Ten suggestions from an enclosed religious order on how to get through these days in confinement and not perish in the attempt!
1. FREEDOM OF SPIRIT
First and most fundamental of all is your approach, the way you interpret the situation, your awareness that it is not defeat. Paradoxically, now can be your chance to discover the greatest, most genuine freedom of all – inner freedom that no-one can take away from you, the freedom that comes from yourself. It’s true that the Government is compelling us all to stay at home. But being free means doing so because you choose to, for the greater good. You’re free when you are able to take on a given situation because you want to do what is right. You’re not imprisoned in your home if you freely choose to stay there.
2. PEACE MEANS THE SOUL CAN EXPAND
Look inside yourself. The place where there’s enough space to spread out and be happy is in your own heart. You don’t need physical space around you; what you need is to walk at ease in your inner world. Make room for creativity, listen to your own inspirations and find the beauty you are capable of. Perhaps you haven’t yet discovered that life springs up from peace of mind, peace of soul. Life creates more life, life gives joy and love. When you learn to live inside yourself, you’ll stop wanting to live on externals.
3. DON’T NEGLECT YOURSELF – PEACE HAS TO BE NURTURED
Exercise virtues that require concentration and self-knowledge, the virtues that we generally don’t have time for because we’re busy with the thousand and one things we have to do. You can live in heaven or in hell – it just depends on how you face up to your own emotions and thoughts, how you manage your own senses and passions. Observe yourself, and learn self-mastery, because once you let yourself be ruled by fear, sadness or apathy you’ll find it hard to break away, as there are not many turnings off that route. Keep your heart under your control, and when you realise a particular line of thought is not doing you any good, throw it out. Try and tend towards whatever you find gives you peace of mind and inner joy – harmony has to be worked on, peace has to be nurtured.
The red-hot topic when living shut up together with others is how to get on with each other without friction or conflicts. Plenty of us may be more touchy or irritable than usual because of the pandemic. Achieving harmony takes a lot of patience and common sense. We’re all different, and for many reasons we each have different sensitivities. Accept and respect other people’s opinions and feelings. When everyone is at home it’s very common for each person to want to impose their ideas on the rest, to somehow get the others under their control. Recognize it in yourself, and try not to do it, because it causes endless arguments and frustration. Learn to treat differences of opinion as unimportant, and build on points of agreement. The only sphere that really does belong to you is your own self, your thoughts, words and feelings; don’t control other people, control yourself. Your love for the others will give you understanding, empathy, a desire to give, and gratitude for what you receive. Respect; be welcoming to other people’s weaknesses; pour oil on troubled waters; live and let live.
5. DON’T JUST KILL TIME
There is nothing as demoralizing and ultimately sickening as wasting time. Time-wasting is a serious enemy that can rob you of your peace of mind and even initiate depression. Make a plan for these days, and try to follow it in a self-disciplined way. Resting and keeping yourself occupied are not polar opposites. Use this period to rest by doing things you find relaxing or fun. Take your time over the little details: fry the onions to just the right point, get the cake exactly the right consistency, cook the casserole in a slow oven to bring out its full flavour… for once, there’s plenty of time! Even if you spend two hours cooking a meal, enjoy every minute of it. But make sure that the things you do, however simple, are worthwhile things, with a purpose. Don’t ever waste time pointlessly; “killing time” means killing your own life.
6. BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS
How often we complain about all the things we never find time to do! Well… now we have time! The book you got three Christmases ago and haven’t yet read, the book you haven’t returned to its owner because you stopped halfway through… If you like music, look for new performers, branch out into new kinds. Fancy travelling? Think of some exotic destination and learn about its culture, language, traditions… that’s what the internet is for. If you are a person of faith and prayer, perhaps you don’t know what prayers to say because you’ve said everything already. How about trying the Liturgy of the Hours? Download it onto your phone, get into the writings of one or two of the saints, and you’ll find plenty that fills your soul with new lights. Don’t be satisfied with what you’re already familiar with. Now you have the time, open up to new things that can be a source of deeper wisdom and happiness.
7. FOR THE MORE VULNERABLE
Let’s face it, we can’t all manage our feelings and emotions successfully. Some people’s psychology makes enforced confinement much harder to handle. Our emotions don’t depend only on ourselves; they’re also influenced by what we see and hear and touch. That means we need to be selective about what we receive from the outside, otherwise we risk getting into vicious circles that trap us in desperation or make us lose control. Things to avoid as far as possible are: pessimistic conversations, arguments, gloomy looks, information overload, horror films or suspense films, and a messy house. As there are not many opportunities for distraction, everything that enters our minds is going to stay there longer than usual, so we should take care not to get obsessed with things, and not to allow a negative thought or idea to take root within us. Watching too much TV or internet can also be harmful, because it over-stimulates the brain and leaves us jumpy and irritable. We need to get enough sleep, but too much sleep can produce a sense of failure or defeat. One of the best ways of channelling our energy and relaxing is dancing. Put on some good music, have a laugh while dancing for a good long while; there’s nothing like laughing to re-set the system.
8. YOU’RE NOT ISOLATED
It’s important to understand that you have no reason to feel lonely, because you’re not alone. Your family’s and friends’ love and affection is still there, even without physical contact. This is an opportunity to communicate on a deeper, more personal level. Spend time talking at length with the other people at home, listen to them, hear them out, and let conversation increase trust and mutual confidences bind you together. Say what you never have time to say, tell the things you’ve always wanted to tell, talk about everything and nothing, but do it affectionately, because that is what makes it all sink in. Reply to the Christmas card you never thanked the sender for, or the letter that moved you and that you put aside until you could think of how to answer it, or the email from an old friend. Look for the right words, try and give expression to your highest or deepest feelings. Speak straight from the heart and create much deeper ties with family and friends. Like that, you’ll find that distance doesn’t mean absence.
9. DAY OF REFLECTION
One way of not getting overwhelmed by it all is to create times of silence and solitude. Include spaces for personal “oxygenation” in your time-plan for these days. I’ve heard so many people saying “How I’d love to go away to a monastery for a few days on retreat!” Well, now you have the chance: at home. Life generally goes at such a rate that we spend all our time keeping up, and never get to assimilate what we are experiencing properly. We hope for real changes in society – “This can’t go on” is something else you often hear. Now we have a chance to withdraw into a cocoon like a caterpillar that’s going to change into a butterfly. Reflect, think, meditate. What can I change in myself so as to be a better person after all of this is over? Being separated from the things we are normally immersed in can help us to see whether we really focus on the things that matter, what are the things we can do without, what things are really indispensable, and so on. Discerning where to improve will make this period a time of growth. At the end of it, many men and women will emerge renewed.
The only thing that can sustain life in every situation, including adversity, is prayer. St Teresa of Avila said, “Even though I come to it last, it is the main thing.” Praying means opening up to the Other who can support me when I need help; but when I am fine, prayer also means supporting others who need my help. Prayer is the most universal experience of Love. Pray, talk with God; the time will go by without your realising it. Talk to him about everything, he never gets tired of listening to you. Pour out your heart to him whenever you need to, and… let him pour out his heart to you! He is your Father, your Brother, your Friend. Put your faith and trust into action. If the last time you talked to God was when you made your First Communion, try it again now, when you have the time and opportunity to have a conversation with him. Perhaps you don’t believe it because you’ve never tried. Why not give it a go now?
Carmelitas Descalzas de Cádiz website (Text in Spanish)