I knew things weren’t looking good when my doctor said, “looks like you’ve been hit pretty hard with the covid stick,” then adding, “I wasn’t expecting this, maybe you caught numerous threads?”
My symptoms were confounding to everyone except Ocean, my pooch, who carried on as though it was totally normal for me to spend days moaning in bed, with a cold towel on my head. She turned the towel into a chew toy and game of tug.
My out-of-office auto-reply went up, emails came and went, appointments were canceled. I had been roundly beaten by the covid stick, and there I was frantically waving a towel, daring time to stand still enough for me to catch up.
In a moment that felt eerily familiar, life had come to a pause. A silence had descended, interrupted only by city noises, like a man yelling down on the street, a siren, wind rustling through the trees. My to-do list had evaporated, and all that was left in my day was a sincere desire to feel better, reconnect with my body, breathe deeply, and connect with people I love.
It wasn’t so long ago that we were all living in lockdown, counting our blessings for the smallest of things, banging pots out the window at seven pm and watching in disbelief as the world came to a halt. When and how had life ratcheted up to this busy extreme again? When had I returned to this frenetic routine, flying from appointment to appointment, booking out the calendar, imagining myself the master of my time?
As I lay there, monitoring an alarmingly high fever for many days on end, I reflected on how it can take my body shutting down to force me to pause. For days there was nothing to do but take my temperature, swallow tylenol, and stare at the wall. There was a feeling of being so out of step with the outside world. No one else was slowing down - in fact the world around me seemed to be speeding up, veritably leaping into fall! I was receiving notes like “this is the busiest fall of all time,” while I canceled one event after another, unable to stay awake for more than four productive hours a day. It can be so unsettling to pause when the world is racing around you. It can be unsettling to pause, period.
I consumed less. I moved less. I conserved every waking moment. I contemplated what life becomes when you only have four productive hours a day. What is life like when you value each hour? How do you spend it? I started appreciating my surroundings, the plants, the light streaming in the window, access to internet, and hot water. The list kept growing.
As I surrendered to being less productive, I tried to be more receptive. Care appeared in expected and unexpected places. A sweet friend asked if she could send me a gift, and while I felt myself shaking my head no, I challenged myself and texted, “yes, that would be lovely.” Her candle arrived when my symptoms were peaking, when I had barely moved or eaten in five days. Its warm glow and woodsy scent filled my gloomy room, and it was like she was standing there with me. Another caring friend sent messages of love. “Thinking of you.” And my husband slept on the sofa for ten days with a bad back, periodically standing by the door, six feet from me, wearing an N95 mask with his hand on his heart and waving.
It’s not that these gestures aren’t usually there, but I don’t always notice them or allow myself to fully receive them. What happened as I paused is that I slowed down enough to see these gestures, and feel them too. My calendar emptied out, but my heart opened up and eventually a creative spark emerged.
Towards the end of day five I started stretching; a familiar part from within tugged me back to my yoga practice. I pulled out my blankets and did a familiar restorative practice, allowing my knees to gently fall open, my heart to expand, and my bones to land on the floor. I remembered how different it is to breathe on purpose. Within this unplanned pause, I resolved to pause with purpose.
On day six, I started writing. At first, I didn’t write anything in particular. I wrote reflections, descriptions, and as the words formed on the page, each one a gift, I felt a stirring. I wrote a draft of a new piece, and knew I was on the road to recovery. My health and sense of well-being are always reflected in my writing; How I write is a reflection of how I feel, and why I write is a reflection of my mood and desires. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the will to express myself and the will to care for myself.
While I’m not grateful that I contracted COVID, what I can say is that it took being ground to a halt for me to recognize how much I needed to pause. It took slowing down to recognize how I had been whizzing along. I’m thankful to pause, and to be reminded it’s always an option to pause with purpose.
Pausing is often described as a prerequisite to creativity. Tara Brach writes, “When we pause, we don’t know what will happen next. But by disrupting our habitual behaviors, we open to the possibility of new and creative ways of responding to our wants and fears.” Pausing can come to us, and at us, and with us. How do you incorporate pause into your life? What does it look like with your creative process?