Author Pico Iyer maintains that limitations act as catalysts to creation, something a good number of introverts have discovered to be true during the current pandemic. Those who live alone often describe the heady freedom from unwanted obligations to show up in an office or socialize. Others find time for new pursuits: baking, cooking at home instead of going out, gardening, preserving fruit and vegetables, picking up abandoned hobbies and the like. Extroverts aren’t quite as enthusiastic.
In addition, Iyer also views having fewer choices as liberation from the pressure to choose. Really? That’s likely true for those who dither over decisions. I seldom struggle to make up my mind. When I do, careful consideration usually reveals the most reasonable answer.
Frankly, I am more troubled by having no opera or concert season at all in 2020 than by having to select a limited number from superb options. Music on Zoom or through substandard speakers? Meh. Sorry. I’m out.
When faced with various possibilities, Todd Rose, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education offers this advice: When you have a choice, choose fulfillment. When you don’t have a choice, do what has to be done.
Perfect. That’s my default anyway. I understand the practical sense of doing what has to be done when nothing exciting is going on. Fortunately, I enjoy most domestic tasks and routine maintenance. The ones I don’t like, such as organizing my tax receipts, I do on a gloomy day so as not to waste a fine one.
The late Donald Ritchie, who wrote extensively about Japan, explained how the newly unemployed samurai class at the end of the Feudal Era in 1868 invented manner and ritual to elevate routines. The tea ceremony, for example, was designed so that guests who now had a great deal of time on their hands entered a small tea house, sat for hours and savored the emptiness. How apropos–thinking outside the box by quite literally stooping to crawl into one.
After a summer of beach and garden visits, explorations in new culinary adventures at home, and limited social interactions—enough to call it a serene and joyful summer in spite of its sorrows—I face the coming winter.
My choices of activities which once included the company of others and the vibrant cultural life this city offered have been severely curtailed. Like the samurai, I have to cope with a new reality—a great deal of time without enough pursuits to fill the hours.
The activities I had intended to explore after my return from ikebana studies in Tokyo are not an option for the duration of the pandemic. Worse, some may not be after it’s over.
Ironically, tumbles through the online looking glass lead me to podcasts with people currently or formerly engaged in monastic life. As I listen a notion begins to smoulder under the ashes of my imagination. Perhaps I might mitigate the stultifying aspects of my pandemic life by adopting a monastic approach. Perhaps I can elevate the mundane through imposing greater restrictions of manner, ritual and mindfulness.
What if I try a crazy experiment, reduce my already limited circumstances further and like the samurai attempt to savor the emptiness?
Something in my gut says: It’s worth a try. Go for it. In many spiritual disciplines simplicity is understood as a path to the sacred. As paradoxical as that might seem, it also seems a sign pointing toward fulfillment. Stay tuned. Let’s see where this road goes.