What the next period of time will be for you will be determined inside you, not outside you.
As of this writing, 82M people are currently under “Stay at Home” order, with four states now having made this ultimately wise and pragmatic choice. That is one in four Americans, and if the other states follow suit, as they should, soon that will be all of us.
And so in eight, ten, twelve weeks, 327M Americans may emerge deprived, depressed, and deflated by their time at home, or they can emerge with new wings — having taken advantage of that time to elevate, learn, serve, and experience something that has them somehow transformed by what they chose to do.
In other words, what we all experience during this time will not be based on the circumstances themselves. It will be based on how we chose to see and live those circumstances.
Most of the world is not aware of this. Most of the world believes that our outer circumstances determine our inner perspective and feelings about things. If it’s “bad” out there, then it’s bad in here — in me. When in fact, the inverse dynamic is going on — our experience of the outer is a choice based on how we are choosing, moment to moment, to see it — the meaning we choose to put on it.
In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, published in 1946, Victor Frankl recounts being a jewish psychiatrist in Austria, and having been taken with his family to the Auschwitz death camp. Outside of his sister, Stella, his wife and family did not survive the camp. Victor did survive. Victor chose to not turn off his scientific, observational mind and while in the death camp, made a game-changing discovery for the human race. He observed that while faced with the exact same circumstances — one might say the worst circumstances imaginable for a human to experience — different people chose different ways of being in it. Some chose suicide, some chose optimism, some chose anger, some chose love, some chose to steal food to survive, some chose to give their food to others that they might survive, some chose to become moles for the Nazis, some chose to valiantly not become moles and to knowingly be starved to death for it. There is no judgment here around any of these choices as more right and wrong than the other —I cannot even guess which I would have chosen — it’s what the spectrum of responses proves that is important here and best articulated by Victor Frankl himself:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Frankl went on after the war to develop his own therapy around his discovery called “Logotherapy”. Interestingly, the book’s original title in german was, “…Nevertheless saying ‘Yes’ to Life”.
I bring this forward here, not because I believe in any way that the “Stay at Home” experience could be anything like being in a Nazi death camp, but for exactly the opposite reason. That is, even if we insist on buying into the thought (which is all it is) of this being an experience of enduring deprivation, with our plasma screens, our smart phones, food when we want it, Zoom, Netflix and our family next to us, there will be no story in that 327M that would enable any of us to be able to say, “…Oh, that may have been true for Frankl and the people in the death camp, but my circumstances truly warrant my response of woe, indignation and stasis...”. With this founding context there can be no legitimate attempt to rationalize being an exception to Frankl’s postulate.
And so we are left with: “What do I choose to make this time and space?”
One inner shift on this that is working for me that might work for you as well, is not seeing it as a time in quarantine, but a time in chrysalis.
If that is what it is, then what do I do with it?
That is, seeing this space not as one of isolation and deprivation, but like the chrysalis is to caterpillar and butterfly, as a space of transformation — an opportunity to tackle, start, finish, explore, learn, serve others, achieve mastery, find joy in, etc. — something to let me emerge in some way more than when I went into it. More educated, more talented, more healthy (where I personally landed on this), more alive, more connected to myself or others, more present, more me. A space for that something I always wanted to do but always found myself saying, “If I only had the time and space...”
Well, our universe is seeing our bluff and raising the stakes — it is giving us the time and space, so what shall we meet it with?
In my feeds I have seen a photo of a pile of the ultimate literary classics (Tolstoy, Twain, etc.) that a friend always wanted to read and now finally is. I have seen a new instrument being taken up. I have seen a meditation practice started. I have seen a commitment to learn a new language. I have seen three different proclamations to finish half-written books. I have seen a grade-schooler assembling and distributing hygiene kits to be distributed to homeless people. I have seen a commitment to give up sugar. I have seen a fresh brush taken to a fresh canvas by an engineer who has never painted before. I have seen many choose to simply, fully and joyfully immerse themselves in their family in way they never thought they’d be able to. I have seen giant companies offer to retool factories into chrysalises to output ventilators and distilleries to output disinfectant. I have seen CBS’s Steve Hartman and his kids turn their home into a class called “Kindness 101” that America can tune into everyday on the web and participate in. I have seen many commit to five calls a day to check in on people who may be in need or people they just haven’t checked in with for while but want to be close to again — closer now in “stay at home” than when they had the freedom to be anywhere — how perfect is that?
All of these are the result of a choice of thought and perspective. From quarantine to chrysalis, from problem to opportunity, from closed door to sudden opening. And it is that choice that determines possibility for us. In thoughts like “quarantine”,“problem”, “lockdown” and “isolation” there can be no flow of new possibility. In thoughts like “chrysalis”, “opportunity”, “freedom”, and “opening”, you won’t be able to stop the flow of possibilities with which to fill this space that will have you emerge with wings you never thought could be possible for you.
Today is Day One.
Quarantine or Chrysalis?
I acknowledge that there are those for whom there is no such space now — the healthcare heroes out there on the front, putting their lives on the line every minute of every day for us. And I also recognize that they have already become. They are already our noble Monarchs.
It is fitting for this to end with my favorite poem by Hafiz. It eloquently expresses how what we choose to believe is what creates our reality. And now, in its language from centuries ago, has even greater relevance and profound truth:
“What we speak becomes the house we live in.”