The Perils of Quiet Living

Over the many months of coping with the pandemic, I’ve been watching the enormous discomfort so many people feel about living a quiet life at home, with little social interaction. And the degree to which scary numbers are willing to risk their lives and/or the lives of others by going to parties, restaurants, bars, etc. in order to alleviate that discomfort. As one who already lived a fairly quiet and solitary life, I haven’t felt the impact from the isolation too much. But I used to be one of the ones who had to be out doing stuff all the time, keeping every moment busy. So I think I have some insight into the discomfort.

We in this country (possibly others, but I won’t speak for them), most people have trouble being alone and or living a quiet, contemplative life. The myths of the “pursuit of happiness” lead far too many of us to feel our lives must constantly reflect “happiness” and to seek “highs” and excitement that at least looks happy. Sitting still often means having time to reflect, time when buried issues arise, when thoughts about less happy aspects of life show up. Quiet invites inward exploration and grappling with issues.

As a young adult I unconsciously carried a vast array of buried issues. I had to be working, studying, talking on the phone with someone or going out to restaurants, parties, clubs, etc. all the time. I had no idea why I felt this desperate need to never stop, I just ran and ran and ran.

Health issues wound up slowing me down. Fortunately I’d landed on a spiritual path, so the path of healing became one of also contemplating and exploring: what about my inner world was creating this outer world? How did this set of symptoms/problems flow from my beliefs and emotional underpinnings? Once I moved far enough along the path I realized I’d been running from these questions and explorations all along. Also could see that being finally knocked so flat I couldn’t help but sit and be quiet was the outcome of shoving down all those emotions and thoughts.

It’s taken me years to reach the place where I not only sit with ease in quiet and silence but to welcome those uncomfortable feelings as they arise. It’s the opportunity to acknowledge them, explore them and let them go. And with the letting go comes freedom and more ease.

As I watch people rebelling against lockdowns, staying home, being quiet, I feel I understand that impulse to run around instead. But I see the pandemic as an opportunity to look inward, to heal old wounds, to become more free from within instead of looking for freedom to arrive from without.

The Pesky Pandemic

Dad

This post is for Linda’s Litebeing Chronicles Change Challenge on the litebeing chronicles blog: How have you changed internally? Can you share some new thoughts, ideas, projects, attitudes that have sprung up as a result of your evolution? This challenge is about describing how you have integrated the lessons from this “unprecedented time” and how you have seen your unique transformation unfold.

This is kind of an odd challenge for me to participate in because for me the pandemic has mostly been like a pesky fly in the background, buzzing around and annoying, but not actually impacting my life all that much. Some external habits have changed but otherwise my life has been so much more impacted by personal events that Covid just doesn’t seem like a big factor. Any inner realizations have arisen more because of the earth-shaking issues among loved ones than anything to do with the pandemic.

In January my then-94-year-old mother fell and broke her hip. The ensuing couple of months were an exhausting round of visits to hospital, skilled nursing home, then hospital again, and back to snh while trying to keep the house up and having to re-organize several rooms in order to create pathways for a walker to get through. Sitting in a poorly designed chair at one of the hospitals threw a pattern already in my hip out massively which left me doing all this in agonizing pain.

Toward the end of her skilled nursing stay news of Covid began to break. I was so busy getting the house ready I barely paid attention. About a week after she came home we were in lockdown. The next several months involved a massive learning curve about grocery shopping when supplies were low, how to stock a pantry for a couple months’ worth of food, and making easier meals than my normal complicated menus. That was a change but I can’t say I feel it transformed me internally.

For many people staying home and being isolated has been a huge change. As a somewhat introverted only child, my life has always involved a certain amount of isolation and being self-sufficient with alone time. But I’ve been coping with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue for 30 years and that added a whole new layer of staying home and leading a very solitary life. So for me Covid didn’t change a lot on that score — in fact the rise of meetings and activities via Zoom Skype etc. has allowed me to participate more than I have in years.

I miss eating in restaurants, but my mother has long been my main restaurant companion and she still isn’t really in shape to make an outing like that, so I’d be doing carry out anyway; for me the pandemic doesn’t loom as a reason I can’t do it.

