What day is it?
At some point in the last month, you might have asked that question. Even with all the routines put in place. Even while watching HBO shows on your roku box on Mondays and catching up with parents on Sunday, and even with “clean sheets” day on Wednesday, and even when you create daily routines of working out, writing, reading, and meditating, you might still ask this question.
You are not alone.
For me, because I worked in a highly regimented place (school), my days were largely decided for me. And if you had this, or some other tight-knit community, like church, Sunday School and service, Wednesday night Bible study, fundraiser events, these were the signposts for your week in the future. I never had to keep a calendar because, like Werner Herzog says, if the situation has a need for me badly enough, it will call upon me.
But most of that is on hold.
Even if you did the right thing and connected these events via Zoom, or Google Hangouts, the feeling is not the same. You are not tethered any longer by that physiological imperative to “be present.” Instead, as the digitally warped voices rubber band back and forth from the iPad on your kitchen table, your mind is free to wander. Blue jays taking stagnant water from a brown plastic pot. Oatmeal with too much cinammon and not enough brown sugar, a beautiful day that urges you to take another walk. The Zoom meeting reminds us that being in front of somebody calls us to attention in ways that the digital divide simply can’t hold a candle to.
That’s the first layer when thinking about the dreamlike days of social distancing.
The deeper question is to wonder if this was ever different even before all this?
When my wife and I visited the Paris district of Montmartre, we had the opportunity to visit the Salvador Dali Museum. Surrealists like Dali were acutely aware of the blurring lines between what we perceive as reality and what in fact actually is. Because of my love for Alice which I have previously mentioned, we liked the most his paintings for each chapter of the book. The book (and Dali) remind us that what we call the “I” is really just a channel of experiences, and to hope for a steady foundation to cast deep and heady thoughts is a recipe for whiplash in moments like social distancing.
Having the world force you into thoughts you had not wished for is key to work like Marcel Proust, or filmmaker Terrence Malik. At all times the two are recalling events in their characters using stark imagery that shocks the current “moment.”
The elusive “I” as Immanuel Kant says.
The first thing to realize when meditating for the first time is just how little in control of the mind we really are, and to think that “free will” allows us to govern even the easiest questions is to forget where we came from.
All days are dreamlike days. Social distancing simply reminds us of it.