I am grateful for social distancing. This may sound obnoxious, considering the reason for this “new normal” is a wildly contagious illness. Not an inch of our spinning sphere has not been impacted. There are clearly those who have suffered and/or perished after contracting the disease. There are the family and friends knocked down by the subsequent tidal wave of grief and loss. Financial ruin has befallen many. And then there are the social and emotional ramifications. Human beings are not designed for isolation.
It is in this isolation, however, a real opportunity for personal growth exists. Now I’m not talking about the growth we experience when we master a new skill, absorb some deep meaning from a novel, or even find a religious or spiritual path to follow. I am talking about the growth that occurs when you tear yourself open and confront your innermost self in all it’s gruesomeness and beauty. When you begin to unearth aspects of yourself that have been so cleverly concealed in ego, their very existence, let alone whereabouts, were simply unknown. Without the monotony, drama, diversions, and distractions of our day-to-day lives, we are forced to spend some intimate time with ourselves.
As for myself, there were some verrrry interesting truths buried in the muck. The one that really threw me for a loop was this: I miss being seen. Me. The self-proclaimed, “mindful librarian” is bemoaning the fact that I can’t pull out the spring wardrobe of flowy dresses and tunics, or slip into my high-heeled espadrilles and lace up sandals. My solar gel nail tips were peeled off weeks ago revealing stubby fingers and chewed cuticles. The crown of my mostly-blond head currently shows a good two inches of dull-brown peppered with grey and it pains me to acknowledge that this pains me… a lot. During a global crisis resulting in immense human suffering, this is my preoccupation? How superficial am I?
Never before has it been so abundantly clear to me how much I depend on the perceptions of others in my conception of self. I was always aware of the existence of this mode of thinking and truly believed I was above it. It is what is on the inside that counts! But alas, the need to be seen and heard (and admired) is big in me, and this is where gratitude for the quarantine comes into play. I know that self awareness is the first step in our evolution toward our best selves. I am grateful for my latest realizations because I can now consciously adjust the lens through which I see the world. I can meditate in a spirit of acceptance, gratitude, and lovingkindness.
I can begin my shift and start to develop a less superficial attitude by first forgiving myself. Feelings are neither right nor wrong after all… they just are. And preoccupations with our appearance and the perceptions others have of us is human nature. I am not alone. We have all seen by this point the surge of sales of “fashion” masks for going out in public. (Who wants to wear those icky-looking medical masks to prevent the spread of illness?) From Etsy, to Amazon, to my local mothers’ Facebook page, people are capitalizing on people’s darker, superficial nature. I’ve also observed many people rushing to get their “front-porch family photos” taken to post on social media – an opportunity to get primped and present a glamorous front to the world (hiding the reality of flip flops and stinky sweats being donned indoors).
A perhaps less distasteful way the social distancing and quarantine conditions have exposed people’s need to parade and be admired by others is the halt to what they refer to in Italy as “fare una passeggiata,” which means to take a walk or “stroll,” in this case, with no specific destination or purpose besides seeing and being seen in your absolute, posh best! Italians get gussied up to walk the most central streets of town in the evenings to chat, gossip, observe, and be admired. It’s part of the culture.
This uncomfortable truth about the extent of my preoccupation with my own appearances, however, through me for a loop, not only illuminating something hidden inside myself, but an aspect of human nature that many share. I can now consciously turn my attention to things that truly matter instead by pitching in to help others any way I can. I will practice Metta Prayer or extend lovingkindness toward those who are truly suffering during this time, taking emphasis off myself altogether.
I encourage you to use this time in solitude to gauge what your priorities are. What do you miss? What worries you? See what sort of uncomfortable truths are unearthed. You may be shocked, surprised, or amused, but whatever the emotion, remember to be grateful, because self-awareness is the first step to personal development and growth. It’s the rung in the ladder without which you can’t climb any higher.