The simple pleasures are often the ones that fall to the side when life gets complicated or hectic in its pace and most often, out of necessity, we are compelled to engage in the more immediate tasks and responsibilities that such circumstances require of us. When we all recently had to confront the consequences of a global pandemic, again out of necessity, those of us in “non-essential” roles and occupations found ourselves isolated from most of our normal daily routines and social associations. The resulting conditions suddenly presented us with a much greater amount of time alone or at least with very few options with regard to activities and opportunities beyond the boundaries of our immediate locations at home.
Depending on the personal resources each of us can bring to bear on such circumstances, and the degree of wellness we experience during this time, the “social distancing” mandated by “an invisible enemy” created an environment where the constant stimulation of our modern existence dropped off precipitously, leaving many of us to our own devices as far as how to fill the time normally consumed by the routines of work and social interactions of every sort. Those who depended heavily on such interactions and work obligations for deciding which activity would take priority, suddenly find themselves in a kind of middle ground between the two worlds of routine activity and the strangeness of unexpected isolation.
We can certainly appreciate the challenges for parents with small and school-age children at home, as well as caretakers of those who require daily assistance under these conditions, and must acknowledge the difficulty for those whose dependents may be geographically distant. My own familial circumstances, as the parent of six grown children widely dispersed across the Northeast corridor and several southern states, at least has a familiar amount of social distancing experience taking place as a matter of course, but the social limitations and travel restrictions imposed by the current crisis affects even these routines, as visitations which were planned and might have taken place must now be postponed in the interest of reducing the spread of a highly contagious virus wreaking havoc now throughout all fifty states.
No one would wish to characterize these circumstances as advantageous in any broad sense of the word, and the toll it is taking is nothing short of tragic for thousands of families across the globe. The pain of loss and the terrible suffering of tens of thousands of individuals across our world now could only be described as completely awful by any measure we might apply to such circumstances. Our own hearts must surely empathize with those inflicted during this time, and the stories of loved ones lost or suffering inflict us all with their potent emotional and psychological effects. We must continue to take every precaution to avoid exposure and maintain vigilance until the threat subsides sufficiently to allow a gradual return to resuming any semblance of our previous daily lives.
In the meantime, assuming that our mandatory isolation is taking place in a safe and illness-free environment with our immediate family or normally present occupants, or perhaps even with only ourselves, the task then becomes how to occupy our time and to maintain some degree of equanimity while we endure the crisis.
Even a brief review of the online offerings, which show a variety of choices for dealing with the challenge of isolation, and the innovative methods people are employing to encourage and inspire others, have demonstrated a preponderance of creativity and an unexpected level of empathy for our fellow humans that only this kind of seriously difficult circumstance might bring about. We have to decide how we are going to deal with the challenge, and looking for any positive choice possible regarding how to fill this time seems to me to be the only sensible approach, since the alternative would only make our situation worse.
Whatever method we decide to use, and whatever avenue each of us is inclined to pursue, isolation is now providing us with an opportunity to consider what matters to us personally, and giving serious attention to pursuits that may have been put on hold, as well as returning to simple pleasures that may have fallen to the wayside previously, now assume even greater urgency, given that we are compelled to occupy ourselves in ways that may not have been available before this.
For me, this represents a more robust return to quiet contemplation, to long and productive hours of writing, and to actually holding a physical book in my hands, turning pages, and mulling over the worlds represented in those pages, as well as having to step up my game a bit more in order to cover a greater variety of selections. One such selection came as a suggestion from a fellow writer to review a poem by Wallace Stevens.
3 thoughts on “Reading in a Quiet House”
Reading in a Quiet House. Hmm, yes, that sums it up rather well I think. I was talking to Keith Hancock (of MER) and wondering whether I really “practiced” anything at all. Keith as you know holds that practice as such is an irrelevance in achieving any sort of gnosis. I think your post sums it up well – quiet, thumbing the pages of a thoughtful book. Simplicity – sitting in a garden in the sun and letting life wash over you. I think you are right about all this enforced isolation. Tragic though it is, for those of us who may survive, this period of extreme quiet and isolation has its benefits.
Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful response. Normally, I would prefer to encourage my readers to attend to the important personal work of contemplation and consideration of their own urgent inner urgings without being forced into a necessary separation from everything as we are currently, but it seemed like a reasonable approach to point out that such attention is now much more widely available, in spite of the cause for it. I am well aware that many essential workers, and particularly medical personnel of every sort, have no such opportunities, and believe we should all do whatever we can to help alleviate the volume of cases presented to them by our own vigilance. Since we are compelled to stay at home, it just feels like we ought also to make good use of that time, as possible, to our advantage, while it lasts.
While I understand that the concept of “practice,’ such as it might be utilized under the auspices of a particular belief system, is less useful than direct experience and dedicated searching by a devoted seeker, it would be disingenuous to suggest that it is “an irrelevance,” except if it is the only component of the quest for gnosis. Spiritual knowledge and true mystical experience clearly require a great deal more than practicing rituals, but as one component in an array of efforts to achieve some variety of gnosis, it is possible that practice could at least assist us on our path in some cases. Your own participation in a variety of activities related to enriching your experience of life seem to bear this out, as I have occasionally felt a visceral response, even just to your reports of particular moments when you’ve described these activities. They may not be part of a deliberate formal employment of a practice precisely, but viewed in total, over a period of years, the combined result of many different activities might technically qualify as some version of a practice, albeit personal to you specifically.
It is my hope that those of us who are not in the thick of the terrible toll being experienced by so many during this time, may bring all of our talents and creativity and sense of purpose to bear on what is most important to each of us in our own sphere of influence, and once the threat subsides sufficiently, that we might bring with us back out into the world a renewed sense of wonderment and enrichment that isolation has imposed on us now.
What a superb and well thought out response, thank you. Yes, direct experience and “practice” are difficult to disentangle sometimes. You are quite right to point out that devotion to a particular thought system or religion might be pointed out as practice and, as practiced by some, less than useful in discovering gnosis. There again perhaps for some, religious practice does achieve their purpose. Certainly the tales from Meister Eckhart and such people seems to suggest that as a successful route. Yes – as one component in an array of efforts, this rings very true.