A glimpse, a rant, and some wisdom regarding what’s going on right now.
In New York City, the rarest commodity is space. On subways and street corners, the norm is that people bump into you. To live and work and travel around the city is to subject yourself to a physical and energetic assault. Even with the city under lockdown, I have to walk in street to avoid people and cyclists on the sidewalk.
The other day, waiting in line to enter Whole Foods, I was subjected to the conversation of the woman behind me, which she had over FaceTime on SPEAKERPHONE. If I thought that current situations would cause people to be more respectful of personal space, I was clearly wrong.
It should go without saying that when you speak to people on the phone in a public place (and really… please do not do this), you should be using headphones. But apparently it needs to be said.
Retreating from the streets and stores into the privacy of your own home is often no better. In over a dozen years as a real estate broker, I have been in hundreds of apartments, of all sizes. Even the biggest apartments tend to be crammed full with too much stuff. No matter how big the space, the walls eventually close in on you.
Space is the ultimate luxury.
In terms of that, on the surface I appear to be basking in luxury. I am riding out the coronavirus quarantine in an empty apartment. My “furniture” consists of three items:
- an air mattress
- a folding snack table
- a metal folding chair
While my parents think this is a substandard way to live, it gives me for the moment that which everyone is craving right now: SPACE.
I also have a yoga mat, several yoga blocks (which is, hands-down, the most versatile yoga accessory ever. More on that some other time.), and my resistance bands and yoga blankets.
Place to eat? ✔️
Place to sleep? ✔️
Place to exercise and practice yoga? ✔️
Clean bathroom? ✔️
And all to myself. Space is luxury, no matter how temporary my stay here might be.
With the space cleared of unnecessary furnishings, I seized the opportunity to do something I’d been wanting to do since I completed my yoga teacher training last summer: teach virtual classes. Every Saturday morning for the past 4 weeks, during what otherwise would have been my weekly trampoline practice, I have been in “beta test” mode teaching virtual classes to some friends, working out the kinks before a public offering.
And, so, at least in my physical environment, I am literally creating space for my best work, which is the thing I do best and the thing I love to teach.
The Noise Is Deafening
The concept of creating space isn’t only about the physical space though. And in other areas I am feeling a distinct lack of spaciousness, and the effects of that.
Somehow, even in this moment of a global sacred pause there is more noise than ever. The guys on the stoop across the street might as well be in the apartment with me. The neighbor’s music reverberates in my bones. I hear couples arguing outside and down the hall. Today helicopters were chopping overhead.
Beyond the audible sound is the energetic noise.
I could fill my days with yoga classes, Zoom meetings, virtual networking events and house parties, and classes. My synagogue and high school have rolled out a suite of offerings. I joined a virtual co-working community — essentially a discussion forum with Zoom rooms that is basically like social media, but with a focus on staying focused — although how can you stay focused if you’re responding to messages all day? Emails are through the roof.
Everyone wants my attention for something, even if it’s to tell me what I should be doing right now to make this my Most. Productive. Time. Ever.
The Fear of Emptiness
Are we really that afraid of the empty space that we must fill every last waking and sleeping moment with activity? Are we that afraid of being bored, of falling behind?
Keep in mind, I have not been on social media in a year — the original “social distancing.” So I’m not even including the madness that I hear is going on over there. Ironically, a part of me wants to reconnect online, because the combination of lockdown and social distancing is isolating and lonely.
But as much as I want to hop back in, I am afraid of the health consequences of doing so.
The Effects on the Nervous System
I have spent the past year working diligently to reclaim my body and mind from the prison of sympathetic overload — a nervous system that had been perpetually locked in fight-or-flight mode. It’s a long journey of recovery, and in a few short weeks the old habits are returning. My nervous system is on high alert. My body is locking down.
Some of what I’m feeling:
Anxious, because I’m being pulled to places that are not here or now. They are outside of this moment.
Distracted, because everyone believes everything is important and urgent.
Angry at the people who waste my time with “important meetings” during which they read prepared remarks at the screen and turn off all interactive features of Zoom. And, please, if you’re going to do that, just send it in an email and save everyone the internet (and mental) bandwidth.
Angry at myself for deluding myself that showing up for these “important meetings” will give me the connection I crave.
Grief, for all the obvious and less obvious reasons.
Worst of all is the feeling of not enoughness that rises to the top of my chest as I see how much everyone else is seemingly accomplishing.
Even though I know that this time is not about that. And that most people aren’t nearly as together as they claim to be.
I also know that I’m not alone in this.
It is in the energy of the field, and energy is contagious.
Where is the Sacred Silence?
The noise is overwhelming.
I have had moments when I just want to get on Facebook and Instagram and send a mass email to every single person who emails me with one request:
WOULD EVERYONE PLEASE SHUT THE F*CK UP.
Stop sending me your wellness tips and your work from home tips. Stop pitching me your programs. Stop playing on the fear that everyone is feeling with your “limited time offers” and “last chance” emails. Seriously? Learn how to read the f*cking room.
Even from the people who add value, or are offering free programs, it’s too much.
Of course, I know that this will not help.
I know that I hold the volume control, because the noise that is provoking me is within me.
There’s a reason it’s called the Attention Economy.
I cannot focus. I cannot hear myself think, or the sound of my own heart beat.
This is the Practice
And I know that this is the practice.
It’s why for years I have practiced my daily meditation in the middle of the gym with weights clanging around me and people talking incessantly.
Because silence comes not when the external noise dies down, but when you create inner space to rest in your own being.
Nobody can steal our attention. We give it away. It’s on us.
I’ve prepared for this. I have rituals and practices to create space within and without. But it doesn’t make me immune to the effects of what is happening.
No spiritual advisor I work with has claimed immunity from what’s going on. Everyone is pulling out all the rituals and practices to get through this, because it’s the only way.
I know that in times like these, I must double down on my rituals. Sometimes triple down. That’s what I’m doing.
Whatever it takes to find the silence within.