During the spring I realized my Dad, who turned 95 in May and lived almost 900 miles away, was not in good shape and started trying to figure out how I could get my mother taken care of and pay for that plus a plane ticket. Before I could work it out, I received a call that Dad had fallen and been taken to the hospital. He wasn’t hurt in the fall, but it turned out he was in such bad shape he couldn’t walk any more, then they found cancer. In three days he was moved to hospice care and five days later he died.

Covid impacted all this in that even if I’d been able to arrange for Mom’s care and get down there fast enough (which it turned out wouldn’t have been possible), neither the hospital nor the nursing home would let me in to see him. So we had phone calls every day and a couple of Zoom contacts, then I talked to him and sang via phone after he could no longer speak…. But my Dad died alone.

Had to have a Zoom service and the Marines wound up doing the flag presentation portion in my front yard with masks on. The format was born of Covid, but the service was lovely and a bunch of family and friends who live in other states and would not have been able to get here under any circumstances were able to “attend”.

Since I first left for college my Dad called me every week and for many years it has been every Saturday at 2 p.m I’m still struggling some Saturdays to keep myself from grabbing the phone a little before 2 and getting ready to hear from him. In recent years I called him other times to check up but the only sacrosanct time was Saturday and it’s going to be a while before I get used to the silence at 2.

Many things about the pandemic have slowed down and interfered with the process of settling my Dad’s estate but really the biggest hurdle has been the high level of incompetence of so many people I’ve had to deal with. For instance, the VA misfiled the paperwork on his life insurance not once but twice, causing a month delay and another insurance company wrote the address down wrong and sent forms to the wrong address, causing a month lost on that one too. Multiply that by pretty much every bank (why transfer some money on the first call when you could make 12 before someone does it??), insurance company or service provider and you have an idea of how long and slow every process has been.

In the fall my dear friend, Pat, who beat stage 4 throat cancer a year or so ago, started having health issues and found she needed to have a clip put on a valve in her heart. The procedure went okay and when I spoke to her after she was upbeat and looking forward to getting back to her healing work. Then she started falling and feeling badly and was taken to the hospital where it turned out the clip they put on her heart had sepsis on it and she’d had sepsis for weeks. She died the day after Thanksgiving. My Mom loved her too and pretty much every day one of us says, “I can’t believe Pat’s gone…”

So my life has been so hard hit by dramas and traumas related to people near and dear to me, the pandemic is just a pesky problem in the background. Yes, I get tired of the hassle grocery shopping has become. Yes, I spend small amounts of time considering where I will go and when in order to avoid being in crowds. Other than a few carefully chosen groceries at certain times, I just don’t go out. I started curbside grocery pickups long before Covid hit — other than doing it more, it isn’t a change. Yes, occasionally I miss my rare coffee or lunch meetings with friends but they didn’t happen often enough before Covid for it to make a big hole in my present. And frankly, handling all the Mom care, plus the extra time it takes to grocery shop, and the endless paperwork to do with Dad’s estate have kept me so busy I don’t have the energy to wish for more activities.

The main internal noticing for me involves deepening insights I’ve already had. Formerly neurotic and overdramatic, I’ve stopped here and there to note with surprise how calmly I’ve handled this year. Having started meditating in 1984 and practicing yoga in 1986, followed by many years of metaphysical/spiritual workshops, doing all sorts of inner/shadow work, etc. I’ve been much more calm for a long time. But I don’t think any year since I started has challenged my equanimity as much as this year, so I’m pleased to see how well all the years of practice serve even in traumatic times.

Through all the ups and downs I’ve managed to keep yoga practice regular. Meditation has been a little more hit or miss but I manage pretty often and I’m in love with Steve Nobel’s meditations on YouTube, so I’m drawn to do one pretty often. I also manage to slip a yoga nidra in here and there. And thanks to Covid, Deva Premal and Miten for quite a while had a free Gayatri meditation every Saturday on FB which became an oasis of big, loving energy. Practice always helps maintain the calm.

Through years and years of transformative work I constantly had my finger on the pulse of inner change and change happened all the time. But in this big year of political and medical upheaval in the wide world and personal upheaval in mine, I can’t say I see a big inner shift. I see the benefits of all the shifting that came before and I am so grateful for all the years of inner work and all the hours of practice.