How we can we understand and learn from the disruption to our lives caused by the coronavirus pandemic?
How much has the impact of the coronavirus pandemic changed how you look at life? For many of us, what we see of the world each day has been cut to a tiny, constrained fraction of what went before.* In these circumstances, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on how you look at and react to life.
I love moments of serendipity. Here’s one. The other day, within the space of just a few hours, I came across three compelling ways that we can reframe our experience of the world in these pandemic-disrupted times.
1. Look more deliberately for the beauty in things
First, my lovely Twitter friend Dr Paul Taylor-Pitt tweeted me some beautiful words. He said that he is “enjoying looking more deliberately for the beauty in things.”
When I asked him about the most striking and unexpected moment of beauty that he had chanced upon of late, he shared this beautiful image from within London’s Barbican complex.
“I stared at this spot for ages yesterday. I loved the variety of colours, shapes, textures, materials…..”
For me, this is a picture worthy of framing. Perfect composition and a pleasing colour palette. I can only imagine what a transporting sight it must have been in real life. More lovely still is Dr Taylor-Pitt’s suggestion that we look more deliberately for the beauty in things. I love this idea. Take a meditative look at your surroundings. Focus on what is close at hand. Find those moments that you can lose yourself in. Let life become a still life painting, if only for a moment.
You can lose yourself in moments from the present or from the past. Over recent weeks, my wife and I have fallen down a little YouTube rabbit hole of old British newsreel films and amateur footage of London from yesteryear.
By the oddest coincidence, within a few hours of Dr Taylor-Pitt’s tweet, we happened upon an old Look at Life newsreel report from 1960, with footage of construction work around the Barbican neck of the woods.
Trigger warning: This wee video set off my vertigo-like feelings. Was health and safety a thing 60 years ago? The builders of 1960 clearly thought nothing of dangling precariously from partially-constructed scaffolding, hundreds of feet above unsuspecting pedestrians.
A comment posted on this video notes that some of the buildings that these men are nonchalantly risking their lives to create would be torn down within two decades. A tiny example of how fleeting anything in our world can be, of how fleeting everything is.
These old clips give us a taste of how life used to be. A taste of the life that used to be.**
2. Mourn what life used to be like
Second, in his The Church of What’s Happening Now podcast chat with Duncan Trussell, Joey Diaz talks about the toll that the coronavirus pandemic has taken on our mental health.*** He says that we are reeling from multiple sources of stress. Besides the stress of dealing with the threat to our livelihoods and our very lives posed by the coronavirus, we must also cope with the loss of how we lived. Diaz says:
“This is like mourning. What happened was, we said goodbye to our old life. We’re mourning what life used to be like.”
This is a striking perspective. The disruption to our lives gives us the chance to reflect on life. We can use this time to meditate on what we have now, on the world we have lost, on the people some of us have lost. We can also put our minds to how we will help shape the post-pandemic world.
3. Maintain these epiphanies
Third, Sam Harris (speaking to Tim Ferriss) argues that there are myriad lessons to be learnt from the pandemic. He stresses the importance of preparedness. We need to remember and retain any and all innovations that help us through and might help us again come future crises. Harris says:
“We can learn these lessons. On some level, these are very simple lessons. Personally, many of us are having our priorities jiggered around by this, such that we’re connecting with deeper values in this experience, and experiencing a silver lining to it in just the way in which we’re prioritising time with our family and just kind of resetting our career priorities. There are many good things happening for people, which are not going unrecognised. It’s just a question of figuring out how to maintain these epiphanies once life starts back up again.”
I love this idea of learning to maintain these epiphanies. Being mindful of the lessons that life is trying to teach us, and using them to help build the post-pandemic world.
The beauty in all things
This past week, I’ve been giving Dr Taylor-Pitt’s suggestion a try. On my early morning walk on Bank Holiday Monday (25 May 2020), I tried Paul’s approach of looking more deliberately for the beauty in things.
The effect was extraordinary. After falling into something of a Groundhog Day feeling of late, my usual circuit of streets was transformed. There was so much beauty.
A child’s rainbow painting, stuck to a garden fence for all pedestrian passersby to see, with the simple message that “better days will return.”
The perfect still life of local woodland as the sun rose on another still day. I looked up to see canopy of trees overhead.
I am thankful to Dr Taylor-Pitt for reminding me to opening my eyes to some small wonders I might otherwise have missed.
Look deliberately for the beauty in things. Take time to mourn your old life. Watch for the epiphanies that point a way to your new life.
Opportunity and inspiration lie in all things, always.
UPDATE (Saturday 30 May 2020): Further serendipity
In another wonderful little moment of serendipity, on the same day that this post has gone live, the YouTube algorithm has surfaced another amazing documentary about the building of the Barbican, this one from 1969. It is highly recommended viewing. Some of the shot choices in this film are inspired, and truly beautiful to behold.
* The UK is starting to come out of lockdown, but Sage advisors warn that this is premature. Maintaining a lockdown life for now could be the safest move for some, even though it is sadly not viable for all.
** It’s not only the television of bygone years that can conjure up a world now gone. The television of yesterday can, too, as Rick notes in a recent Flip Chart Fairy Tales post:
“If, like me, you have spent some of your lockdown time catching up with stuff you recorded earlier in the year, you will have experienced that strange sense of watching something from a bygone age. The adverts, in particular, feel like they belong in a different world. Was it really only February when we were still going to pubs and restaurants and getting excited about major football, rugby and racing events?”
- Barbican May 2020 photography by Dr Paul Taylor-Pitt. My thanks to Dr Taylor-Pitt for his very kind permission to use this picture here.
- Sam Harris via Wikimedia Commons.
- All other pictures by MJCarty.