• Lisa Carmen

I'm not the same: the unexpected gifts of "Quarantime"

It’s week six of my county’s “sheltered-in-place” mandate, and as regulations are "safely and cautiously" being lifted, I can feel the ache and stretch of society, looking for its new way of being, in a world still ripe with the virus. We're moving in the direction of “back to normal”... whatever that means.

I'll be returning to my job next week, so it’s time to slowly emerge from what has been one of the most valuable periods of my life.

I don’t want this period to be forgotten. I don’t want to jump back into old ways of being. I don’t want to go “back to normal.”

I am committed to creating a new normal. One where the lessons and wisdom offered to me these last six weeks will be integrated into a new version of me. Let me tell you more.

I started out the mandated period in the best of spirits, with the best of intentions, with concern and trepidation, yet committed to doing what I could do to flatten the curve.

My thoughts went like this: We all need a break anyway. This will be fine, this will be good. Right?

I created some live videos to support myself and my community. They started out as daily offerings, then became every other day, then every few days, until eventually I stopped completely. I had hit a wall, and couldn’t output anymore. I was shutting down.

I was slipping into a dark night of the soul, one that would strip me down to my nothingness, and then to my essence. One that would show me more than I could handle seeing, so much that I had to buffer it with cookies and soda. This Quarantime experience has revealed so much to me, I can barely process it all.

But I’m going to try, right here, with you.

I want to acknowledge and honor the many gifts I’ve received during this time. Some of them were hard to consider “gifts” while experiencing them. Gifts are supposed to be wonderful and pretty, right? Many of these gifts were far from pretty, but now, as I move toward my new normal, I realize they are all wonderful, in their messy, complicated, uncomfortable ways.

I want to share my experiences in the hopes that they will inspire you to do your own processing of what this forced slow-down has gifted you with.

As we slowly emerge from our homes, as mandates are lifted and we resume our regularly scheduled programs, let’s not go back to normal. Let’s not miss the wisdom we have been offered.

This transition, as we emerge, back into the world, is a portal, and if we don’t pause before rushing back into things, we may miss the most valuable offerings of this experience.

It’s my whole-hearted belief that to do so would be a dangerous, stupid thing. Here's what's been going on with me...

Gift #1: My god died.

Around week two or three, I began to experience a crisis of faith, as my spiritual beliefs unraveled at the seams.

I began to realize I no longer believed in the god I had created. The one that had personal interest in my plans and desires, the one who was listening when I prayed. Suddenly that all seemed so trite to me; it reeked of privilege and smugness. God is busy blessing me, while countless others are being cursed? How is this fair? It has to be more random than that.

The disadvantaged, those born into oppression, why are they are not favored by God, as I am?

There are thousands of people dying of this virus, yet others recover, thanks to answered prayers… what kind of god works like this?

I was not planning for this loss of faith, at a time when I needed its salve and comfort the most. It came out of nowhere and suddenly, the idea of my privilege being counted as blessings seemed like a system that was rigged. It no longer worked for me, because it isn't set up to work for everyone.

For many years, I had bounced through life feeling blessed, charmed, favored by this version of God who doles out blessings for some and not others. I suddenly wanted nothing to do with a god who picks favorites.

This left me in a cold and dark place. Without a god, I had no one to turn to. I had no one to hand my life over to. The randomness and arbitrary realities of life were too much for me to bear. I knew it was time to reinvent my god. That’s still in process. My spirituality is under construction.

As much as atheism felt right for a couple of weeks, I need to believe in something. What will that be?

For a couple days, I called my new god Love. I believe in Love. Love is powerful, greater than me, big and mighty. I can get behind that.

Today, my god feels more like Mystery, a greater intelligence, a creative energy and force that guides me while baffling me, simultaneously.

Tomorrow, who knows what my new god will reveal to me about itself. I am rebuilding a faith. I am open to suggestions from the power greater than myself. I know it’s real. I just don’t understand it yet. That's why I'm calling it Mystery.

I now know what it feels like to not believe. My tryst with atheism didn’t stick, it doesn’t work for me. For now, I can practice embracing the Mystery of it all.

Gift #2: Less is more.

I learned that I frigging love a calendar with less on it.

Over the years, I’ve been one of those people that found a packed calendar, with all its colors and commitments to be a thing of beauty.

Now I feel that plenty of empty boxes are the thing of beauty. For that translates into time: to do nothing, to just be, to breathe and create and fiddle and meander and lay in the hammock with a book, if I choose. To be the curator of my very own precious time.

My desire for less calendar stuff had already started, before the pandemic. Yet I must confess. There was something, dare I say… blissful... in that moment of deleting all the events that had been on my calendar for April, and looking at a completely empty month. I’d never seen one before. It was stunning in its starkness. Clean and open. Wow.

Things are being added to my calendar again. I promise myself to thoughtfully consider what goes onto it. I owe it to myself, and my new passion for unstructured time.

I'll need new filters for considering whether something gets booked, or not. I’m smart enough to know if I don’t implement these filters, I’ll be right back where I was, simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed with my life.

Gift #3 - Letter-writing

I wrote a letter, with actual paper and pen, to an old friend.

She wrote me first, and my reaction to the mail that day was “What is this? A letter? Oh my god, it’s a letter!” I loved receiving it and I loved writing back. I want to do more letter-writing. There’s something about it that typing emails or DMs can’t touch.

Gift #4: wants VS. needs

I don’t “need” a haircut. No one really does. We want haircuts. They make us look and feel good. And that's important. But right now, I don't need one. Right now, I need good sleep and loving touch and nourishing foods, and good books that aren’t telling me how to fix myself. That would lead me to my next gift of Quarantime…

I have become allergic to self-help books.

More on that, and other gifts I’ve received from this experience soon…

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