Corona Pandemic - One Man's Inner Experience
The Coronavirus is changing our world in very real and permanent ways. Measures have been put into place that have never been seen before including regional travel bans, full-scale cancellations of concerts and sporting events and government-mandated closures of schools and "non-essential" businesses with high-traffic such as bars, nightclubs, exercise studios to name a few.
On top of all of these unnerving changes, we are being isolated from each other through restrictions of social gatherings of more than 10 people, calls for social distancing (staying 6 feet or more away from each other) and staying home for anything other than essentials (e.g. groceries).
It's no wonder that the feeling of panic is palpable everywhere from social interactions to catching up on the latest headlines. Whether we want to admit it or not, our society has fallen into panic mode -- the stock market is tanking, grocery stores are being picked bare. It's like there's a panic vortex, the closer you get to it, the stronger the pull is to take you down with it. We have to swim against that tide, or risk falling in.
I'm a firm believer that all of the challenges and suffering we endure represent opportunities for growth. I also have an unwavering trust that the unknown future is acting in our favor to provide us with ample opportunity to develop the character we need to become our ideal and best selves.
My personal path to self mastery involves a daily dive into understanding how the events of the day have impacted my inner world. Given the enormous uncertainty in the air as we move through this pandemic, I'm eager to share my thoughts each day in case it helps others to better understand how these times are affecting them.
There are, and will continue to be, enormous acts of good being done during this pandemic. Despite the darkness all around, inspiring people are everywhere leverging these times to rise above these unfortunate circumstances to become their best. Our goodness is inside waiting to be found.
**Post was updated from March 16 - 26 from the top down**
Thursday, March 26, 2020
Today was my daughter's third birthday and it was truly awesome. Reflecting on the day, my wife and I agreed that our little girl clearly had a great time from beginning to end. She did not show any signs of the day being second-rate in any way. Much like I felt on my birthday a week earlier.
With the backdrop of the pandemic and the related lockdown, it provides a lot of insight into what is necessary for a truly great day.
I see a ton of parallels between the way my daughter and I would build our ideal day. We both crave being a part of a loving family and vibrant community. We feel genuine pleasure out of the little acts of kindness given by others. We thrive on feeling like we matter to those that matter most to us.
Our ability to experience these feelings is dictated by our ability to recognize them in the first place. Our senses are dulled the more that we relive the past or anticipate the future.
Being three years old, my daughter isn't capable of living anywhere but the present. She doesn't have the baggage of past experiences or expectations of what "should be" for a birthday to be perfect. She responds genuinely to the events and interactions as they unfold. Her day was filled with love, surprises and constant reinforcement that she matters deeply to those that she cares about. Noting else is required.
For me, most of my adult life has been focused on achieving future goals or feeling stressed about some urgent work or personal task (I rarely looked backward). I was rarely fully present. My past self wouldn't have been capable of seeing many of the amazing things that happened on my birthday this year (see March 19th below). The things that I was able to see would have felt a lot less significant.
I don't feel today day was tainted by Coronavirus in any way whatsoever. I can't say that this pandemic will never cause me any harm in the future. But, for now it does not have a hold on my inner well-being.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Today felt completely normal. None of the interactions I had with my wife, children, or outside on my daily walks felt unusual in any way. Neither did my trip to the grocery store to pick up some last-minute items for my daughter’s third birthday tomorrow.
But, on reflection, the day was filled with things that would have been highly unusual just 10 days ago. Among the oddities: I now go on multiple hour-long walks with my children each day, the beaches are empty but the walking paths are packed, a large number of people wear masks in public and the lines at my local grocery store have customers spaced six feet apart from each other.
It leads me to wonder WHY it feels normal? Am I living in denial or have I somehow adjusted to the way things are now? If I have adjusted, how was it so easy to make such a drastic change in less than 10 days?
Throughout this crisis my wife and I have placed even more focus on accepting things as they are. This involves a simultaneous letting go of the way things were and trusting that the future will happen the way it is supposed to.
I‘m incredibly grateful that we are fully aligned with a mindset that seems to work well for both of us. For instance, we have been making our plans around today’s reality rather than putting things off in hopes that something “out there” beyond our control will change to make our lives easier in the future.
I’m not sure I’ve fully adjusted, but I believe I’m moving past the fog of denial. My ideal is to get to a place where I’m fully happy with this reality by the time things open back up again. I feel it will make normal life feel so much freer than ever before. Much like the odd adage that we can’t know what its like to feel rich unless we’ve been poor.
