When Life Slows Down: How The Coronavirus Response Could Have At Least One Positive Outcome

by Melissa, co-founder of Melissa & Doug. 

Obviously, COVID-19 is devastating in every sense and a scourge no one would ever wish on our world. So many people are understandably anxious about their health, their livelihood, their childcare situation, and the economy. However, within this mix of uncertainty and negativity, there’s one profound blessing to note: the extended period of time many of us are now spending with our families.

I don’t know about you, but with the frenetic pace of my own life, the opportunities for genuine and present emotional connection to my children were few and far between. Our days were a blur — with a sense we were always behind and running late — for school, practices, lessons, games, and even bedtime.

Our only physical contact was the brief car ride to and from scheduled activities (in which they would still be studying for tests or memorizing game plays) and rushed meals together between practices, homework, and sports.

When Life Slows Down During The Coronavirus

Ultimately, this relentless pressure of schoolwork, tests, overscheduling and ensuing exhaustion made it difficult to find even brief, quality moments to truly catch up before falling fast asleep. But almost overnight, the virus pushed the world’s reset button.

For the first time ever in my lifetime, a global pandemic effectively wiped the slate (and calendar) utterly clean in one broad stroke. Suddenly, we truly have NOTHING whatsoever to do. We are now viewing entire days, weeks, and months looming ahead — with no one able to define how long we will be faced with absolutely zero structured, scheduled activity.

For many of us, the thought of mandated downtime is terrifying, since society has always measured our value in terms of our busyness. Our worthiness often seems to be directly related to how many balls we are juggling in the air and how little downtime we face each day.

How Embracing “Nothing” Can Be a Fulfilling Act

I study Eastern philosophy and the gift and power of embracing “nothing.” In the majority of Western society, doing “nothing” is considered negative, unimportant, superficial — a sign of weakness.

“Nothing” is equivalent to boredom — a concept we tend to avoid at all costs. In the pre-coronavirus days, no one looked too kindly on boredom, equating it to emptiness, with no promise of instant gratification or a tangible reward. And so we often felt the need to fill the void with scheduled activities or screen time. In fact, continual busyness effectively helped us avoid introspection. For many of us, our standard protocol was to reach for a distraction the moment any anxiety-provoking thought or situation occurred. This sadly rendered us unable to deal with our anxieties appropriately.

When Life Slows Down During The Coronavirus

However, in Eastern tradition “nothing” symbolizes two words: NO THING. It is not negative and doesn’t mean emptiness at all . . . but actually “fullness” in the sense of infinite possibility and unlimited potential — pure, unadulterated freedom where all creativity is birthed. Having NO THING gives us space, which is our greatest gift in granting the openness to allow oneself to dream, imagine, question, explore, and invent.

That space is what allows us to discover who we are and experience wonder and awe toward the world around us. Everythingness lies in nothingness. And space — NO THING — is actually what we as humans crave more than ANY thing for it gives us equanimity or calmness and peace. One will never find that something they’re looking for until they delve into the great void of nothingness and unknown. That is where all growth and life is derived.

Enjoying the Gift of Unstructured Time With Family

In this time of forced stillness, I have already found abundance beyond words — and can already see the dramatic change in my six children. In fact, in reflecting on their lives, none of them could remember a time when we were truly still, not doing anything. In stepping off life’s treadmill, there’s a sense of relief, then completeness and fullness. For it is only when we embrace the fullness of empty space that we can be whole.

By spending so much unstructured time with my children all together for the first time in years, I have rediscovered gifts in them I had forgotten. On long walks with our two dogs, their individual personalities and incredible senses of humor shine through. We have laughed harder in the last few days than I can ever remember.

When Life Slows Down During The Coronavirus

This period has also enabled me to truly appreciate each of them as unique individuals instead of simply reacting to their behavior in the chaos of our former lives. And perhaps best of all, this crisis has clearly made us realize that when all “out there” is uncertain, and we are desperately looking for something hopeful to cling to, it is family that is the answer. For all we truly have when all is said and done is the love of each other.

Once the crisis has passed, and we begin to move forward once again, my prayer is that we won’t just immediately fill that extraordinary white space back up with frivolous stuff. I hope our schedules and to-do lists don’t overflow to such an extent we neglect to have any open space left in our days. And as we naturally fall back into our old routines, I hope we remember that a busy life is not necessarily a fulfilling one. We owe it to our children and ourselves to realize that we’ll only find our most authentic voice, wisdom, and ultimate peace once we tap into the boundless expanse of stillness right within our reach.

Nest is a stockist of Melissa & Doug toys. With everything that Melissa & Doug create, they hope to encourage:

  • Free Play
  • Creativity
  • Imagination
  • Learning
  • Discovery

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