Groundhog Day

People keep saying quarantine is like Groundhog Day. What can the movie teach us?

Bill Murray’s predicament and antics are funny. Stuck in the same routine he tries various approaches. Hedonism is fun but empty. Chaos is cool but gets boring. He fails spectacularly over and over. He loses hope. He can’t take it anymore so he tries to end it all.

After beating his head against the wall, Bill Murray realizes there is no escaping the way things are. What does he do next? He decides to live well.

He learns to ice sculpt. He plays piano. He opens his heart to beauty and art. He falls in love.

It’s a movie about finding hope in hopelessness. It’s about making the best of situations we can’t control. When he stops fighting and lives in the moment he’s freed from his prison.

All of us on quarantine and all of us in our various prisons could learn a lot from the movie.

Running from Self

I spent half of my life trying to be someone else. I talked like they talked. I dressed in their clothes. I did the same drugs. I tried to xerox my way to happiness.

Every strategy was about change instead of acceptance. None worked. I was still me and I still never felt like enough.

The best advice anyone ever gave me was to sit down and shut up, to be quiet long enough to see beyond my thoughts and feelings. I was desperate so I listened. And listened. All I heard was a roaring in my head. How could listening to this chaos bring me peace?

It got better. It got worse. To this day I never know what meditation will bring. I do know that life is different. I do know that I’m actually OK today.

Something terrible was always chasing me. I ran from it, numbed it, drowned it. It always grew stronger.

When I finally stopped, defeated, what walked in wasn’t a terrible creature, but my wounded self gone feral. I was running from a monster that only needed my love.

Who am I without the roles I play?

Under normal circumstances I teach two classes, mentor guys one on one, work as an electronics tech, attend vocational class and set up for programs each week.

Quarantine has largely taken those roles away. So what is left? Who am I without the roles I play?

Feeling unmoored helps me realize how much I rely on the structures and service opportunities in my life. It’s a shift from the selfish way I lived on my way to prison. It keeps me grounded and humble. It also keeps me busy.

There are still opportunities to be of service without the classes I teach and guys I work with. They just take a little more effort and sometimes I have to accept being me without the things I do.

Underneath it all there is love. It’s clouded by fear and impatience but it’s here when I sit still long enough.

Attitude and Acceptance

Early on in prison I learned that it’s all about attitude. Guys with life sentences and no opportunity can live well while guys weeks from release can’t appreciate or enjoy a single thing.

I was blessed. People showed me what Ram Dass taught – wherever we go, there we are. We can fight facts or we can work to change them. Fighting facts is like trying not to fall once we’re on the ground. Far better to stand back up.

Accepting that I was in prison meant not having to hate each morning I woke up and saw bars. It meant not hating myself despite my many mistakes. Acceptance allowed me to choose my attitude. Choosing my attitude allowed me to be free.

So much time

Quarantine is a great opportunity to do, yet I feel stuck in place.

Writing is one of the ways I connect with myself and try to connect with the world. I value the truths that I don’t even realize until I put them on paper.

Sometimes I don’t know what to write. Initially quarantine provided me with a wealth of topics because it’s something I’m familiar with that’s new to the world. A few weeks in and I’m still not able to teach classes, work with my mentees or set up for programs. Without the activities that recharge me I feel like I’m running on empty.

I’m still keeping to my schedule. I’m meditating and exercising and connecting with others. I feel good most days. I enjoy the sunrises and give thanks before I go to bed each night.

So maybe what I’m feeling isn’t wrong after all. Maybe we’re allowed to have breaks in productivity and focus. Maybe we’re allowed to grieve softly and be numb. Maybe this is all the way it’s supposed to be and we’re supposed to learn from this too.

I long to get out and run around. I long to sit with people I love. I can’t do that right now but I can focus on the connections and joys I do have.

Everything special happens in the now. Whether it’s watching a beautiful sunrise or hugging a friend, the rest of the world slips away. So, instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we can try to bring that attention and fullness to everything around us, choosing to make everything we do special.

This is a new moment. I don’t know what the right thing to do is. We’re all just doing out best, and that’s ok

Loss of Touch

We are all losing a lot during this pandemic. Lately I’ve been thinking about the loss of touch.

During the first nine months of my incarceration I was in the local jail and didn’t touch another person. I didn’t realize the effect it was having on me.

After sentencing I was sent to a DOC reception center where I could receive contact visits. Being able to hug my friends and family again made me feel alive. It made me feel real.

Over the past 17 1/2 years I’ve gotten used to cramming all of my physical contact into the one or two visits I receive each month. Now visits are cancelled indefinitely and we’re all in the same boat.

I encourage everyone to share and to grieve the things we’ve lost and our needs that aren’t being met. We can only move forward by acknowledging and processing these losses. Grieving the end of what was will allow us to make the best of what is.

We will be able to come together again one day. We will be able to hug and dance and love. It will be amazing.

I am Afraid

I am afraid for the man in my pod who is so eaten up with cancer he can’t climb the stairs anymore. I am afraid for the pregnant guard who walks through, no more protected than we are. I am afraid for my family. I am afraid for my friends. I am afraid for myself.

There is a ferocity to fear that makes me want to run from it. For years I ran to the numbness of drugs and alcohol. Sometimes I still try to eat, sleep or exercise it away. Today I am sitting with it.

Giving myself permission to feel scared and unsure means dealing with the root of what is going on. It means accepting the places I am powerless. It means giving myself permission to be human so that I can emerge whole on the other side and hopefully help someone else. More than anything else this experience reminds me how interconnected and interdependent we all are. We need each other. The only way to be there for each other is to be there for ourselves first. We need to feel. We need to share. We need to reach out. This too shall pass.

Quarantine

Prisoners have a lot of experience being quarantined or sheltered in place. At least four weeks per year we are locked in our cells. We get showers every three days.

Despite this, I come to look forward to lockdowns. They are a chance to recharge. Having no access to the phone or kiosk, I have quiet days to meditate, read and write. I have time to look out the window and really pay attention. It’s a time to come back to what’s important.

I don’t remember what life is like out there. My daily stresses and obligations are much smaller than most who will read this. These are scary times for us all. There is a lot we have no choice and no control over. We’re all worried about those we love, about our economic security and about the great unknown.

My goal is to focus on the things I can do and take this opportunity to find that center that will hold, even when the world is falling apart.