I’ve been quiet on my blog and podcast for the past few weeks, and that’s because I’ve been coping with being an essential worker during the COVID-19 pandemic. I co-manage a small family-owned grocery store in Appalachia, and the past few weeks have simply been harrowing.
When the panic first hit, it felt like the worst hurricane in history was coming for North Carolina. Our sales more than doubled, and I felt destroyed just trying to keep up, while also keeping staff and customers safe from invisible death dots that could strike anyone without notice. Eventually, as the craziness at the store settled down into a manageable level, my fatigue turned to crippling anxiety. I was crying myself to sleep, and having horrible panic as I drove to work.
It felt like all my structures and support systems were just swept away by the flood. I’ve spent the past few weeks picking up the pieces, and now here I am, well enough to get back to creating.
One of the most common questions I get from readers is what my tools are for navigating disagreement. This is usually in the context of homosexuality, Tarot, or yoga, when talking to others who are more conservative or have differing theological beliefs.
As I struggle with the darkness of our world, the uncertainty of the future, and the gross, volatile excesses of our leaders, I come to only one solution. It’s a small solution, no doubt, and it often feels insufficient. It may change nothing in our world, but it is the only thing I know to do: to live with integrity.
Last week, I wrote that the future of the world depends in no small part upon how we – the normal, everyday people who populate this globe, practice our capacity for presence and focus. We live in uncertain times, but we are not helpless. As I argued in my previous post, we begin changing the world by putting our own houses in order.
Several weeks ago I made a decision: that I would drastically reduce my time on social media. It was an attempt to drain the shallows from my life – reducing the meaningless, easy-to-replicate tasks to give more time and space to the activities that create meaning and fulfillment in my life.
Our world is suffocated by addicting, irrelevant, glittering images: a perpetual cascade of memes, buzzfeed articles, emails, tweets, and status updates from friends. This is, as Cal Newport describes it in his book Deep Work, The Shallows.
Years ago, a therapist once said to me, “Stephen, you are so open, and honest. You expose so much of yourself to the world, and that is wonderful. But I want to challenge you to do something: keep secrets. Keep something away from the world, just for yourself. I don’t care what it is – it could be your favorite drink at Starbucks – but just keep something secret.”
When I go to my weekly 12 step meeting, there is a tent card on the table titled “Cross Talk Guidelines.” These guidelines are what make the meeting one of the most life-giving, challenging, and nurturing places I’ve ever been. As I’ve been moving through my recovery, I’ve started to apply the Cross Talk Guidelines to the rest of life – work, family, and most of all, the internet.