I feel I have spent the last two years of my life preparing for this moment. Obviously, I did not predict that the world would take a massive downshift. There is no way I could have known that tens of millions of people would suddenly and dramatically find themselves in their own bardo, their own liminal space. For many, this sudden quiet and stillness is unnerving. People’s daily rhythms have been disrupted as they try to establish work- and school-from-home routines. The uncertainty of the future has been thrown into sharp relief and triggered worldwide collective anxiety.
I have half-joked that my life has barely changed in this “shelter in place” world. I have worked from home for two decades. To continue working with my U.S. clients I have relied on video conferencing. I have met friends from all over the world and have hosted periodic virtual group gatherings. Over the last two years I have stayed in touch with close friends in the U.S. over video conferencing and texting. I have tucked away and lived without nearly all my personal belongings. We live in a space that is one-third the size of the home we had before. We have lived on a significantly lower household income. We have been in a state of uncertainty about the future — What kind of work can I do here? How long will we live here? Where will we be in a year? — for two years.
But, of course, while everything has changed, there are some experiences I am witnessing in others that feel very familiar.
This is not a breezy how-to-survive-the-apocalypse article. I have no insights or advice because each perspective, orientation, and situation is different. Here I share the lessons I have learned — and some I continue to struggle with — over the last two years.
The tumult of recent weeks has us all wondering what the future will hold. Government policies and reactions have been shifting. Businesses have struggled to adjust to the unknown. While countries are at different stages of their experience of the pandemic, no one is certain what the world will look like in a week, much less a month.
The most common question we heard over the last two years from U.S. friends has been, “How long do you plan to stay?” The honest answer has been “We don’t know.” Truly. In fact, we have no idea where we might be living by the end of this year. It could be in this apartment, or another one, or we could be back in California, depending on what happens next.
Living with uncertainty is, by far, the most difficult challenge I have faced. A habitual planner, I always have had a roadmap guiding my decisions. The last two years have forced me to settle into an uneasy relationship with uncertainty. But the last two months have taught me that, regardless of plans, uncertainty is a reality of life.
A false sense of security is the only kind there is.
There is hardly a person in a developed country that has not been impacted by COVID-19. In a matter of days, sometimes with just a few hours’ notice, we have experienced a fundamental change in our day-to-day lives.
Our move to Portugal was a masterclass in adaptability, which has served us well as the city has closed down around us. In moving here, we had to learn how to navigate government bureaucracy, a new health care system, banking protocols and other aspect of daily life that had been automatic in the U.S.
It is disorienting, but our resilience muscle has gotten a good workout!
People have taken their rampant consumerism online. Amazon announced it is adding 100,000 new jobs to fulfill the surge in online orders. Walmart is hiring 150,000 people to keep up with unprecedented demand.
Our Great Purge before the move here made us acutely aware of our habits of accumulation. Over the last two years, we have become more discerning over every purchase. Will we want to pack and move that, should we move? Living in a significantly smaller space also means that we need to implement strict clutter management strategies.
One curious outcome of all this “at home” time has been the tendency of many of our friends to declutter and clean out their homes. All this time in isolation forces us to reckon with the mountains of mostly useless stuff we have accumulated.
The proliferation of online classes, workshops, groups, meet-ups, seminars, summits and conference is overwhelming. It’s really just another distraction, another form of consumption to keep us from looking inward, from reflecting, from pausing in our own shadow.
This is a transformational opportunity for us as individuals and as a species. We can emerge from this better, with a sense of civilizational renewal. This is the grandest invitation in the history of modern humankind to embrace solitude, to be intentional about how we live, to examine our relationship with nature, with each other and with ourselves.
Let’s not fuck this up.