Window

Let’s say you’re in lock down, because you were ‘exposed’. Or maybe it’s because your boredom has succumbed to your concern for the common good. So, whaddya mean, “Let’s say you’re in lock down”? No, no. You’re in lock down.

You’re looking out the window, at the sight of nothing new. No? Then that’s the first thing to do. If you have one at your place, go ahead and look out the window. Whatever kind of anxiety has you by the scruff. You have your side of that window: It’s there for you to look out of.

Now, I live on a farm. That means that just about anywhere I look, out of any window, I see something pretty nice. Chances are, you don’t live on a farm. So, unless you just look relentlessly up, looking out the window could be iffy. It could be something less than redemptive.

The purpose of being in lockdown, though, is not to look out the window, wishing you were out there, or somewhere, anywhere else.

The purpose of being in lock down, from the point of view of the health management people, is to prevent you from becoming the latest vector that furthers this plague, either as a new host or as an unwitting purveyor. Which it turns out are just about one and the same thing.

But from a daily life point of view, from the ‘reasons to live’ point of view, the purpose of being in lock down is so you can be inside. Not fight being inside. Not bitch and bemoan the fact that you actually are on the road to sustaining and sustainable health. Instead, you’re in there to see if you can actually get good at the counter-intuitive act of being where you are anyhow.

I know that sounds awfully like the title of a book you’ve seen around. I know that it wasn’t your call, maybe, to be in lock down. Chances are that your bottom line is already feeling it. Chances are that just about all of this will get worse. Is getting worse. Still, these days that having been foisted upon us could come to this: We could try being in the house that we’re in anyhow. In it, that is. Leaving the wishing, the hoping, out of it. That’s how you leave the panic out: By leaving the hope out, too. By being a citizen – not an inmate – of a troubled time.

We could do that by looking out the window and seeing how many things we have inside that are outside too, in some other form. My guess: There won’t be too many. One reason: We don’t need them to be inside. And if that’s true, we may not need the things that are outside either. And if that’s true, there may not be a lot of stuff inside that’s as needed as they so recently seemed to be. The idea of being in lock down is to look around at our little lives, without the pressure of having to stop looking around so we can go out and keep going. We get to decide about things when the ‘go to’s’ ease up for a minute. We get to decide about our stuff, about how much of it, given everything that’s happened, and is happening, and is up for grabs now, is mandatory. In a consumer culture, it pretty much takes a calamity of mythic proportion to start wondering about the stuff a consumer culture rewards and sedates its citizens with.

I recommend that you do this soon, though, as soon into your fourteen day sentence as you can. Because house arrest isn’t going to last very long. Not long at all. The powers that be, governmentally, won’t tolerate the hit to the economy that our inner inventory is beginning to exact. So we won’t have much time to look out the window and wonder about our stuff, and our lives. Carpe diem, my house-broken friends. Soon enough the pressure to turn the page and get back to getting stuff will return. You know that’s coming. Remember the hysterical advice that followed on that Nine Eleven moment in the United States?: “Shop.” Shopping in a crisis is the peacetime equivalent of cranking up the war effort, buying your way out of a depression, out of debt. That’s the civilian’s Military Industrial Complex.

But what to do, once you’ve had a good look around at your life?

The answer may not leap out at you. Don’t be dismayed, I’d say. Answers don’t tend to leap. Leaping is for questions, the good ones. Questions pounce. Here’s one of them:

What do I do, now that I’ve grown about three inches of dissatisfaction about my life by looking out the window?

There are a couple of things that come to mind:

1/ You could think about the people the world over who won’t be looking out their windows any more. They’ve become the nightly body count in this viral war. You could think about how their countries were slow off the mark to respond, about how easy it would have been for you to have been born in one of those more afflicted countries, or think about how the accident of birth has favoured you again, as it has favoured me again.

2/ You could reconsider whether you’ll ever use the word ‘viral’ again to describe something that becomes stupidly popular and well known because there’s no work involved any more in getting the word out. Maybe best to leave ‘viral’ to the viruses, to the epidemiologists.

3/ You could go to the kitchen and learn how to sharpen a knife properly. You’ll be amazed how relentlessly a dull knife will throw you back upon your compromised capacity for discipline. A dull knife, like a dull mind, will confound the simplest things. Plus the sense of real-world accomplishment will be welcome.

4/ You could go to the kitchen, scene of all the petty domestic crimes. You could choose out that neglected and overly employed (there’s such a thing as this combination – the workplace is full of it) saucepan that’s a fill-in for anything you need hastily and unconsciously. You could take a bit of fine sand (meaning you’ll probably have to slip outside, undetected, to get it, perhaps a permissible, temporary breakdown of the frontier that has become your doorway) and an old cloth, and you could rub the bottom until whoever made the thing years ago might recognize his or her handiwork.

5/ Whether you are sick (and if you are, we on this side of the window bless you and those caring for you at a distance) or not, consider whether this whole thing could, if you wanted it to, come down to whether everything has to go back to regularly scheduled programming as soon as all this is over. It doesn’t. Whether we have to make some more money when we get the chance to go get some new stuff that’s really what we need this time. We don’t.

I just got back home today from a couple of months working on projects that are mostly on the cliff edge of ‘likely’ now. And because we were in four airports in twenty hours, we’re in lock down. I’m looking out the window, taking a first run at what of my stuff can’t survive the sniff test, the ‘need’ test. That’s where these suggestions are coming from: I’m getting a fair idea of how hard it is to let this confinement tell the story it’s trying to tell. My wife fears for my sanity, and we’re in Day One. Thirteen to go, symptoms or no symptoms.

But I am a strange fan of monastic discipline. In clear minded moments I might find this as bracing and inspiring as I do a winter storm. I love storms, the wilder the better. They’re just not matters of opinion. They’re Gods. Storms are a non-negotiable notice about who and what is in charge of the proceedings. Apprentices to limits: That’s what we could become.

Just think of it: This virus is imposing a level of involuntary discernment about the big things in life. It’s a level of habit-wrecking that you’d otherwise have to shell out large to attend a retreat centre to learn and employ. And you don’t have to go anywhere, do anything more than stay inside and look out the window, letting the wonder take care of the fret for a few minutes.

It isn’t easy. It’s simple, though.

The best advice any monastery ever sent the world: Work. Bless. Repeat.

Stephen Jenkinson
Founder of Orphan Wisdom

Patient, Ready and Listening: Find current news and changes to upcoming events as we respond to unfolding COVID-19 developments.