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  • John Thomas Dodson

Waiting in Quarantine

Last year didn’t look like this.

In 2019 friends could sit together around a table and laugh, share stories, and dance the night away. There were dinner parties and concerts and picnics in the park.

The 2020 version of this month is defined by the Coronavirus and the quarantine that has accompanied its rise.

Worldwide, tensions at home are boiling over. According to articles in the press, domestic abuse among couples is rising around the world, suicide hotlines are busier, and conditions are ripe for a large increase in cases of child abuse.

It seems that, without those distractions of previous springtimes, people are turning toward violence as the quarantine goes on. Our patience is wearing thin.

Every day I say a phrase as part of a meditation: “May I see the sacred in every moment; may I allow life to unfold at its own pace; may I meet irritation with patience.”

Our problem isn’t as much with each other as it is with time itself. We don’t know how to wait. We can’t wait for someone to finish their sentence, or for dinner to be ready, or for a child to work through their tangled-up emotions when they can’t go outside and play as they’ve always done before.

We can’t wait for our momentary anger to subside; we can’t wait for months to pass before the peak of the wave of infections has come and passed.

We can’t wait for this to end.

So, we’re missing out on all the beautiful things hiding within these potentially sacred moments. We’re looking past what is in right front of us as we imagine what is not in front of us. We want life to unfold at a much faster rate, and we can’t imagine another month like this one; or two; or three….

Since we can’t let time pass naturally, since we can't let events unfold, since we can't wait for our emotions to rise and fall without acting upon them, we intervene to try to speed up the flow of life itself. We interrupt; we try to take control of something that we can’t control; we push the buttons of our partners and ….

And we experience more domestic abuse, more child abuse, more suicide hotline calls.

Irritation is an internal feedback mechanism – a way of saying, “I don’t like this.” We may not see it as anger because it isn’t a tantrum, but this irritation point is precisely the place to work on ourselves, especially when we are holed up together in confined spaces during the quarantine. It is toward our small, irritable responses to each other that we need to draw our attention. We'll find it by noticing the moment of “I don’t like this” that arises within our own minds.

The "I don't like this" response is the place to focus on as we allow time to pass. That noticing allows time to let our irritations subside. Noticing can replace the need for an argument because you begin to look at yourself instead of looking at everyone else. A good question to ask is, "Why don't I like this? What could this teach me?"

Our habits of thinking and behavior are showing themselves in quarantine. We have to live with each other without a break. We have to stay. There is no place else to go.

What we are finding in quarantine may not be particularly pretty. If we look at ourselves, we may begin to notice our impatience, our need to control, our fears of powerlessness, and our patterns of verbal and even physical abuse.

Just noticing our responses to irritation is a huge step in living through this quarantine - perhaps even in changing the atmosphere in our homes for the better. Once we’re aware of our habitual responses, we can wake up for just long enough to push the pause button.

Just one moment of doing nothing could change the whole environment.

As we come to terms with ourselves during quarantine, we might add a daily practice of remembering that there is something sacred in each moment. We might consciously relinquish control as we allow events to unfold at their own pace. We might decide to join the inevitable irritations in quarantine with mature patience.

If we took that route, this terrible virus could become an occasion for many of us to become kinder, more skillful in our speech, less prone toward violence and more patient with each other.

Through quarantine might just learn how to wait for life to play itself out in its own time and for us to notice just how sacred it really is.

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