The practice of quarantine began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit, at anchor, for 40 days before landing. This word for this phenomenon harkens back to two Italian words, “quaranta giorni”, which translate as “40 days”.
OK. I get it. Quarantining makes sense. When someone or something is infected and contagious we remove it from society. We protect the whole, by isolating the parts.
But the body is not the only part of us that gets infected. So does our mind — what the dictionary defines as “the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences — the faculty of consciousness and thought.”
On a good, uninfected day, our mind is a capable of many glorious things: wonder, gratitude, focus, clarity, creativity, compassion, generosity, appreciation, and wisdom, just to name a few. But when it gets infected, watch out, my friends, watch out. The game changes quickly. All hell breaks loose.
The symptoms of the body’s contagion are relatively easy to recognize, especially these days with all the coverage Covid-19 is getting: fever, chills, sneezing, coughing, body aches, and fatigue.
The symptoms of the mind’s contagion? Not quite as easy to detect. Why not? Because, like pollution and hidden bank charges, we’ve become so accustomed to them, we barely notice anymore. But just because we don’t, it doesn’t mean the contagion isn’t wreaking havoc. It most definitely is.
The symptoms of an infected mind? Take your pick: worry, doubt, fear, stress, anger, blame, confusion, panic, powerlessness, loneliness, hopelessness, irritation, frustration, hypochondria, lethargy, and overwhelm — and that’s just for starters.
Simply put, our body gets physically infected and our mind gets metaphysically infected. And when it does, its contagion begins spreading exponentially. Other people are affected — our families, our friends, and our communities.
These days, I have never been more aware of my mind’s infection.
Living in semi-isolation as I am, 10,000 miles from home, more time on my frequently washed hands than usual, I am acutely aware of the condition I have. I’ve caught something. I have something. But the thing that I’ve caught and have doesn’t need to catch and have me. It doesn’t. Nope. No way. I’m in charge. Not it.
That’s where choice enters the picture — to quarantine the infected part of my mind before it gets out of hand.
What does this so-called quarantining look like? For me, it begins with a kind of peeing around my soul’s territory and then choosing not to engage, not to react, not to fight back, and not to take a single bite from the seeming infinite supply of poisoned cookies my mind tosses my way.
Instead, I take a breath, return to the place of peace inside me, and send the feral monkeys of my mind back to their room for a long time out. And if they refuse my directive, as often they do, I simply turn and walk away, their nervous chattering now fading background noise in the soaring symphony of my life.
Does it always work? No. But sometimes it does. And the more I practice quarantining my mind, the flatter the curve.
Covid-19 is just a dress rehearsal, folks, an opportunity for each and every one of us to see through the illusory nature of the world and all we’ve constructed — our identities, personas, possessions, accomplishments, systems, institutions, civilizations, and distractions. None of them are real. All of them come and go in the blink of an eye.
What remains when they skedaddle out of town? Now that’s the 279 trillion dollar question, isn’t it? What remains?
For now, let’s keep it real simple. You and I and the other 7.7 billion people on planet Earth have a choice — the choice to choose life over death, light over dark, love over hate, now over later, and presence over absence. And, perhaps above all else, the choice to pay attention to that which is truly worthy of our attention. You know what it is. I know you do. No matter what name you call it or how you invoke it, I invite you to pay more attention to that during these crazy Coronavirus days of change.