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
My weeks in the world before Coronavirus were differentiated by the specific routines of life such as exercise schedules, kids swim classes and Friday night Happy Hour at one of our favorite restaurants.
The last 1 1/2 weeks have been distinctly devoid of these weekly anchors. My family has the days my wife works and the much lighter days she doesn't. We also have the days that its raining and the much brighter days it isn't.
Without these weekly routines, the days really seem to blur together into an endless cycle of waking up the kids, playing with the kids, nap time, playing with the kids, putting them to sleep, writing this blog and going to bed. While, I'm incredibly grateful that the bulk of this blur is wonderful, it's a blur nonetheless.
Weekly anchors are important to help the machine of our life run properly over the medium and long-term. Life is far less fulfilling when it's just a blur of time, regardless of whether the blur is inherently happy or not. We simply can't white knuckle this forever without facing some consequences.
I'm finding this period to be incredibly challenging and I don't have to worry about "stepping up" for my employer like my wife and so many others are having to do. Not only are those with a job supposed to be working while they cope with Coronavirus, they're having to face increased stress and pressure that comes along with managing the crisis and minimizing its impact.
This is simply an unrealistic expectation. Productivity will decline for most as we are learning to cope with our new reality. For working parents, they also face the added stress of caring for their children, helping them cope with this upheaval, keeping them entertained (at home 24 hours/day!) and getting them to do their school work.
But the people with jobs are the truly fortunate ones. At least they're not having to deal with the added stress of worrying about when their next paycheck is going to come or how they're going to pay their bills.
Yes, today is far from ideal, but for those of us whose families are safe and healthy, we know it could be a lot worse.
Regardless of our situation, how do we cope with this unfortunate reality that will likely be affecting us long after the virus is gone? For me, it is about trusting that there is purpose for this suffering and having hope that I will have the strength of character to learn from it and create a brighter future.
Monday, March 23, 2020 -- A Chance to Reset
The longer we live in this new reality, the more real it feels, and the more permanent the changes will be. Many of us will simply refuse to fully go back to the way things were as we discover that many of the things that made us miserable didn't need to be that way (e.g. commuting to the office everyday).
This lockdown is forcing all of us to sit and marinate in the lives that we built before things got crazy. Undoubtedly, we are sitting face to face with things that leave us feeling lonely, unprotected and unfulfilled as well as things that bring us gratitude, peace and happiness.
For those of us that are unwilling or unable to let go of the way things used to be, this can be enormously unsettling. This group will assuredly grow increasingly anxious by the new reality and will act out against others who threaten their old ways.
For those of us that embrace the new reality, this pandemic offers an unparalleled opportunity to reset. This group is using this time to effectively to improve their wellbeing, such as slowing down, spending some time in nature or learning a new skill (e.g. guitar, meditation, foreign language).
I chose to be in the later group and will use this time to enhance my life by taking actions to repel the unhealthy negative patterns and to attract more of the good stuff. Just a week into this madness and I have been able to identify two such opportunities for growth:
- The importance of living a simple life that requires as little money as possible to sustain my happiness and way of life. This crisis is so much more difficult for those that do not have financial security.
- I thrive on community, especially when I surround myself with people that inspire me to be my best. I also high value doing my best to return the favor.
Sunday, March 22, 2020 -- The Comfort of Routine
As the news from outside world is worsening by the hour, we can't help but feel terrible for those that are impacted. We also can't help but worry about the future since its clear from all of the projections that it's going to continue to get worse for weeks to come.
This makes it all the more critical for us to prioritize our own mental health to ensure we're prepared to be our best for whatever is in store for us and our families. We must purge the absolutely useless worry from our consciousness -- this is not an act of selfishness, its an act of strength.
Its been less than a week since the start of the ramp-up, and my wife and I have already begun to develop new routines that have enhanced our mental well-being. There's no doubt that life is more challenging for so many reasons, but it somehow feels a bit more joyful and sweet (offsetting the increased anxiety and decreased freedom) than it did before the crisis.
Having two toddlers in our home, we are intimately aware of the benefit of routines for our little ones. They crave a solid framework for what their days will look like as it allows them to anticipate things a bit more than being constantly thrown around into new and unexpected situations or just sitting around bored wondering how long they're going to be doing a particular activity.
