Photo by Pixabay/Mabel Amber
As the prospect of an extended COVID-19 quarantine becomes a reality, social media feeds are now 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, complete that Advanced French course with Rosetta Stone—the list seems endless. Despite the variety of activities on offer, 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 while “to-do lists” can be a useful distraction, they can also create stress in already stressful time. Modern life is inextricably associated with being busy, and not being ‘busy’ 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.
The universe has hit the PAUSE button and yet 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 over 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 had seen and things they had done. “Why do you Americans feel you have to do something all the time?”
It’s taken some time but I think 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. Of course 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 on constant activity, especially when there is always something else to do next, distances ourselves from the richness of the present moment.
Like with most things in life, it’s about balance: being versus doing.
The coming weeks (or months!) 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 of us 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 bit ultimately it is 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. But ultimately the thing to ask yourself is how do you want to feel and what will help you 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 engender more happiness. Be joy. Be calm.
A few months ago, I realized I was craving more quality time with my five-year-old twin boys. 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 want to presence 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 mastered 12 new yoga poses? What is the schools reopen before I’ve taught the kids how to resist the urge to be swept along by a tide of bustle and commotion.
This time is a gift — use it wisely.
Currently based in Hong Kong and practicing acupuncture at The Round Clinic, Roxanne Issurdatt is a licensed acupuncturist with a Master’s degree in Oriental Medicine from the Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH). Along with running a successful acupucture practice while living in Washington, DC, she has also worked and taught Traditional Chinese Medicine in Baltimore’s inner city and Mumbai’s Dharavi slums. For more information about her and her work, please visit Tula Acupuncture.