Time-out to wonder …

Since beginning 2020 an ‘organism at the edge of life’ is spreading: COVID-19. To minimize contamination we are advised to practice ‘social distancing’ which means as much as: avoid working at the office, don’t go to conferences or meetings but try to work from home as much as possible. On top of this professional earthquake also our regular social life has to change: don’t go to concerts or exhibitions, stay out of the gym and especially avoid restaurants or pubs. Basically it comes down to this: the only safe place to do all the things we need and want to do is at home.

Although the effects of this confinement are massive on the economical, societal and environmental level, they also have a severe impact on two personal aspects: our body and our mind. For our body it for sure will mean a tremendous decrease of physical movements. The amount of square meters where we can walk, work and play is suddenly reduced from 149 million km2 to several tens (or if you’re lucky hundreds) of square meters. The second aspect (and for a big part as a result of the first, because body and mind are closely linked): the variety of our daily mental experiences will most likely suffer a total implosion.

Staying indoors for a long time is not a favorite leisure activity for many of us, especially not in this space that we already know so well and where we on purpose really try to get away from so often: home. Going outside only to get some groceries or open a window to breath some fresh air is a way of living we more or less associate with prison life. And low and behold: suddenly we are all ‘prisoners’ in some way. And for this foreseeable future called quarantine we have to deal with the question: how are we going to spend our time in these hopefully comfortable but still limited number of rooms we call home?

Some of us are in vital professions and still need to leave the house to go to work, some of us do work that now has to be done from home. But still an enormous number people are suddenly confronted with an amount of spare time that we normally associate with weekends or holiday periods. Only: we can’t go out to do these lovely relaxing and beautiful leisure things that we are intrinsically motivated to do, like traveling, sports, going to exhibitions, movies or theaters, or even shopping. Many of our favorite spare time activities are suddenly off-limits, which means all of a sudden we are psychologically in uncharted territories. Because where will our mind wander when our bodies are confined to a limited number of square meters at home.

“When one door closes, another opens.”

The saying is attributed to one of the founders of modern telephony Alexander Graham Bell: “When one door closes, another opens.” What is often left out is the second part of his insight: “… but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

A quarantine period also closes many (behavioral) doors, but we apparently are not automatically inclined to focus on the ones that are opened up by this drastic reduction of freedom of movement. Well: the solution might be not easy, but certainly a cheap one: why not let our mind wander and go down paths it has not been for a while? Because, what other choice have we for new and exciting experiences, then to look at everything in and around our houses in a new way and try to see things that we maybe only noticed when they were new or young? These everyday things we used to love or hold beautiful, but stopped appreciating, because we have become too familiar with them. Why not try to use this awkward period to find this unnoted open door of ‘unfamiliarizing’, behind which we may discover a new world of experiences consisting of people and things we already know for a long time?

“There is more beauty in a rock than you can experience in a lifetime.”

The American art and education scholar Eliot Eisner once said “There is more beauty in a rock than you can experience in a lifetime.” So when there is nowhere to go for some time except from the living room to the bedroom, and from the bedroom to the toilet, and from the toilet to the bathroom and then back again: why not pick-up Eisner’s challenge? Why not just try to look at the plants on your windowsill for a while and discover how many shades of green they have? Take a book that you read a long time ago and find out if it still captivates you? Sit (or even go online and talk) with a roommate or friend and together pick-up an intriguing question that may lead to a deeper meeting than you had with them for a long time? Or look in the eyes of your loved one and think back of your first spark? Summarized: why not take a time-out to review and experiment with what personally for you really makes life worth living? Project Beauty’s set of questions might even be helpful.

And maybe it is even possible: turning this quarantine period with all these drastic physical constraints into something advantageous: a small step towards the expansion of our minds. Then (and of course only if your health or the health of a loved one has not been seriously affected!) for some of us it might give this at first sight doomsday scenario of the COVID-19 epidemic also the deeper layer of a blessing in disguise.