Like toddlers, us adults also thrive in environments that have a firm structure. This ensures we limit the time and energy we spend in making decisions of what to do in the moment. It also allows us to prioritize the things that are truly important and limit exposure to the things that tear us down. Somehow days that don't have structure don't have any time for the things that matter most. We often discover that we've spent far too much time on the things that make us feel worse (video games, online shopping, alcohol or news).
For instance, today my wife and I updated our routine to make time to listen to all of the podcasts that are being released by the world's great minds. Today, we were fortunate to listen to Deepak Chopra on the MindBobyGreen podcast and gain some very practical advice on how best to thrive during the lockdown.
The routines have to remain flexible, as our lives will continue to evolve over the coming weeks and months. But, we have comfort in knowing that we are building a foundation that acknowledges the reality of today.
Saturday, March 21, 2020 -- Our True Character is Emerging
It's been less than a week since our lives changed dramatically. There is no denying that the actual facts of the Coronavirus are going to get much worse before they get better since we're still weeks away from reaching the peak of the curve.
Yet, things are already starting to feel more settled. It's remarkable how quickly we're able to adapt to changes no matter how disruptive they are. Just a couple of days ago, going out in public was a chaotic madhouse where many of us were selfishly hoarding, ignoring the ordinances, driving erratically and being awkward or downright rude. But today, I was greeted by warm smiles, and pleasant conversations everywhere from people who seemed to be genuinely interested in how my family and I are coping with our new world.
This enormous social disruption is acting as a catalyst to reveal our true character. What version of us shows up when we're down and threatened?
It's clear that the majority of us are not those selfish panicers that initially reacted to the constant barrage of ever-worsening news of earlier in the week. We're those happy and warm people who deeply care about others (once our families have been taken care of).
It's inspiring to see so many examples of people who have immediately gone to work to offer their skills online for free to make this lockdown a far better reality. There are yoga teachers offering classes, teachers staying in contact with their students and musicians offering mini-concerts to name a few examples. What's really exciting is that this is likely just the beginning of the generosity that will emerge as we rise above these unfortunate circumstances.
Friday, March 20, 2020 -- Honor Our (House Arrest) Space
Today was surprisingly good, despite being the first one under the California statewide lockdown.
I have learned that watching the news makes me feel anxious and unhappy even before this pandemic. So, today I made a conscious decision to re-institute a strict limit on my news intake, just as I had a couple months ago after reading Tim Ferris' "4 Hour Workweek".
This is such a powerful mood enhancer, especially in the current circumstances. From now on I'm going to rely solely on my daily update email from the city of Carlsbad and looking at the news headlines from my phone notifications. That's it. That's enough for me.
Besides, I feel like we all have a pretty good idea of where we're headed. Things aren't going to be back to "normal" for several months. We're also headed to a very challenging financial landscape that will take years to iron itself out. This is going to be a world-changing event that shakes us to the core and forces us to rethink a lot of things from the ground up. It's going to lead to massive change beyond anything we've experienced.
With that in mind, it puts the importance of consuming minute by minute news into perspective. Is that really where I want to put my attention? To making myself more anxious and slightly more knowledgable? Over doing something that can give me joy (e.g. spending time with wife & kids, reading, exercise).
I'm focused on changing my perspective from the enormous world view to the much smaller self-view, one that I can actually control. The world is just too big of a place to be worrying about when my own situation is already testing my happiness and character. I can only step up and be my best self for my family if I put my full attention to what I can control.
My wife and I have accepted that we're going to be on house-arrest for at least a couple more weeks (and likely longer). So resisting this reality will only lead to suffering for our family. Accepting it allows us to take action to make this situation as happy as possible. If things clear up sooner, it will come as a pleasant surprise.
The first step in making house arrest more pleasant is to better honor our space by keeping it clean and tidy. Today, we took our extra time to do the deep cleaning we've been putting off. We also got the kiddos involved as much as possible. In normal circumstances we wouldn't think of doing that since it would be far more hassle than its worth. But we have time now, so why not show them and let them take pride in having a clean house?
The result is that we feel so much more at peace in our space than we did even 24 hours ago. Our kiddos loved it. A success, and a habit we intend to keep.
Thursday, March 19, 2020 -- The Little Things Mean A Lot, Especially Now
This week has been quite a roller coaster. After the tough day yesterday, my day today (my birthday) has been great! I heard from so many of my friends and family who shared deeply meaningful sentiments.
