Friday, May 29, 2020

Feeling Alive In Social Isolation

            So now the new norm is going to be that no one is going to be shaking hands anymore.  Touch is out.  We are going to be viewing one another from a safe distance, preferably on a screen.  Covid 19 has given a tremendous injection to online everything.  Yes, we can still take a walk in the park (at a safe distance from others, of course).  But the bulk of all aspects of our lives is moving towards encounters with others in mediated experience.  On the other hand, immediate experience, primary experience, encounters with others in external world reality, sensory bonding with others through organic stimuli in the real world has mostly disappeared.

At this point, I am not talking about the rich organic stimulation that comes from living close to or within nature or being surrounded by more traditional architecture.  I am simply talking about living in external world environments that allow us to create narratives or interactions with flesh and blood people.  With Covid 19, we don’t ever have that anymore.  It has been hard enough to maintain strong bonding with people in what has become for us the normal sensory distortion of modern technological living environments.  But now with stay at home and shelter in place and enforced social isolation, we have mostly given up the struggle to maintain a series of real life external world relationships with other humans.

And the problem is that the Corona virus is emphatically reinforcing certain trends in modern society to use Zoom, Skype and other technologically mediated forms of visual and audio communication in more and more social situations.  As people get more and more numb from the increasing immersion in screen reality, face to face encounters with people in external world reality are experienced as overwhelming, overstimulating.  For a lot of people in today’s world, even talking on the phone is an overwhelming sensory experience, which is why they prefer to text.

Before the Corona virus, people were tossed and turned.  On the one hand, people tried to have intense vibrant experience, even kicks, in the external world to feel alive there.  On the other hand, they were sliding down the slippery slope to more and more immersion in screen reality and greater and greater numbness.  But the Corona virus has definitely tipped the scale towards even greater immersion in screen reality and, in particular, in the interactive technologies like Zoom and Skype.

So the question is how does one find good sources of organic stimulation in the age of the Corona virus?  We will assume that even a daily walk in the park is not enough, as more and more of our lives are filled with technological mediation in our encounters with other people: phone calls, FaceTime, Skype and Zoom.  Our encounters with people on these social media are not organic.  So what can we do?  If one is living on a piece of land with no natural source of fresh water on the surface like lakes, rivers, streams, creeks and ponds, one drills down into the earth in order to find underground water and create a well.  By the same token, we must find sources of organic stimulation deep within ourselves and deep in our relationships with the people with whom we are sheltering in place in order to feel alive in these times.  Deep organic stimulation within one becomes a substitute for spread-out surface organic stimulation in the external world.  One activates sensory and emotional expression within oneself.  Learning to be with oneself can be a challenge for those of us who are used to lots of activities in the public external world.  We can start with physical exercise.  For most people in today’s world, exercise is inconceivable outside of a gym where other people are also doing exercise.  But there are many exercises that one can do in the comfort of one’s home without fancy exercise machines or weights.  And if one doesn’t have a repertoire of such exercises today, one can temporarily go on screen reality on the Internet to find physical exercise for practically every part of the body.  One can find exercise routines that can give you a full workout for your body.  This can certainly be a very vibrant form of physical organic stimulation.

Then there is organic stimulation related to the arts.  If one does not have any musical instruments, one can always sing.  Singing is a good physical and emotional expression.  People talk jokingly of those people who enjoy singing in the bathtub or shower.  Perhaps we should all engage in singing during this time of self-isolation, even if we feel we can’t carry a tune.

And even if we don’t have a lot of art supplies, we can always do some free-form drawing with a pen or pencil and paper.  It doesn’t have to be a drawing of something.  It can be free-form and abstract.  Let your hand take you to where it wants to go.

And then, of course, there is writing.  It can be as basic as writing down your thoughts and observations or you can write down your experiences in the form of narratives or stories.  Or you can write poems and essays.  There are so many possibilities once you start to free-associate.  But all these creative endeavors allow one to go deeper inside one’s feelings and thoughts than one is normally accustomed to doing.

Actually, creative cooking allows one to really go into deep physical sensations that many people, as a result of fast food and restaurant habits, had put by the wayside in the name of convenience.  Food which goes from the mouth to the stomach, passing the nose on the way, is obviously a provoker of deep physical sensations, and in creative cooking, one can be in control of the sensations one experiences.  In creating these deep sensations, one can get deeper in touch with a part of oneself.

Now if one is sheltering in place with other people, other activities are possible.  With children, depending on their age, one can read to them and play with their toys with them and play games with them.  All three form good organic bonding activities.  Board and card games are also good bonding activities for adults as well.  Meaningful conversations among people of all ages can lead to deep organic ideas.  And if one is sheltering in place with an appropriate partner, one can engage in sex.  There is nothing in life like the fear of death that this virus generates in people to impel people towards sex as a potentially deep life affirming activity full of bonding and intimacy.

I am coming to realize that deep is the key not only for dealing with the numbness that is generated by all the time apart from the external world  and in screen reality during this time of the Corona virus.  Going deep into sensations and emotions is a key for dealing with the numbness in general that is generated by modern technological society.  Going deep into oneself and others allows one to make, preserve and receive deep organic imprints in a field of experience that does not have many experiential surfaces on which to leave such imprints.  Finding a way to deep-bond with other people, perhaps using the activities described here as a template and even creating organic interiors to one’s homes and offices, filling them with plants and more traditional decorative handicrafts and art, may be vehicles to pull oneself out of sensory distortion and experiential voids.  But it requires work and focus to create healing deep connections both within oneself and with others and with one’s living environment.  And, in particular, it will require work and focus during what is probably going to be our period of  modern plague years, from which, without a vaccine, there is no easy exit.

© 2020 Laurence Mesirow

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