I have struggled with loneliness during the pandemic shelter in-place. Conscientious social distancing, turns into social isolation, which culminates into being alone. It’s okay to be alone, but it doesn’t feel good to be forced to be alone. The is where loneliness emerges. It is not just me who feels this way. I have heard from mothers, husbands, teens, older parents, etc…all feeling detached, isolated, and lonely. And while Zoom, Facetime and phone calls are great alternatives, nothing is superior to face:face interactions with fellow humans. Nothing compares to being hugged, holding someone’s hand, or sitting alongside a friend or even stranger at a movie. Even when we are allowed to venture out, our smiles, frowns, grimaces are all covered-up by our face masks, obstructing our ability to empathize with one another and be “seen.”
Until this past week, I spent 95% of my time watching CNN, devouring podcasts, blasting music, thinking about old girlfriends, arguing with myself about politics and racism, yelling at the White House Press Secretary – all while keeping my physical distance from family and friends, and avoiding anything related to ZOOM during my free time (lately I spend ~35 hours/week doing videotherapy). I engaged in all my usual self-care practices (weekly therapy, personal training, wrote 7 songs, hiked, biked, meditated, journaled, practiced gratitude, ate well, went to be on time, went to work every day, read, hugged my kitties, and watered all my plants). Despite these mindful practices, the psychological toll of shelter in-place and the aftermath of the George Floyd killing (and others), far exceeded my capacity to defend myself against loneliness. I was entering a state of depression without feeling depressed (if that makes sense?).
Thankfully, I planned to take OFF the week of June 13th. It was during this week long stay-cation that I stumbled upon something that transformed my loneliness into something meaningful…Silence. I decided during one dinner meal, I would not watch CNN, just to see what happens in the silence. I found out a lot happens. I focused on my food, became more intentional about each bite, took my time drinking my water, slowed down instead of shoveled, looked at what I was eating, noticed my belly getting fuller, and breathed. Mindful eating. I realized that I had been distracting myself from what’s really going on by consuming constant television, or podcasts, or music. Or if I had exhausted these electronic distractions, my mind would circle the drain with constant problem solving, fantasy day dreaming, or forming arguments against this person or that government agency. Silence instead allows you to bring focus to what you are actually doing and what’s really going on. I stopped wearing earbuds with loud indie rock distracting me on my bike ride, so that I could notice the natural sounds around me and see the trees, houses, people outside, shoreline, sand, sky and sun. Silence allows you to pay attention to the body, all the sensations of the body, where the body is taking you, is it tired, can it go further, does it need shade? Silence allowed me to recognize what bullshit is floating on the surface of my mind, and what issues, people, and feelings are truly worth paying attention to. Silence allows you to see who you really are without the usual distractions known as Netflix, YouTube, Animal Crossing, Facebook, and whatever other noise we routinely consume.
So here is what I suggest – Allow yourself to be with silence for one moment today or tonight. No earbuds, no TV during a meal, no music blasting during a workout, no Instagram to distract from boredom. During your thoughtful moments of silence = read, write, journal, nap, exercise, go to nature, walk in nature, bake, meditate, bike, plant something, stare at the sky, make art, hug your sister/dad/spouse/cat, think of how you can help others (instead of obsessing about yourself). I am not suggesting to not watch TV or listen to music or use ZOOM, but instead to set aside moments each day to absorb silence and go inward. I think what happened to me is that the loneliness drew me inward. I discovered that on the other side of loneliness was the gift of silence. Silence revealed to me all that I was missing (if that makes sense). Only in silence can you truly experience what is happening in the here and now. Silence is like a companion that is always there, you just have to notice it. In silence, only the truth remains, and that truth is…you are never alone. Give yourself a break. If your feeling lonely during shelter in-place, try a little silence.