If there’s one thing I love, it is a challenge. The unprecedented health challenge we all have faced is this: how do millions of people remain sane while living in isolation for weeks or months? Consider this: after you have organized your possessions, surfed the Internet, stared, napped, broken your 30-day challenges, and snacked again, where will your mindset be? Will you be one of those clawing at the walls? To assess my own sanity during this global health crisis, I challenged myself to think of 7 meaningful things about life to appreciate in isolation.
Personally, I see our challenges more like an Isolation Project — a way to appreciate solitude, not deny its presence and value. Indeed, our unique effort may be to find that inner sense of acceptance, comfort, and caring at the core of our Self, while alone in our walled haven. For many of us, our Isolation Project may feel more like a rediscovery, or a renewed loving of our self and others. The horror would be the feeling of imprisonment!
One thing isolation brings up is curiosity. No matter how you characterize and work on it, solitude can offer newfound appreciation and gratitude to balance out angst. I might even suggest that a newer view of this beautiful experience called Life will emerge, from the micro to the macro, from you personally to your relationship with the world.
7 Meaningful Things I Appreciate More About Life
Before I share my own life appreciations, do this: stop reading this article, grab a piece of paper, and write down your own 7 meaningful things about life that you now appreciate while isolated.
It’s okay to think of places, treats, activities and experiences; or even love, friendship, humor, neighbors, religion or chocolate. Everybody appreciates different things about life. Admittedly, I have a more philosophical view of life, so, as you can see from my list below, I super appreciate certain “life constants” that rear their head in my self-isolation these days.
- Appreciation of Life & Home
- Appreciation of Aloneness/Solitude
- Appreciation of Boredom
- Appreciation of Technology
- Appreciation of Simplicity
- Appreciation of Health & Fitness
- Appreciation of Positivity & Kindness
Appreciation of Life & Home
It might seem trivial to say, but isolation has amplified my gratitude for being alive and appreciating my home as a safe haven within the world. I am fortunate, but my heart grieves for the millions who are homeless, and whose life is defined everyday by struggle. My heart weeps for the early deaths of elders who are key members of a family’s heritage. It is saddened for the many medical workers falling ill at the frontlines.
All these people, and many more, have now given us a tremendous gift of awareness: life is unpredictable and impermanent. So is suffering, even though we know that out of death there is rebirth. So, in quiet reflection, determine how your isolation has affected or altered your perspective on life. Perhaps courageously create this introspective Project: “What is the purpose of my life?”
Similarly, home is my place of sanctuary within the world. But I also like to extend this idea further: Earth is our home and sanctuary within the universe. Additionally, this should be our feeling towards our country, state, community, and neighborhood — all havens in our life where we desire to feel peace, safety, and comfort; each one worthy of our deepest gratitude.
Within the walls of your abode lives not only your physical body, but also a general energy or spirit to the place. This temenos (Greek, spirit of the place) is made up of objects, lighting, color, nature, mood, and YOU and all your quirky behaviors and energy. So, in isolation, come to observe, change, or appreciate the energy in your living space as a true sanctuary — an island of grace within the world. If you can see it this way, then your haven will seem like a wonderful place to feel safely alone.
Appreciation of Aloneness That Enriches the Soul
As humans, we are social animals needing connection and relationships. It is our human nature to coalesce in crisis, to reach out and comfort or be comforted. But isolation now requires maintaining a loving distance, minimizing unnecessary contact with others. In truth, social distancing is an act of care and compassion. The benefits of solitude may actually be a source of strength and self-reflection. Spending time alone may be a necessary game changer in our life, if we view it from an angle of gratitude. It may be an opportunity to love ourselves anew.
Many people, however, are uncomfortable being alone. Oftentimes, life is driven by serial relationships, jobs, and leisure activities that give us little solitude. However, spending time alone gives balance to an active lifestyle; it offers an opportunity for thoughtful reflection about the course of our life and desires. The challenge is often one of engaging in solitude with little need for advanced technology, wizardry, or even to connect.
So, I dearly appreciate solitude as a worthy asylum within the world — an island of grace, if you will. Each person approaches the need for and use of alone time differently. Deep reflective activities may include meditation, prayer, journaling, reading, doing nothing, listening to inspiring music, or simply gazing out the window in silent thought, and the like. Solitary activities like walking, cooking, exercising, writing, working on a craft, taking a warm bath, playing with a pet, and gardening are more examples of potentially fulfilling experiences.
See your abode as a sanctuary within the world, where you feel a sense of peace, safety & comfort.
Appreciation of Boredom That Stimulates Creativity
The novelty of social distancing can initially spark a host of alternative activities to fill in the large gaps of free time. Of course, the Internet is a great lifestyle putty. However, our desire for activity and connection has its psychological limits. At some point in time — weeks or months of imposed isolation — we must deal with the dreaded life issue of BOREDOM, something that has bugged us since youth.
As a wellness psychologist, I have tremendous appreciation for boredom. Studies show that we will do just about anything to avoid this negative emotion, even more than sadness. On one hand, it can offer the feeling of being stuck in time, of which we feel determined to resolve with further trivial activity. However, boredom can also be a worthy springboard into a deeper pool of personal awareness — it can inspire us, momentarily remove us from the trivial, and it can raise emotional issues that may need addressing.
