A covid lesson:
slowing down and pausing to reflect

April 8, 2020

"Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you." ~ John De Paola

It's been almost three weeks since the prime minster put strict social distancing measures in place to stop the devastating spread of coronavirus across the UK. Every single person in the country has been affected in some way, each individual's life changed. Businesses have been forced to close, the self-employed are panicked, parents are juggling work and supervising their children's schooling, and the vulnerable are mostly housebound, relying on friendly helpers for basic supplies. And, not to mention, mental health organisations are warning that we're on the brink of a serious mental health crisis.

Worst of all, thousands are devastatingly losing their lives to the unknown disease. It is a truly terrible situation and an unprecedented time in society for us all.

Before I go on, I'd like to take a moment to express how absolutely awful this situation is and in writing this post I'm in no way trying to take away from that. My heart truly goes out to those families whose loved ones have passed away, those without work, and to each and everyone one of you struggling to cope with the change and uncertainty. I send warm wishes and strength to everyone. We are all in this together and we will be OK in the end.

In this two-part post, I'd like to share and reflect what I've learnt during this time of global crisis.

I was walking through Wandsworth Common on my new midday walk. The sun was shining brightly and lots of people were passing by, gladly taking their daily exercise and chance for fresh air. I saw a young mum, head to toe in fitness gear, working out with her seriously cute three-year-old son. I saw families laughing and smiling together in the middle of the day, when usually they'd be at work or school.

Then, I came across a beautiful pond I'd never discovered before. Up until now, I'd not even ventured to that side of the common, never straying from the path I knew. The pristine waters were glistening in the crisp early spring sunshine, and a gentle breeze swirling around the long grasses and wooden pontoons.

I took a moment to stop, breathe and take it all in.

I felt both calm and alive, connected to myself and also to the world.

It made me reflect on the ways in which the pandemic has not only united us a nation but also forced us to slow down and appreciate what we have right now. An opportunity to pause and reflect. The frantic balancing act of work, looking after family, socialising, exercising, hobbies, self-care and projects has been simplified. At it's core, the new way of living has provided us with the space to focus on what brings us joy, fulfilment and happiness.

Over the past year, I've already been trying to take a slower approach to life, to work on my own mental health recovery and connect with who I truly am and want to be. The pandemic has taken this to a whole new level because I've actually been forced to slow down. There just isn't any other option. In fact, being restricted in the ways I can take action and plan for my future or career has helped to really cement the things that are important to me.

It's also freed up more time to connect with my friends and family online; I've actually spoken to them more than I usually do. I've started regular 'writing sessions' with my best friend, who recently returned from travelling (it is so nice to have her home, another silver lining of the outbreak!). I've created a clear structure for my working day and a routine that works. I've even reduced my piano teaching hours so I have more time for myself. There's more 'white space' in my day, no commute and shorter working hours, which means I get literally hours every evening to cook, relax and spend time with my partner.

The other day, it hit me.

Why should all of this change when life returns to normal? What if I could replace my old ways of living with my new perspective and positive changes? 

I'm realising more and more that I do have at least some control of my life. Way more than I thought I did. If something's not how I like it, I can change it. If I'm not happy, I can do something about it. I have agency.

When life returns to normal, I'm going to try my best to keep my new routine. My partner and I have agreed to keep our daily park exercise going. I'll keep saying a friendly hello to strangers in the park. My best friend and I will keep up the regular writing sessions and catch-ups; she doesn't live in London but instead of this being a barrier to our friendship, we've realised speaking online more is something we can do easily. I'll have reduced my teaching hours so those long relaxing evenings can be kept.

As well as making my new lifestyle stick, I need to be aware of over-committing, over-scheduling and burning myself out. It's going to take some work to say no to some social event invites. It's going to take some clarity to focus on the projects that matter to me.

But, if I can pause, breathe and remember how much better I felt during this time, I'll hopefully always find my way back to the calm, clarity and gratitude I'm feeling today.

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