayed, and birthdays and anniversaries reimagined.

It is a time when physical connection is on hold – we are not going to the office, we are not meeting with our friends and family, we are not having a coffee at our favourite café.

And casual activities that help us thrive as social beings are shut down: cinemas, gyms, spa and beauty salons, restaurants, libraries, activity centres…

While many people have been able to work remotely, hundreds of thousands are out of work. The economic uncertainty is feeding into a sense of fear. It is unclear what the future might hold and how long the affects of the pandemic might persist.

Despite the grim outlook there have been some positives emanating from life in lockdown. 

Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, Mex Cooper says,

“Life in lockdown for many … has meant a slower pace, time with family, and small surprises and new experiences that have brought unexpected joy.”

Mex Cooper

Life in lockdown has allowed for a total reset on life. It has allowed us to re-evaluate what is important.

Let us look at some of these changes. 

1. We are taking things slower:

Working remotely allows us to take control of our day. For many of us life before corona was frenetic. There was the pressure of managing conflicting interests, meeting people’s expectations, and maintaining a way of life. There were endless choices, unrealistic workloads, and annoying deadlines.

Author Jocelyn Glei says,

The simple act of slowing down can help us to be more productive, creative, and resilient.”

2. We are recalibrating our work:

Working remotely holds many benefits, social and health wise.There is less stress and more independence.The daily commute is done away with, saving us money, aiding our sanity, and lessening our carbon footprint.Working from home calms our minds, provides us with greater control over our work environment, and allows us to eat something healthy for lunch. It has also debunked myths like ‘you have to be in the office to be productive.’

3. We are connecting with our family:

Working remotely allows us more time to spend with our family and loved ones and to connect with them in a more meaningful way. There are many activities that can foster closer bonds: creative exercise regimes (outdoor obstacle course); cooking extravaganzas (‘rocky road’ or caramelised popcorn); making a home video; watching a movie with subtitles; planting out a vegetable garden.

4. We are learning new skills:

Many of us have been keeping busy during the coronavirus lockdown. The changed circumstances mean there is added incentive – and perhaps more time – to learn new skills. Certainly, a good way to stave off negative feelings is to stay productive.  Learning a new skill can give us a sense of control that will help cope with anxiety engendered by the pandemic. Utilise the extra time available to learn a new language, improve your culinary skills, start painting or even take part in dance classes.

But being in lockdown also has a downside. It is easy to fall into patterns of behaviour that are unhelpful.

Staying at home indefinitely may cause us to become slack and slovenly.  Too much sleep, too much snacking, too much binge watching, too much confused thinking, too much senseless activity will only lead to feelings of restlessness, anxiety, and depression. Undisciplined activity is a recipe for diminished productivity. A daily dose of self-indulgence will deaden all desire and creativity.

One way we can improve our emotional wellbeing is to create a daily schedule. It is about establishing a routine, a reliable structure for our existence. There is benefit in knowing what our day entails, what we are wanting to accomplish.

In his book, Stillness is the Key, Ryan Holiday says,

“A good routine is not only a source of great comfort and stability; it is the platform from which stimulating and fulfilling work is possible.”

Ryan Holiday

The tennis great Rafael Nadal’s commitment to routine illustrates how order can free the mind. Between service games Nadal drinks water and a recovery drink in the same order and then sets them in a perfect arrangement with the labels pointing in the same direction. Nadal says,

“It is a way of placing myself in a match, ordering my surroundings to match the order I seek in my head.”

Australian test cricketer Steven Smith is a premier batsman who is also known for his ‘repertoire of habitual gestures.’ While waiting for the next ball to be bowled Smith is constantly moving about and fidgeting with his cricket gear. When asked about his mannerisms he said he is not consciously thinking about what he is doing. His idiosyncratic behaviour is a cover, allowing him to focus on the essential – ‘keep your head still and watch the ball.’

When the body is busy with the familiar, the mind can relax.

But not all habits have positive outcomes. Bad habits are destructive and can compromise our health and our ability to function efficiently. Negative patterns of behaviour include addictions such as drug taking, gambling, drinking, or gaming.

Obsessiveness also influences the way we think and the way we work. People who overthink create problems that do not exist. People who overwork suffer physical and mental exhaustion. Bad habits drain our reserves.

Good habits are beneficial to our physical and mental wellbeing. They are transformative, bringing positive change to our life. Good habits are liberating, changing our view of the future.

According to psychologist and philosopher, William James, ‘they create a kind of bulwark against the chaos of the world.’ Within this ‘safe haven’ we are free to give of our best and reshape our tomorrows.

Good habits settle our bodies and minds. They are reassuring, addressing the causes of anxiety. They are renewing, communicating a sense of order and peace.  

Writing at the end of the nineteenth century, James says,

“Good habits bring us to a place of stillness where we can be open to the voice of inspiration and insight.”

William James

The pandemic has changed our lives. Living differently has allowed us to develop new habits, good habits. The most profound change is that we have been forced to slow down. Changing the pace at which we live has allowed us to notice the little things in life that often pass us by. Acknowledging and appreciating the simple things helps ground us and provides opportunities for reflection and perspective.

When we are still, we are free to contemplate the ordinary, the commonplace. There we discover the profound, for ‘the smallest moments of life are sacred.’

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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