Lean into Timelessness

I think many of us have started to notice how our sense of the days passing has changed. A friend joked with me that “the names of the days have been officially changed… they will now be known as ‘yesterday’, ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’”. Why is this? I think there are a number of reasons but a large contributor for me is that my routine and my expectations have been interrupted.

Having a routine, like walking to work, doing a grocery shop on a specific day, getting together with friends periodically, gives us some “bounding boxes” for our lives. They can give some definition and contrast between all the things that we do. This new reality with COVID-19 has definitely changed that for me.

You can consider trying to live your life in the same way as before, but we are now starting to understand the peril & risk to everyone around us by behaving that way. For me, that has resulted in going out maybe once or twice a week for essentials, but otherwise staying at home indoors. It has also revealed to me this sense of timelessness that can result.

Previously, it was easy to follow my routine, whether it was a weekday or weekend. I would check items off my task list and use those “accomplishments” to guide my day and reinforce that sense of routine. Now, I don’t have the flexibility to do things when I want. I’ve learned that I really need to let go of my expectations and understand where my impatience may originate.

I think that we have become accustomed to a lifestyle of convenience in most Western-influenced societies. This convenience has ramped up our expectations for immediate gratification and choice. I think that experiencing these minor inconveniences (and believe me, I know that there are many people whose daily life is much more challenging than what most of us have) is a good thing to keep us humble and grounded. Yes, not being able to shop when you want, or having things out of stock isn’t pleasant, but the alternative mindset is to maybe ask: can I make do with what I have? Can I plan this better next time? How can I be more thankful?

My impatience is also rooted sometimes in a fear of missing out or being left behind. As this situation began to sink in and the effects spread across the world, we saw (and continue to see) some of this fear manifest itself in panic buying. I can definitely understand how people are trying to wrest some sense of control in a situation that is almost impossible to control. When I saw how some grocery items were becoming unavailable, I started seeking out alternate ways of purchasing something, anything, just to “keep up” and I would become very impatient with any perceived delays in getting those things.

This disturbance in my routine has been slightly alleviated by another competing behaviour – the search for new distractions. I had noticed myself scattering my attention on more activities, information sources and purely passive experiences like watching TV when my routine was interrupted. Don’t get me wrong – distraction can be a good thing! However for me, I was seeking out distraction for distraction’s sake – it had no purpose other than to keep me “busy”.

Again, I’ve tried to use this as a learning experience for me, to dig into what fear or behaviour might be driving this in me. I believe that’s where the ultimate gift of this experience may lie for me – in truly appreciating time. I feel like I’m in a “long now” – the present feels like it has stretched out a bit more than usual. As with any change, it’s a bit uncomfortable at first but you get used to it. I’m using this time to explore and understand myself better, and to be empathetic to those around me too, who are experiencing something shared but still unique.

I’m definitely more aware of my consumption these days, and that I would sometimes resort to impulse buying, or mindless purchases just as a distraction. Having some constraints enforced can actually be a good thing! I guess that leads me to the next level of this discussion. Can we make larger cultural & societal changes as a result of this?

I’ve seen the question posed quite often: “when can we get back to normal?”. More and more, the answers we’re hearing are that it will take a long time, and that we might not be able to return to what we think of as “normal”. We have experienced similar shifts in the past, like the security changes post-9/11. In this case, it’s really too early to tell all of the residual impacts but I think we’ll start to see those emerge. Changes to consumption, convenience, spending quality time with loved ones, caring for your community, sharing prosperity, how we approach our health and the health of the planet – all of these are on the table.

Personally, I look for the positive & empowering changes to come. These start with me and all of us individually. From there, that’s where we will start to see the larger societal changes take root. In the meantime, use this timelessness to your advantage to better understand yourself and those around you. Lend your support where possible. Stay safe & healthy – we will get through this, just maybe not with the same mindset as with we entered it.