We’ve had to make a lot of adjustments and face some daunting challenges during this time of quarantine, but they haven’t all been bad. We’ve slowed down, we check in with friends more frequently, we clean out junk drawers, we read books, we organize our closets and we make home improvements. But perhaps the greatest gift has been getting to know ourselves better. There has been little opportunity for avoidance. We can’t jump up and take a drive to a coffee house. We can’t get mani pedis or go to the movies. We can’t make surprise visits to a friend’s house. But we can spend our time finding out who we really are and what we really want.
Back in March when this all started, when we were looking at two to three weeks in quarantine, I wondered how on earth I would get through such a long period of isolation. Now, nine months later, the time it takes an embryo to fully gestate and take birth, we are still here with ourselves, with no definitive closing date. There seems to be no choice but to within. As I’ve been “getting to know me,” I’ve come across a variety of personal manifestations. There’s Grateful Andrea and Victimized Andrea, there’s Patient and Impatient Andrea, Calm and Anxious Andrea, Irritable and Compassionate and Happy and Depressed and Powerful and Helpless Andrea. They all rise up at different times, some welcome, some not so much, but they are there, they are real and my job is to make peace with all of them, not just the easy breezy ones. Not just the kind and compassionate ones, but also the angry and dispirited ones.
Someone I knew went on a spiritual retreat with a master who only allowed happiness. If a participant became angry, he was asked to leave. One day my friend was about to enter the kitchen when he saw the guru making a sandwich. He hung back to watch and when the master opened the refrigerator to get some milk, a dog rushed in and gobbled up the sandwich. The guru looked to his right, looked to left and when he was sure that he was alone, he kicked the dog.
We all have many sides to us whether we like it or not. It’s called being human. I remind my writing students that no one is only one thing. If we create a character with that kind of limited scope, it makes for an unreal two dimensional individual that no cares about. For example, a serial killer might help a little old lady across the street. A bank robber might donate time to a food bank. An emotionally absent parent might show up at his daughter’s school play at the last minute. A grumpy old lady might make cornbread for her neighbor.
Actors talk about finding the vulnerability in an evil character to make him or her feel real so the audience will care about them. There are unexpected traits in everyone, even people who “wear their hearts on their sleeves.” No one shows us everything. If someone seems to always be happy or sad, always compassionate or pissed off, underneath it all you can be sure they’re having a load of different emotions. They may be good at hiding them but they are there.
While we have this time to investigate who we really are and what we really want, we can make the search smooth by being self-compassionate and accepting or we can suffer by judging ourselves and trying to ignore or banish the things that we don’t like.
How many different ways do you see yourself? Can you accept the good and the bad?