Whether Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or from Advice Columnists, somehow all presume that replicating the very social structures that may have gotten us into this predicament in the first place, will also provide our solace from it.
Even the venerated trauma specialist, Dr. Bessel Van de Kolk suggests that returning as closely as possible to our pre-pandemic routines can be our way of taking control of something –what trauma survivors generally need--while around us uncertainty reigns supreme.
Coming from a background of progressive politics and alternative mental health paradigms, I wonder if a more liberating perspective might be to use this time for getting in better touch with our authentic selves, our natural rhythms, our creative inclinations and true desires. In doing so, might we then be able to re-create the systems that are breaking down into ones that can better meet our interdependent needs in mutually sustaining ways for the health and betterment of all. The radical psychology organization I was a part of in the 1970s (The Radical Therapist/ Rough Times/ State and Mind magazine) had a slogan that went: Therapy Means Change Not Adjustment.
For so many of us, work and school, are not just how we spend 6 or 8 ( now for many, 10 and 12 hours a day), but they are what we go to sleep to get up in time for, or shop on the weekends to be appropriately dressed for, or exercise to be healthy enough to keep on doing. As social animals, we try to fit in, are influenced by the cultures of the workplaces, often wind up spending social time outside of work with our coworkers. Those aren’t necessarily all bad things, but they can limit the range of possible life choices we could make if not for having them be the center of our lives.
Surely, there are those among us, so unsettled by the chaotic dangerousness of the times in which we are living, who need some sense of structure to fend off the panic that might ensue without it. But there are also those among us, who have for far too long adjusted ourselves to the exigencies of institutions, workplaces and schools, that never had our well being in mind in the first place. For those of us with a more creative bent and courageous streak, why not use the extra time many of us have now available to loosen the grip of the structures that bound us, and discover how we might better arrange our work and recreational lives to more healhtfully and happily suit us.
The routines, to which many of us have become tethered, can be traced to the Industrial Revolution, when according to historian Alun Davies “coordination was essential to bring together supplies of raw materials, to organize workers, and distribute their output. No point in having workers turn up any old time, hoping that someone had brought the cotton or wool to be processed, or hoping that someone had cleared yesterday’s output.”
Schools, in turn, aimed originally to turn out obedient workers, trained to respond to the ringing of the bell, to taking direction from authority, to producing acceptable output.
Sure it might be unworkable to have everyone turn up at work according to their wants, but we are finding now that a lot was possible outside of the regular structure that we never would have imagined to be so. Flex time is great for reducing traffic and lines at restaurants. Ah,,, remember restaurants!
So here we are, Sheltered In Place, most of us working or schooling at home, some out of work altogether, some having to work in essential service to the common good. All around the planet Earth, life as we knew it has stopped. Business is not as usual. Just a couple of months ago, it looked like the US was too afraid to deliberately choose what many considered the earth shattering changes in health care and economics proposed by candidates like Bernie Sanders, Eliabeth Warren, Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson. But the earth got shattered anyway… probably by the karmic inevitabilities of doing business as usual. And much of what then seemed unrealistic (i.e. healthcare for all) seems now a critical social necessity.
There’s a cute meme going around that says something like we’re being asked to save the world by sitting on our couches. Don’t mess it up.
Beyond that, maybe we can recreate a better world by not necessarily even trying to conduct business as usual in our now more circumscribed daily lives. What if we delved more deeply into ourselves and our creativity, whether by sleeping in or in different configurations of time, wearing what we please, moving in new ways as we see fit.. I went out to do what I’ll call street dancing one day, with my phone set to 1960s music, just moving as pleased me in the park, and realized that while it seems to be socially normal to run in a straight line with a pained look on your face, to be lightly jumping about willy nilly, with a smile, safely distant from others, was a weird thing to do….. Why? Those are the kinds of endeavors I intend to pursue. And I’ll tip my mental health practitioner hat to you trying your version of that too.