So, appreciate the notion of uncertainty in the use of your alone time. Your boredom may actually be a sigh of relief for your world-weary spirit. It may be a key psychological doorway into your mindset, helping you to better discriminate between activities that are worthwhile and those that are simply time-fillers.
Appreciation of Technology and Its Limits
We live in a fishbowl of Technology. In truth, all of human history has relied on the tools and innovation of technology. From the simple stone knife to the precision scalpel, from the counting of stones to the computer — we should be continually appreciative of human ingenuity. Today, stay-in-place means an increased dependency on technology to provide us information, comfort, varied activities, filling of time, and skill development.
While we are cooped up, technology — especially a computer — can be our saving grace. But I want to encourage you to extend your appreciation of technology beyond your own utilitarian needs. Imagine choosing to live a little more simply outside of the box of technological dependency. Learning to cook from scratch is a good start (make your own nut or rice milk!), eliminating evening screen time for something more engaging like writing, reading, art, or even practicing a musical instrument is also innovative. In fact, right now assess how much of your daily life is quite dependent upon certain technologies. Make a list of your technologies, and then begin to determine how you can better moderate your dependency upon them (both time wise, and actual doing).
Appreciation of Fitness and Health
The grocery shelves are bare. Your cupboards, fridge and freezer are stuffed. The calories you bought in packages will serve you well. You are properly fueled for isolation. This is a great time to appreciate how technology has helped to provide you with food security. And, it is a good reminder that Fitness & Health are also basic lifestyle needs worthy of tremendous gratitude.
If one thing comes out of prolonged social isolation, it is the idea of a 30-day challenge. Today, thousands of people on the Internet are sharing and leading extended challenges. Personally, I view health and fitness as an ongoing lifestyle Project, and a challenge can be part of my Project. Nevertheless, many people will be challenged to maintain proper fitness and weight levels under isolation. Heck, the fridge is right over there, the couch nearby, the TV even closer, and the bed in the other room — you get the idea.
As we compassionately hear about the numerous deaths caused by this virus, we should naturally have a greater interest in our own personal health and fitness. We should want to know how we can be fit and stay healthy. For me, I like to break my fitness into smaller components of exercise. For example, every morning for years after dressing I do 50 sit-ups. Throughout the day, I will do other exercise bursts.
In our isolation, we will ultimately become bored with the food in stock and even our exercise routines. However, we need to view our Fitness & Health Project as a way of life, not a viral fad. We can begin to appreciate nutritional food planning, preparation, and eating — Slow Food! We can learn and review the types of exercises and activities that inspire us to create challenges within challenges. We can learn to create fitness routines and stick to them.
Appreciation of Simplicity and Slow Time
We can all attest to that chronic feeling inside our gut of a type of tension or stress. This seems to be the way of life today. Part of our anxiety may well be a loss of simplicity to the day, and our inability to selectively filter time and activity to our liking. But suddenly, we are thrust into isolation, and all the time fillers in our day have been altered. Life within our four walls is simpler, time is slower, and boredom often knocks at the door. What are we to do for weeks on end?
Recent surveys (Glassdoor, 2017) show that two in three employees reportedly work while on vacation, and only 23% report taking all of their eligible time off over the past 12 months. We almost always think of simplicity in terms of objects (fewer) and time (less constrained). However, simplicity is more an attitude and expressive approach towards life, from day to day. Simplicity is a way of acknowledging “simple in means, rich in ends,” and that “not all desires are desirable.” Being removed from the world, we realize our addiction to commerce, entertainment and time filling trivial activities. But don’t we also experience a little more simplicity to the day, if not a drag in time? And does that not feel regenerating, and offer a sense of mental relief? You bet it does!
Appreciation of Positivity and Kindness
The comedian Bob Hope once quipped: “Those who lack charity of the heart suffer from the worst form of heart disease.” One only needs to momentarily glance Online to witness the tremendous amount of positive, kind, and charitable messages and videos being exchanged during imposed social distancing. Millions of people are living more with heartfelt concern and care — for themselves, family and friends. And all this because of a tiny little parasite that has forced us into isolation!
As our life simplifies, and slow time becomes our rhythm, perhaps we can begin to notice and appreciate the small things in life that give it color. Personally, when I give silent gratitude to things, people, and experiences throughout the day, it keeps me in a positive, kind mindset. Additionally, it moves me out of a self-centered state to a more empathic, compassionate mindfulness of others — a mindset of kindness.
The Buddhist concept of Tonglen is a worthy breath technique to stay positive and compassionate. On your deep inhale, breathe and acknowledge the negative: I feel your suffering. On your full exhale, acknowledge the positive: I offer peace and healing. Our breath can be a kind portal to our heart, and humbly so to others.
Most of us don’t change unless we have to, and crisis is often what obliges us to do so. Living in isolation for many people is a crisis in itself, beyond the need to do so for health safety. However, crises are often resolved through a newer sense of identity or purpose, whether it is that of a community, country, or an individual.
I am certain that each of us can find a deeper appreciation for our life. Don’t be academic about it. Simply sit down right now and give good heartfelt thought to those things about life that you have tremendous gratitude and appreciation for. In your ponderings about our current worldwide health crisis, remember these hopeful words from Jack Ma (founder of Alibaba): Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.