Reflections on Four Weeks of Sheltering in Place

By Jon Miller Updated on April 5th, 2020

Washington State has been officially sheltering in place since March 23rd. It feels like six week ago. Perhaps this is because we eased into social distancing a couple of weeks earlier, seeing the writing on the wall. The governor extended the order for another four weeks, through May 4th. Barring some breakthrough in testing or treatment, I would not be surprised if the order was extended a few more times through the summer.

At this first milestone of sorts, I’m reflecting on the experience in hopes that it will help me and possibly others make mental and physical preparations to move forward.

First, I am very grateful to work for Gemba Academy. I made a change six years ago from globe-trotting businessman to work-at-home online learning content developer. Of course, I had no idea that a situation like COVID-19 was coming. Had I not made that change, disruption to my work and livelihood would have been massive. Gratitude has been an anchor through turbulent news reports. Everyone’s situation is different, but once thing we can all do is to find gratitude in whatever blessings we have.

Second, is it me or are people friendlier when encountering each other outside? Unlike other parts of the United States, people in the Pacific Northwest keep themselves. We don’t make a lot of idle chatter in public. During the past month, an older lady filling up her gas tank across from me asked me how my day was going. Retail workers who may have seemed harried in the past, avoided eye contact, and whom we would expect to be stressed right now, seem more outgoing, confident and energetic. Hopefully they are feeling the love they deserve. Warm greetings are exchanged between total strangers as we stay on opposite sides of the street during daily walks. Perhaps this is all down to people craving any social interaction. Or perhaps everyone is more aware of their own mortality and how precious is the shared air we breathe.

Third, reframing sheltering at home from a reduction of freedom to an intelligent constraint to use creatively has required more effort than expected. I may have been naively optimistic to think that fewer trips to the grocery store, fewer trips for school, work or social events would mean more time for other desirable activities. The cost of disruption to family routines, the effort to normalize new ones, and return to similar levels of productivity is not trivial. It may take weeks rather than not days. For those of us still adjusting, keeping working on it and don’t beat yourself up for not finding your groove right away.

Fourth, on the plus side of the ledger, we are doing a better job of using what we have around the house. We’ve worked through some canned goods from our earthquake preparedness stock that were nearing expiration. With libraries and physical bookstores closed, and less distraction from new titles, I read more of the books on my shelf.  Thinking twice about going out to the hardware store, I’m finding creative ways to get projects done around the house using supplies in the garage. Now may be the time to explore the culinary possibilities of dandelions.

Fifth, I recognize parallels between awareness of physical sensations and awareness of social and mental ones. At the start of yoga class (now delivered via Zoom) we are encouraged to lie still on the floor, be aware of our breath, and listen to what our body is telling us. How does the back of our legs, spine, neck, arms, head feel against the floor? Where do we have tightness, tension or heaviness in our body? We are guided not to judge this as good or bad, or to have expectations about the yoga session, but to be aware of our body. The stillness of sheltering in place has brought a similar awareness of the small inconveniences, pains or awkward parts of my surroundings and daily routine. In a similar way that practicing yoga helps us to work on the parts of our body that aren’t as flexible, balanced or strong as we like, refection on these restrictions, isolation, stillness may help us realize the parts of our social and mental lives that we can work on.

Stay home, stay safe, and see you on the other side of herd immunity.

  1. Jonathan Wiederecht

    April 6, 2020 - 9:56 am

    Jon – I didn’t realize the Pacific Northwest portion of the US had the same vibe as the Northeast. I’ve lived my entire life in NJ/CT and MA, with the exception of 2 years in MD. Those 2 years in MD were a wake up call as to how cold we are in the Northeast. Thanks for the centering message of your blog.
    Jon Wiederecht

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