My yoga community sung me happy birthday (despite the virus), my mother-in-law made me my favorite Japanese dish (Donburi -- which was Tokyo-level outstanding!), I talked to my mom on FaceTime, had an amazing text exchange with my brother, my kiddos were on their best behavior and my wife did everything she could to make the day special.
I strongly believe a key factor in living a life we're proud of is building experiences that we remember years down the road. This is a birthday that I will remember for years and years, as it was incredibly memorable. Where was I when I turned 39? I was locked down during the Coronavirus pandemic with my wife and two toddlers. And, it was amazing.
This was a day filled with little things. Little calls, little texts, little emails, little gestures and little elbow bumps. This lockdown has been leaving me feeling a bit raw emotionally, which makes the little things mean so much more. The busy go getter I was 12 months ago would have likely looked right past the inherent joy of these little things without recognizing just how lucky I am to have them.
A life of physical or emotional isolation leads to a life devoid of these little things that make our life truly joyful. We trade these little things for the big things like luxurious trips, fancy gifts or giant shows of affection that leave us feeling empty and wanting more.
Thank you to everyone that made my 39th so special.
Coronavirus will be here tomorrow, but today I'm incredibly happy and grateful.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020 -- The Ramp-up of the Siege on our Inner Fortress
This was a hard day. Yesterday's reprieve from chaos for the financial markets and the mild increase of the number of people infected was reversed with less favorable trends today. The Dow ended with a 6% decline and the number of confirmed cases went up sharply in both San Diego and the US to 80 and 7,038, respectively. There's also the realization that the actual number of cases is going to be far above these due to limited and slow testing and a large percentage of the population electing for self-quarantine over the hassle of being formally tested.
I'm far less concerned about the raw numbers than the percentage increases each day. I know that we're only going to be further restricted by ever-increasingly severe measures until we have adequately flattened the curve. I, for one, don't want to be on house arrest indefinitely like they are in Wuhan or Italy, among other places. Speaking of those places, they're STILL on house arrest and they're ahead of the curve from us. Sure we took action sooner, relative to the curve, but we don't know how big of a difference it's going to make. It leaves me wondering just how long are we're going to be living so far out of alignment with the normal flow?!
The day-by-day ramping up of efforts has now resulted in our fitness studios being forced to shutter their doors. I personally know a number of people that rely heavily on the sweat and community of fitness for their mental health. This is going to be an enormous hit to their well-being.
I feel like the new measures are akin to a siege on our mental and emotional fortresses, with each new measure representing a new attack on our inner fortifications. Each attack injures us further. Eventually the walls will fall no matter how well they have been built.
Speaking of exercise, my wife and I love hot yoga and will not have the opportunity to practice in studio for a few weeks. So, we decided to buy a humidifier to allow us to practice at home. I went to Bed Bath and Beyond that is usually PACKED, and I was one of 3 customers in the store and we were outnumbered by employees at least 5 to 1. What an unsettling and surreal experience.
That is, unless we're able to repair the damage from the inside out by building new defenses faster than the measures can tear down our walls. I personally have been benefiting tremendously by sharing my thoughts and feelings with you and from spending so much quality time with my family. My family is a net benefit even on rough rainy days like these, that includes an experience where my 20 month son reached into his poopy diaper during our rainy day drive to show us his special delivery a good 20 mins away from home.
But, this is not enough. Even a strong introvert like me needs more socialization, more community and more sharing. There is something remarkably therapeutic about knowing that we're all in this same predicament. We can share the things we've been doing that seem to be working well and not so well. Socialization also provides the opportunity to remind each other that we're ok and that this is all temporary.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020 "We Need a Better Slogan"
Today was the tamest (and lamest) St Patrick's day in a long time (perhaps ever?!).
But, in all honesty, today had a "feel" that was far less severe than the franticness of yesterday. The US Federal Government announced a financial stimulus package that excited investors and led to a modest rally. We all know this isn't a permanent turn-around but at least there was a day of reprieve from the financial panic.
On the health front, the number of cases didn't seem to spike too much today in the US, or in my home of San Diego County. Like the financial recovery, this is a nice reprieve, but clearly not a sign that the "curve" has been flattened from our three days of sacrifice.
Speaking of the curve, there really has to be a better slogan than "flatten the curve". I mean, this is a crisis that is impacting each and every person on the planet. We are all being asked (and in many cases forced) to put the interests of the global society above our own. And we're supposed to be inspired into action with the incredibly uninspired goal of "flattening the curve".
