Time to press your reset button?
The opportunities of lockdown
‘People are finding out what’s important and what isn’t’. I hope they remember it when all this is over’. ‘Maybe people will stay kinder the way they are now, looking out for each other.’ ‘I just hope this is a reset for the world’. Those are aspirations that you hear a lot at the moment. And perhaps things will have changed permanently when the Covid curtain lifts. Or perhaps it will soon be back to business as usual.
But a societal or global reset is not the only one that’s on the cards. A personal reset is too as people experiment with new ways of being while they’re in lockdown.
The shock of the new
Peter Jarvis was a wonderful man. He was an educationalist with fascinating insights into how we learn and develop. He wrote about what happens when the shock of something totally unfamiliar hits us. We all have, he said, habits, perceptions, skills and dispositions which are deeply ingrained after a lifetime of experiences and which add up to our worldview. They feel as if they are unquestionable objective realities but actually they developed culturally within us over the years – and so they can be changed!
The change may happen when we suddenly come up against something big that doesn’t fit the worldview – something totally unfamiliar, contradictory or perplexing. We then have a sense of unknowing together with a hundred questions. And this, according to Peter Jarvis, is where learning begins. Our existing framework of knowledge has been destabilized.
Which takes us back to Covid-19. ‘I can’t believe this is happening’, people say. ‘It doesn’t feel real, more like a dream, except that we keep waking up to the same unreality every day’. We’re suddenly face-to-face with isolation, illness and death. And it’s global so there’s no escaping it. The world feels smaller and we can’t distance ourselves from what’s happening.
All this may raise for us fundamental questions about the purpose of our lives, our work and our roles in family or society. Are we doing what we want to, really following our vocation? Do we know what that is anyway? What’s really important to us and what isn’t? Are we being who we really are? Perhaps too confinement may be bringing us closer to or pushing us away from those we live with. Have we got the right partner? Have we got the right balance between needing others and self-sufficiency? How emotionally healthy are we?
To give a few practical examples of what I mean, I know someone who’s reacted to the pandemic by creating an experience he’s wanted for a long time but never actually had: going on retreat. He’s trying to make the current situation as close to that as possible. Every day he gets up early, creates silence and stillness by not turning the radio on, meditates, studies various texts and goes for walks. He’s finding it very rewarding.
I also know someone with a poor relationship with his parents. But he’s concerned about them in their social isolation and has been making an effort to call or Skype them regularly with the unexpected result that real talking is happening for the first time in decades and the relationship is being re-fashioned.
One final example is provided by a woman who’s had a humdrum job for years and predictably hasn’t been happy in it even though it’s defined her life. Faced with lockdown and living alone she initially panicked about how to cope with enforced inactivity. Then she remembered something. She had always wondered if she might have a gift for painting – but had never tested it out. Now she finally dared to experiment with it. And in a matter of weeks, drawings and paintings have appeared on an industrial scale and they’re of a very surprising quality given that she’s a complete beginner and has never had a lesson in her life. She’s loving it, of course, and wondering whether this talent, no longer hypothetical, just could be developed to a high level in the future. Could it even become a source of income?
A personal reset?
I’m obviously aware that many people are not having positive experiences of the Coronavirus shutdown. They may themselves be encountering serious consequences from the virus. They may have lost a loved one. They may be confronting mental health difficulties. That certainly includes front-line medics and carers dealing with Covid-19 and experiencing trauma-based reactions as a result.
I’m also very aware that some people are feeling guilty that something positive for them, along the lines I’ve been describing, has been coming out of what is a terrible situation. Whatever reality you’re in, be it good or bad, I hope that now or at a later point you’ll have the time and space to reflect on what you’ve been going through. And where appropriate, to press your reset button.
© Brian Shand 2020
More of my blogs are at https://www.guildfordtherapy.co.uk/blog/