Celebrating Traditional Ways of Togetherness Can Offer a Salve to the Unknown
By Gregg McBride, author of Weightless: My Life as a Fat Man and How I Escaped
For years I’ve been belaboring the negative side effects of a society that’s glued to its phones and the perils of social media distracting us from genuine human interaction. Although the online arena has opened up a whole new world (the ability to research something in a split second, locate long lost friends, or do something as trivial as see how the captain of our high school football team has aged in comparison to ourselves), it’s also created a lot of virtual “single-lane highways,” which have encouraged many of us to narrow our tolerance of people who we might deem as different.
The ugly side effects of being more sole focused have been pervasive in recent years and something I’ve worked hard to overcome—both personally and for others who are open to breaking out of these virtual self-imposed prisons that limit free (and often kind) thought.
And now to add to our solace-addicted society comes the coronavirus and the need to self-isolate (and/or quarantine depending on which hashtags float your boat). Social distancing is necessary and will hopefully help us contain this potentially out-of-control pandemic. But we need to also pay attention to the side effects of having to shelter in place. To close ourselves off even more from others (extended family, friends, and even strangers on the street) has the potential to further harm our society and how we treat one another as a whole. Not to mention how we treat ourselves.
What’s perhaps even worse about this international crisis is that there is no immediate end in sight. We continue to get different messages based on the latest information. Some of it is valid. Much of it is guesswork. Never has “wait and see” taken on such prominence.
The good news is that there are some helpful tactics we can take on in order to help avoid some of the prolonged side effects of this mandatory alone time.
For starters, everyone can instill a little peace of mind into their daily lives. If you don’t have a meditation practice, now is a great time to begin one. There are plenty of apps that can lead us through different guided meditations of our choosing. Many offer the ability to choose a time length and even a subject matter. We can also simply sit down, close our eyes, and take deep breaths—thinking “in” as we breathe in, and “out” as we breathe out. A gentle pause between the “in” and “out” breaths will add even more to the experience.
When our brains and our breathing get into sync, our minds calm and we can approach life with a little more thoughtfulness and presence. I’d even encourage you to practice meditation with everyone you’re quarantined with. Even young children get the concept. They might think of it as more of a game (can they be quiet long enough to participate?), but they can still reap the rewards of a little self-imposed silence. There’s also a free resource being offered by Eckhart Tolle that you can click to for inspiration, as well as a video you can watch from Deepak Chopra, “Well Being and Healing in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Another fun and centering activity for everyone, young and old, is to color in coloring books together. Amazon and other online resources offer coloring books for every interest. There are car coloring books for gearheads, dinosaur coloring books for explorers, unicorn coloring books for dreamers, snarky coloring books for adults, and even Christmas coloring books for yours truly (I admit it, I’m a Christmas addict every day of the year). You can add a giant box of crayons, which you can place at the center of a dining table. Then everyone in your household can choose a page of their favorite coloring book and create their own masterwork. I suggest everyone sign and date their works of art as well.
This simple practice of “creating” while spending time together can be spirit-building, even if no one feels the need to talk during the coloring fest. Although certainly there can be a groan or two offered in regard to trying to “color within the lines.”
People can even use FaceTime on their phones to have coloring book parties with long-distance relatives or neighbors across the street. You could even put together a coloring book and crayon gift package through an online vendor to send to your favorite people across town or across the country. Trust me when I assure you that even those who participate by rolling their eyes will probably enjoy this ritual.
Another fun “at home adventure” for the family could be to celebrate Christmas all over again. Pull out the decorations, the fake trees, the tangled up lights and turn your living room into a magical winter wonderland. Who couldn’t use a little extra sparkle right about now?
And there’s never been a better time for cleaning out closets and/or organizing and digitizing old photographs and videotapes.
For people who live alone, now could be a great time to foster or adopt a pet. You can also have virtual get-togethers with friends near and far via FaceTime. (Virtual charades, anyone?)
Last but not least, I encourage all of us to keep a journal that lists what we look forward to doing once we can “return to normal.” Normal being the keyword. Encourage kids, friends, and other family members to do this as well. Maybe you’ll list the goal of joining a bowling league. Or auditioning for a community theatre troupe. Or eating hot dogs from a kiosk at the zoo. Or surprising a stranger behind you in line by paying for their drink order at a coffee shop.
Whatever it is, make a list of the simple pleasures we once took for granted and look forward to partaking in again. Don’t be sad about the fact that most of these activities are on hold. Be joyful that we could partake of these pleasures very recently and that, in time, we can enjoy them again. Perhaps with more gratitude and joy than we did in the past.
It’s up to us as a society to preserve a way of life that celebrates strangers participating in community activities. To see a movie together. To stand in line with one another at a grocery store without judging one another. And to pass a stranger on the street and offer a smile.
Or even—and just go with me here—start a conversation and invite them to your next kitchen table coloring book party.