We all know what the slogan means in literal terms (choosing a long mild spike over a short sev spike). But really, what does it mean?! We all take a hit to our finances, live through unsettling uncertainty and watch helplessly while those around us suffer so we can still all get sick, but just get sick more slowly? That's the worst possible cause, psychologically speaking.
We all understand that the virus is incredibly dangerous for the "at risk" population and the imuunocomprized. But, doesn't appear to be much more severe than the flu for the rest of us. The cynic in all of the young and healthy of us is thinking, "Why can't I just volunteer to contract the virus now and put myself in quarantine for a couple weeks so I can resume my life?"
But, we also all understand that all of these decisions are being made by our global leaders who have been elected into office to represent our best interests. Their decisions are based on the guidance they receive from the world's premier specialists that know a heck of a lot more than we do. For a layman, it seems they had two choices, (1) let the virus run its course and suffer the consequences, whatever they are, or (2) take immediate and severe action to contain the virus and extend the virus so we can try to figure stuff out before it hits the population at large.
While, I'm personally annoyed and frustrated with the new (and far less desirable) reality, there is a large part of me that is grateful they made the decisions they have.
This cause is truly global on a scale never seen before. It impacts, or will impact, each and every one of us directly. The true problem is not one of physical health or finances, but one of mental and emotional health.
We need a better slogan. One that embraces the wider impact of this pandemic. One that inspires us to continue to make sacrifices for the betterment of all. One that recognizes the opportunity to better unify this deeply divided world.
Our sacrifices are not in vain. There is a deeply critical purpose that we can all support. Our slogan serves as a rallying cry that helps us cuts through all the layers of pandemonium to remind us of what this is all about.
Monday, March 16, 2020 -- "Rise of A New Reality"
Today was the first day that I was no longer able to ignore the very real impact of Coronavirus. Until this morning, my family and I were largely going along with a "business as usual" attitude. After all, Coronavirus was happening "out there" to other people -- according to the latest published stats on Friday, March 13, there was like one confirmed case in all of San Diego Country. When I checked this morning, the the number of cases jumped to 30 something, including one case for a school-aged child in the community I live. Coronavirus is here, in my neighborhood.
I turned on the news and everything everyone was saying was in that high-tempo, high pitched panic tone. The news cast was quickly going through all of the government action being executed over the last couple days (e.g. mass closures of services and new advice for living/working). Additionally, the dow was already down something like 8% just a couple hours into trading. I could feel my usual internal calm being turned up very quickly as I watched. I knew I had to turn it off ASAP or get myself needlessly worked up.
Besides, my wife and I had already made the decision that we would keep our two children (20 months and 3 years) home from preschool, ever if it wasn't closed yet. There wasn't anything else that WE could do about things, so why further panic ourselves?
I went to preschool to pick my son's rain jacket since I had a feeling that I wouldn't have another chance for at least a couple of weeks, and rain is in the forecast. When I got there, I was astonished to see that the normally bustling school was empty with just a hand-full of students.
While there were hardly any students, all of the teachers were there reporting for work. They were talking quietly and were clearly very nervous. All had slightly different stories of the latest news they were whispering to each other (why are there so many conflicting stories out there?). As a joined the conversation, we are all wondering how all of this going to play out and how long its going to take for it all settle. When it does settle, will it all go back to the way it was?
My wife is amazing and we are definitely a team with getting our family through this. But the reality is that she works full time, so a lot of the heavy lifting for caring for our little ones will be with me for the indefinite future. At first, this thought was overwhelming, but through the day it has become something that I'm excited about. I'm also incredibly grateful, since it was just a few months ago that I was in an incredibly demanding job and don't know what we would be doing if I had to manage THAT stress on top of all of this.
I took the kids to the park for a couple hours this afternoon to run around (but they were not to touch the playground equipment). The usually vibrant park was a ghost town for most of the time. While I was there, I had an incredibly interesting interaction with a father of three young boys. Shortly after my kids spotted other kids, they started walking up to them presumably to see if they wanted to play. Under any other circumstance, we would be thrilled that our kids were being social. But today, this very nice man and I exchanged a brief interaction where it was clear that neither of us wanted our kids to interact with each other and we had to uncomfortably discourage their playing.
What a bizarre day.