Meteora Monastery In Greece

What I’ve learnt after 30 days of isolation

Yep, we are in lockdown again.

At first, I thought it would be great. I was finally going to spend all my time writing, reading and working out. At first that was true. But as the days went by, they quickly blurred into one long never-ending one.

Quarantining is nothing new. It originated in the 14th century with the black plague, then again in the 18th century with the yellow fever, in the 19th it was cholera, in the 20th influenza, and now here we are again in the 21st century with Covid.

Quarantine, however, isn’t the only reason to isolate. Monks have long used self-isolation to become more self-aware, whilst on the flip side isolation is also used in prisons as a form of punishment. By now, I have spent over a month living on my own, the only face-to-face contact being with the cashiers at the local supermarket.

Now, I didn’t go full monk and run off to live in the mountains, nor would I dare compare my confinement to those imprisoned between four concrete walls. I still have the privilege of the odd online conversation with family and friends and an open road to run on. Nonetheless, I have had plenty of time alone in confinement to self-reflect. There are quite a few things that I have learnt about myself and which I want to work on.

I think the number one thing that isolation has taught me is to be more compassionate. I am not as invincible on my own as I like to believe. People are important. We are social beings by nature. We thrive together and the more we band together the stronger we are.

Unlike our closest relative, the chimpanzee, we can group together in the thousands or even the millions and come together to achieve a common goal. We have had to prove this countless times over the course of history. Meanwhile, group a thousand chimpanzees together and they would probably quickly descend into anarchy.

When I was younger, I used to fantasise about what I would do as the only human left in a post-apocalyptic world. I would travel the world, raiding supermarkets, devouring every single packet of crisps and drowning myself in soft drinks. But as you grow up, you realise humans are what make the world so fascinating and worth travelling to begin with.

It is our friends and family that keep us healthy and happy. Each day that has passed, I have found it more and more difficult to concentrate and to stay fully motivated. I appreciate more that it is also important to surround myself with like-minded people with common interests to motivate me to be my best self.

Back when I was working a full-time job, I would fantasise about all the things I’d do once I had the free time. But you can’t forget that it is important to keep working just as hard, even if you have all the free time in the world.

So, the second thing I’ve learnt is, sometimes you have to do things you don’t initially want to do. If all we ever do is the things we want to do, those things will also soon become things we don’t want to do, if that makes sense. Relaxing and watching TV at the end of the day is much less gratifying if you have already spent the whole day doing that.

Take working out for example. There will be some days when you don’t feel like putting in the work. But if you can overcome the initial mental hurdle, once you start, odds are you will actually enjoy it and you will definitely feel better afterwards. We need to push ourselves and overcome difficult tasks to feel fulfilled.

Likewise, isolation is uncomfortable, it can get lonely, and can be mentally challenging, but I am going to come out of it with a renewed sense of compassion and appreciation. We are goal-orientated creatures, otherwise we’d still be living in the forest like anarchist chimps.

This brings me to the third thing that I have learnt, which is to remember to appreciate nature and the outdoors more. It’s astounding how many times in the past I have been anxious to get home and do absolutely nothing. Don’t get me wrong, being at home is great, humans have spent centuries perfecting indoors for a reason. But outdoors is pretty great too.

I have taken up running again just to get out of the house, and one day I passed a woman smelling flowers on the side of the road. It was a great reminder to also appreciate the simpler things in life no matter how big our goals may be. We must also, of course, not forget to share those goals and simple moments with the people around us.

By Jay Costa Owen
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Jay recently graduated from the Faculty of Fine Artes in Lisbon. Jay’s interests are exploring new cultures through photography and the myths, legends and history that define them.