When I was a kid, I loved to build forts! They were cozy and private and warm and inviting.
When we are alone in a quiet, safe, nurturing space, we can connect with ourselves more closely. Animals don’t need to be told when it’s time to build their nests or retreat into their caves.
My dog loves her crate, a momma bird loves her nest and a bear loves his cave. Yet, humans may need a little nudge when it comes to tuning out the noise and tuning into our instincts, when it might be time for us to climb into our safe space and “hibernate”.
These past few months, I’ve been saying how much I enjoyed much of the quiet that came from the pandemic, and that now I’m seeking it. I have wanted it to be quiet several times in my life, but those times have usually been filled with depression or anxiety— just wanting to shut the whole world out, not actually look in, because if I looked too deep, I feared a bottomless pit. This past year and a half, I haven’t been depressed—I know what that feels like–but I’ve been hunkering down, tuning out the noise, and intentionally separating myself from anything that doesn’t nurture me.
Everyone’s life changed dramatically at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to March of 2020, if someone had told me that I would be stuck inside, unable to hug, socialize, interact with people, etc., I would have said that sounds like absolute torture. What I found was that I enjoyed it so much, I wanted to sink deeper and deeper into that quiet space and really spend some time looking inward.
It has been a LONG time since I’ve lived on my own. And to be clear, the only time I have ever lived alone was for 6 months at the age of 21 when I got my first job in Chicago, with no family or friends in town and living off rental furniture until one of my friends moved to the city. That apartment was little more than a stopover while I got used to a new job and adulting for the first time ever. There was no quiet then.
This year is different.
This year is my daughter, Izzy’s senior year in college and my son, Jared’s freshman year. I found the empty nest phrase somewhat bleak and dispiriting. I love my kids and am sad that their childhood years are over, but I’m so grateful to connect with them in new ways as they spread their wings and start to plant their own roots. So, instead of empty nest, I felt like I wanted to call it something else. Maybe my own private haven or sanctuary, fort, tepee, cocoon—basically a nest of opportunities—a peaceful environment for me to create a new chapter in my life.
The quiet forced me to look more within and the more I did, the more I really enjoyed getting to know myself. Sure, there have been things I’ve criticized myself for, but the more I was able to step back and almost study myself with curiosity and compassion, instead of judgment and criticism, the more I really enjoyed getting to know how I worked.
In my life I maintain several roles. These roles require me to be 100 percent “on” for people—to hold space entirely for the other person. I knew how to take care of my clients, kids, students, dog, etc., but I really didn’t know how to take care of myself—what, when, and how did I like to work, rest, clean, eat, exercise, talk, return phone calls, socialize, knit, go outside. I’ve learned about what helps keep me on track and motivated and what trips me up. During these quiet months I’ve gained a much better sense of how to care for myself so that I might care for others more effectively.
Hibernating can look like a lot of things. It can look like Netflix binge-watching, reading, eating, cooking, cleaning, exercising, infinite scrolling, etc. There are endless rabbit holes available at our fingertips and some are “better” than others (not to judge) But, let’s put it this way, I feel much better about myself when I’ve exercised, listened to a podcast, and cooked something nutritious than, when I’ve sat on the couch and watched a murder show while eating mindlessly.
What are your needs?
The quieter things have gotten, the more I have realized that the small habits/tweaks have a huge effect over time. As human beings we are complex—we have many needs: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Social, Professional/Purposeful, Environmental, Spiritual, Financial, and Playful/Imaginative. If we just look briefly at two of these, it’s easy to see how these needs, even when broken down, are still complex.
- Environmental Needs: I love a clean and organized environment and know that I function better in an environment that is geared toward my activity. A bear has one cave, a momma bird has one nest, I have 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, a car, a bedroom, an office, a home office, a closet, etc.—that all require my attention to maintain and grow within.
- Physical Needs: A cat licks its fur and goes on its way. My body needs cleansing, lotion, brushing, shaving, plucking, and as I age, more and more special creams. Not to even mention exercise, hydration and nutrition.
I used to be the kind of person who immersed myself in many outside experiences. These past couple of years, I’m still connected to the outside world and grateful for all of the ways I interact with people and the world; however, I’ve been spending a lot more time alone in my little fort and loving every minute of it. The Scandinavians have a term for getting cozy and comfortable—hygge. Although, I’m not an expert in this and I’m far from Scandinavian, I have learned to embrace this feeling, especially in the winter, rather than be uncomfortable with it.
I feel like I’ve been in a boat paddling, (not aimlessly or furiously all the time), but definitely paddling for a long time. These past few months, I’ve pictured myself on a quiet canoe, surrounded by beauty (with no particular place to go) just floating in the water, with the oars down at my feet. I am surrounded by beautiful mountains, animals and birds in a lush environment. Instead of looking for the next direction to row, I’ve set down those oars and am just allowing the boat to float while I take it all in.
And, just like a bear knows when it’s time to come out of the cave, I will know when it’s time to pick up those oars and start moving the boat forward toward the outer world. But for now, the oars are just resting.
When we really get quiet with ourselves, we notice how the body always knows how to come back to balance, just like a boat in the water. The more I follow my instinct and check my gut and listen to my inner voice, the more at peace I am.
While I was writing this, a friend sent me a meme about JOMO (Joy of Missing Out).. Instead of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), I’m finding much more JOMO. Believe me, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to shut my door and throw away the key, but it does mean that I’m more discerning about what/who, when, and how I open my tepee once I check in with that inner voice.
How have you changed your behaviors during these pandemic years? Are you more or less social than in previous years? Do you seek certain people or experiences more or less now? What quiets your soul and nourishes you?