Is it just me who feels under pressure to acquire some brilliant new skill during our present state of lock-down? Three books I stumbled across recently – Easy Piano Solos by Thelonious Monk, Parallel Text: French Short Stories and Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews – have left me with a sense of being less than.
When the state of emergency is finally lifted, will I have let myself down if I still haven’t managed to nail Straight No Chaser or the one-handed tree pose, preferably whilst reading from Guy de Maupassant in the original?
‘Why haven’t you?’ I imagine acquaintances crying. ‘You who has no kids, no clients and no contracts. Just what have you been doing all day?’
It’s not as if I’ve been idle. Yet whole days go by with no account of what I have actually done, let alone achieved.
Much as I would love to play the piano à la Monk – Why aim lower than a jazz legend!? – my copy of his music remains pristine and expectant. Likewise my unopened collection of Nouvelles Francaises, evidence of my frequently-cited on-hold plan for getting the A level I never studied. Yoga, once a twice weekly commitment, is now merely further proof of neglect and avoidance.
Everything feels so serious at the moment – because it is obviously – that none of these things matter anymore. I’m wracked with shame, with a continual nagging that I ought to be trying something new. Look at all these lovely free online courses and opportunities, all readily available just when I have an excess of free time on my hands!
But it just isn’t enough.
Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful. It’s wonderful how people have sought to inspire and connect us, but I fear the problem is my feeling overwhelmed by it all.
It’s stress – not on a personal level (I’m not denying my privilege for one second here) – but stress of the unknown, of lacking control, of having no real contact with those you love, and just how much the myriad of tiny, daily interactions contributes to our sense of self.
That we should use this time to better ourselves implies we were somehow lacking in the first place. Yes, I may well look back at lock-down and wish I had used my free hours more purposefully, but I’ll also look back and just be thankful I survived it all (God willing and all that).
I’m not the only person experiencing this pressure. There’s definitely been an increase in social media posts expressing the difficulty of mere survival. The ones declaring their personal growth seem to be fewer, except those referencing personal growth via increased interaction with their fridge.
A quick look online at the The New York Times, Refinery29 and The Guardian reveals a flurry of articles discussing this pressure. Yet more pursue the notion of personal development, many in the form of the ubiquitous Top Ten list.
Then there are the articles reflecting the experience of a different pressure; those with kids at home and no time to call their own amidst work and home-schooling commitments.
The commonality here is that we’re all under pressure. I’m sure we can all agree on one thing, that coping with a global pandemic provides enough to do. Knowing we are in a global crisis understandably affects our attention spans, inclination and energy levels. Put like this it’s obvious that simply dealing with this means we are doing plenty. The adjustments we have all had to make, seemingly overnight, are themselves an intense form of self-development.
I did achieve one thing today, namely some yoga. I have written previously about how yoga works by stealth, incrementally improving well-being and health. The reverse is also true. Prompted by a flick through my yoga book, I wrote out my favourite moves and did them. I felt immediately better and my knees, creaky from too much chocolate and lack of movement, were thankful for the breakthrough.
The link between an act of self care and emotional well-being, in whatever form works best for you, always seems a surprise when it so easily lifts you out of malaise. Lock-down is providing an opportunity to think and re-evaluate whilst we wait to see how we will be in the New Normal, including how we’ll maintain both our physical and emotional health.
For now Thelonious and the French will have to wait. I’m off to draw some more diagrams to match my yoga descriptions, an excellent act of mindfulness in itself. Then I think I’ll paint my toenails an even brighter shade of pink, for yoga ready feet.
Stay safe, stay well. You’re more than enough as you are.