A simple guide to embracing this period of isolation, and unlocking the potential of solitude
As many of us prepare to enter social isolation or enforced lockdown, or for those of us already in it, it’s hard not to feel worried about the radical change and hardship this will bring. And, of course, it will be challenging in myriad ways – from solo parenting to working from home, to financial stresses and the expected health concerns.
This will not be a period of total bliss, that is for sure. But, there are ways we can reframe this experience, and in doing so, adjust our expectations of it too. Meaning it could become a valuable, healing time, where lessons are learned and space is created, which we might not otherwise have found ourselves.
“What if we stopped saying ‘isolation’ and started saying ‘retreat’?” asks Kintsugi writer and author Beth Kempton. “How would you prepare differently? How would you approach it differently? What different intention might you hold for that time? What might you hope might be different when the retreat is over, which it will be at some point? And for those of us with children, what might we teach them about the power of occasionally retreating from all the noise? Why not set an intention for your ‘retreat’ today?”
This is a radical and refreshing approach, and a really manageable way to bring the concept of silence and contemplation into your home, allowing you to turn in and focus on you and your family.
Social isolation has already brought incredible rewards. We have all seen the beautiful videos of Italians singing folk songs on their balconies in the evenings, their tentative voices coming together to light the night with music; while the UK coffee shop Pret a Manger has offered free teas and coffees and half price food to all National Health workers.
Elsewhere, we have seen many instances across the world where whole communities have come together too, with forums, messaging groups and online spaces where people can ask for help or support, get their shopping done, their letters posted, their prescriptions picked up. Businesses across the world are reducing charges, offering things for free to the most vulnerable and making their resources available wherever they can.
For the environment the crisis means the earth also gets a breather – one report says the reduction in emissions in China alone has saved over 50,000 lives from associated emissions-related deaths, while the world as a whole will see a 60 per cent reduction in cars on the road, 30 per cent less trains, 75 per cent less planes and 100 per cent less cruise ships.
And you don’t have to be entirely alone either. While social media can be anxiety-inducing if you scroll for too long, the power of community across the internet is something we’ve never witnessed so beautifully before. “We are getting closer in weird ways,” says Kaitlyn Tiffany, a writer for The Atlantic, who has recently written a piece on the importance of the mundane and simple content she is now starting to see. “The other day, while I ate lunch, I kept replaying a video of a friend softening butter in her palm. Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook have mutated into hyper-intimate scrapbooks of days spent cooped up inside.” The simple, honesty normality of content like this is a refreshing way to use social media, and a lovely example of that human need for genuine connection.
And those connections will continue to be forged as the pandemic runs its course. But there are also opportunities for solitude, something that can equally be important and healing in its own way. Being alone can improve concentration and memory, as you rely only on yourself to retain information, while it also allows you to make your interests a priority and boost your creativity as you have the space to generate new ideas and explore innovation.
Solitude can also be good for relationships, allowing you to care for yourself before returning to those you love, and helps you work on your empathy skills too. It could be a time to try something like a yoga challenge, daily journaling, going make-up free, writing letters and meditating.
It might give you time to fall back in love with your home, seeing its spaces anew and considering alternative layouts and setups. If you have a garden, spring is the absolute best time to be in it, and now you can read up on plants and pruning, teaching yourself the things you never had time to learn before.
Self-isolation and lockdown are scary words for a scary time, and we are right to take the challenges facing our nations very seriously. But we can also see this time as an opportunity for us to learn something, to see what change in a real way could look like and to open our minds and hearts to new possibilities.
So, for now, this is a time of retreat and solitude, of soul-questioning and heart-searching, of discovery and acceptance. Open yourself to all that this time will bring, make peace with it, and go forward gently.