As the prospect of an extended Covid-19 quarantine becomes a reality, social media feeds are awash with ways to stay busy during the coming months of social distancing. Take a coding course, Marie Kondo your home, learn to play the ukulele, take up an online language course – the list seems endless. And there is one clear message driving it all: don’t miss this opportunity to do more…
Of course, the anxiety about Covid-19 is real and to-do lists can be a useful distraction, but they can also up the pressure in an already stressful time. Modern life is inextricably associated with being busy, and not being so is seen as a sign of failure. When life is measured in Instagram updates, the pressure to show everyone that you are doing more can be intense. And even now, when the universe has hit the pause button, the pressure is on to do even more.
My husband is from the west coast of Ireland and I remember distinctly something he said to me more than 20 years ago. We were newly dating and after gathering for a meal with friends on a Saturday evening I causally asked: ‘What did you all do today?’ His response was one of exasperation as the Americans in the group had been busy listing out all the sites they’d seen and things they’d done. ‘Why do you Americans feel you have to dosomething all the time?’
It’s taken some time but I finally have an answer.
There are many reasons why we fill our schedules with such missionary zeal, why we busy ourselves with doing. Along with a sense of achievement, doing gives us a sense of control. There is nothing wrong with activity per se, but its very nature is future-centric and that takes us away from now – the moment in front of us. A life of constant activity, especially when there is always something else to do next, distances us from the richness of the present moment.
Like with most things in life, it’s about balance: being versus doing.
The coming period of self-quarantine is an opportunity, an opportunity to be more present to how we live and to get to know ourselves at a deeper level. Focusing on being as much as doing can help us cultivate a greater sense of self and a deeper connection to the world around us.
Many cling desperately to a life of doing because being in the present moment can be daunting. It can feel both empty and intimidating. The essence of being is difficult to describe but ultimately it’s about acknowledging what is without wanting or trying to change it. It’s only when we extricate ourselves from the busy culture of doing that we can become aware of the fullness and intricacies of our own lives. We become aware of what is truly important to us. So, how do you move from a constant state of doing to cultivating more being?
A first step involves being ready to stop and make time during the day. Clear your mind, feel your feet firmly on the ground, take a couple of deep breaths and be mindful of the moment. Then ask yourself two questions:
How do I want to feel?
What will help me feel this way?
If you would like to feel calm, then adding more to your to-do list isn’t going to help you feel relaxed. If you want to feel joy, embrace things that bring more happiness. Be joy. Be calm.
A few months ago, I realised I was craving more quality time with my five-year-old twin sons. My initial reaction was to find more activities to do with them when I was free. It took someone else to point out that what I really wanted was to be with them in a more joyful and relaxed manner. The key question was how I wanted to be and feel in their company, yet I was focused on what I wanted to do. But how do you make this happen? The answer was staring me straight in the face once I thought about it. If I wanted to experience joy with them, getting more sleep was step one. This would help me be more rested and relaxed in their presence and channel joy.
In the coming weeks, the pressure to do will be overwhelming for a lot of people. What if the quarantine ends and I haven’t learned 12 new yoga poses? What if the schools reopen before I’ve taught the kids how to crochet, speak French and understand long division? Resist the urge to be swept along by a tide of bustle and commotion.
Be instead of do.
Words: Roxanne Issurdatt