If there is one benefit to this coronavirus isolation, it’s giving us the luxury of time. It’s not boring. To quote Cicero, “ If you have a garden and a library, you have everything.” But when, like me, you live alone, the hours are long, especially on dark, rainy, soggy, sad days like today— which gives me time to watch my own mind and what I’m thinking about.
This is what I’ve found: 90% of what’s in my mind is none of my business. It involves things I can’t do anything about, gossip, daydreams, politics, ecology, past disasters or future ones to be afraid about. But the other 10% really is my business, and this is what I’ve found interesting. I wouldn’t talk to a dog the way I talk to myself. When I meet a dog, I burst into happy smiles: “Oh, look at YOU,” I say, bending down to stroke his ears and face. “Aren’t you beautiful!”
I read recently about a little girl, maybe four years old, perched fearfully on the top of the BIG sliding board. Then slid! As she hit bottom, she raised her fist in the air and shouted, “YAH, ME!”
( I never talk like that to myself. I say, “What nonsense!” and “Who do you think you are?” And “Well, that was a stupid idea.)
Watching my thoughts, I realize I never do that. I never say, “Yah, Me!” I’m more likely to say, grudgingly, “Ok, you’ve done the dishes. Now the laundry.”
Yesterday I decided to say, “Yah Me!” all day long. When I did a load of laundry, I fist-pumped as I moved the wet clothes to the dryer — “Yah, me!” And when I took a walk, “Yah, ME!” When I painted the back steps, “Yah, ME.” And when I cleaned the brushes and put away the paint without having spilled paint anywhere, “Yah, ME!” I cried, and really meant it. By nightfall I felt unutterably happy!
I remember reading that the Dalai Lama, when young, asked an American psychotherapist, “I’ve heard there are people in the United States who don’t like themselves. Is that true?” When assured it was, he murmured in bafflement, “But who would you like, if you didn’t like yourself?”
I like myself. So why do I scold and reprove? Why do I move from one job to the next, scratching off items on my daily list as if I’m in a race, as if it matters whether the task is finished on that single day. It’s not just the Inner Judge, pointing his Finger of Fault that I’m talking about. It’s my habit of not bestowing praise. I wonder why. Are we taught at some early age that self-approval leads to Vanity or Pride? Or Selfishness?
When I consider that probably in most of my thoughts I’m indulging in resentments or criticism‑‑ of others, of government, of news or total strangers, and another ten percent is probably spent in fear of the future or regrets about the past, (“How COULD I have said that?!”), there’s little time left over for simply being in the present moment: of glancing up and being captivated by the beauty of a tree. Or bird. Or child. And still less time for the hugs and kisses that we’re all deprived of these days, while living in coronavirus sequestration. It’s true I’m lonely. I’m sometimes scared. I’m touch-deprived. (“Yah, ME! I’m human.” It’s healthy to want touch and social contact: Yah, ME.)
Observing my own mind in a kind of Buddhist meditation, I realize that my fears and resentment, anger, irritation, worries and anxieties are actually displaced grief. I’m grieving, and I don’t even notice it. I don’t acknowledge it.
I think we are all in a state of grief, a kind of global as well as individual grief that we don’t know what to do with. We cope. We berate ourselves for not doing better. Sometimes we even weep, which is appropriate when our hearts are breaking with planetary pain.
These days we aren’t taught what to do with grief. We’re embarrassed by grief. We dismiss it. “Get over it,” we are told. “It’s been two months, get a grip.” In earlier times, grief, the state of desolation at the loss of a child or husband or mother or dream or situation, meant the person went into mourning. If a woman, she wore black for a year — or a lifetime. If she was lucky, she was put to bed and fed chicken soup in a darkened room. She was expected to be fuzzy-minded, not fully present. She was considered ill.
Today, as I watch the slow movement of my thoughts and emotions, I realize how traumatized I am by the daily barrage of bad news, how affected by the stress. How much I grieve. I am blessed with shelter, food, water, heat, with family and friends, while others are hungry, frightened, homeless, ill and lost. Even so, I’m traumatized.
It’s not easy what we’re doing.
Watching the slow churning of my thoughts, I remind myself to speak with gentleness, and please, please, with encouragement and praise. We need to cheer for ourselves!
“Yah me!” I tell myself.
© Sophy Burnham 2020.