Whether you wanted it or not, you’ve likely had a lot more free time as of late.
As COVID-19 continues to keep America — and most of the world — in lockdown, we’ve given up our nights out, our trips to the movies, and, for many of us, our standard work schedule. The new surplus of time allotted to us can lead to boredom and binge-watching, yes, but it can also be a beneficial period for productivity: finishing up old projects, exploring new hobbies, identifying new options for our careers or our education.
In particular, though, this new surplus of time allows us to do something that we may be a bit too busy to do during our (normally) hectic schedules: contemplation.
Before the current pandemic, how often did you take half an hour to just think about things? How often did you reflect on changes to your lifestyle? New experiences? New dynamics in your life or in the wider world around you? Generally speaking, it’s difficult if not impossible for many of us to fit this time into our day-to-day routine.
Contemplation and reflection, however, can be immensely valuable. They can yield deeper insights about ourselves, about our view of the world and its inhabitants, that will last us long after the pandemic comes to pass.
Below are three topics to consider for contemplation in these uncertain and unprecedented times. Find a quiet place, bring a pen and notebook if you’d like, and give yourself a little bit of time for deep thought.
Contemplate time itself and how you prioritize it: Before the pandemic, there were probably a lot of things you put off because they took too much time. Calling your parents or loved ones, planning recipes for the week, doing some stretches or light bodyweight exercises — when your day-to-day schedule is packed, making time for these small tasks can seem like an insurmountable challenge.
But, given the surplus of time available to many of us in the pandemic age, perhaps you’ve been better about getting some of those tasks done. Perhaps you’ve discovered that those tasks often take, at most, 20 minutes, and that some tasks (such as recipe planning) may save you even more time later on. Think about how long 20 minutes is, really. How often do we spend 20 minutes (or more) scrolling through our phones, killing time with memes or social media posts?
Use this current surplus of time to reevaluate time itself, how you prioritize and allocate it. Take a mental inventory of the tasks you tend to avoid, and be honest with yourself about how much time they really take. Is it realistic to integrate those tasks into your day-to-day life once your normal schedule ramps back up? What would you stand to gain with that integration? Optimization of your habits? Less stress? Improved mental and/or physical health? All things to consider.
Contemplate your presence and intentionality with others: To use a cliché, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. This can obviously apply to a lot of things given our current situation, but it applies most aptly, I believe, to our friends and the time we spend with others.
Think back on your pre-pandemic outings. How “present” were you during those outings? Were you engaged in the conversation at hand, revelling in the opportunity you had to hang out with your closest friends, colleagues, or family members? Or did you sit and scroll intermittently through your phone, sipping your drink of choice while being thankful that, at the very least, this engagement got you out of the house for a while?
If the latter sounds familiar, there’s no need to feel regret. Trust me — I think we’ve all been there at one point or another. But as we sit in our respective homes each weekend, longing to be out with friends (or, at least, longing to interact with them beyond the limitations of a Zoom room) think about what you can do better in the post-pandemic age.
Consider the value in being more intentional when you’re making plans with others. Could your social life benefit from more imagination, more effort, more trust and openness on your behalf? Likewise, contemplate your ability to be fully present for future social engagements. How can you better approach the times spent with friends, colleagues, or family members to make them more memorable, more meaningful for you and everyone else involved?
Contemplate your capacity for empathy: Now, more than ever, the concept of “sonder” is something to consider.
Sonder — the realization that all people have deeply complex, difficult lives despite our being unaware of it — is an important thing to understand if one is attempting to build empathy. In the wake of the current pandemic, a time when almost everyone is experiencing some form of hardship, sonder is absolutely critical if we are to support each other and foster a harmonious transition into the post-pandemic period.
Consider the “essential workers”: the nurses, the doctors, the police, but also the grocery stockers, the restaurant employees, and the sanitation workers. How well are you able to recognize and empathize with the heightened stakes they now face? How well will you empathize with the plights they face even after the pandemic passes?
Likewise, consider those facing unemployment or reduced hours. Consider those who have to balance a full-time job while also being babysitters and homeschool teachers. Consider those who may appear fine on the outside, but who are battling overwhelming stress, anxiety, and uncertainty internally. Know that your hardships are valid, and so are the hardships of everybody else.
Reflect on the hardships we’re all facing right now. Use these reflections to foster empathy, kindness, and respect towards all those you meet and towards all those you interact with going forward.
If you make the time for it, contemplation can help you have a better understanding of yourself and your overall view of the world.
Next time you have 30 minutes to spare, take some time for reflection. Think about your perception of time, how you prioritize and allocate it. Think about improvements you can make during your social interactions to make them more memorable, meaningful experiences. Think not only about the struggles you’re currently facing as a result of the pandemic, but also about the great struggles we’re all facing.
Regular, earnest contemplation can guide you down a path to greater personal insights, greater empathy, and greater connections to you friends, colleagues, and loved ones. Try to make a habit out of it — what else do you have to do?
Zach Morgan is a digital marketer, writer, and editor living in Southern California.