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Well, this column is generally about what has been happening lately, the news and goings-on, and seasonal events of the past few weeks.
Looking back on the last few weeks, our biggest event was that after two years of masking, vaccines, and social distancing, our family finally caught COVID. Thankfully, we all had pretty mild cases, ranging from three days to no symptoms at all. Also, we have no idea how we got it.
Christina here, writing about how quarantine, the stress of a two-year pandemic, and the loss of so many of our regular events shapes up when you live in an intentional community.
Our family quarantining had some unique challenges that we would not have faced in the outside world.
For one thing, we have our own house with running water, but we also depend on a few other buildings on a daily basis. Our house has mostly everything we need, but living full time in a 750-square-foot house with four (often loud) people and a big energetic dog is not always ideal. Using the Common House for showers, getting extra drinking water to supplement our extremely slow Berkey water filter (we can’t drink the water from our cistern as it comes into our sink with no filter), or just to escape from other family members, is a regular part of our routine. While we were quarantining, we avoided the Common House except for very rare essential showers, and I really came to feel the lack of that resource.
I also depend on having a yoga space to go to in the mornings. This was honestly probably the biggest challenge for me. I really depend on sneaking out of the house in the early hours to do 30 minutes of yoga and 15 minutes of meditation. However, while we were quarantining, I stayed out of that space for two full weeks. And so I had to figure out how to do yoga in a house that barely has enough floor space for me to do a downward dog. Needless to say, meditation was off the agenda.
Having meetings, school for the kids, and women’s circle over Zoom was also not ideal. Did I mention that our house is small and we have a large dog and it is not easy to maintain a quiet environment? Trust me when I say that the irony of missing something that someone said because I was muting myself to yell “Hey, I’m in a meeting, I need you all to be more quiet, I can’t hear what people are saying!” is not lost on me.
We did have plenty of access to the outdoors. Of course, our quarantine coincided with extremely cold temperatures, so we weren’t doing a heck of a lot outside besides walking the energetic dog I mentioned earlier.
Truth be told, having actual positive tests gave us some direction and clarity. It felt so much better to really quarantine because of an actual illness than to sort or stay away from other people because we might possibly be sick but not know about it.
It was a challenging two weeks, but then it has been a challenging couple of years as well.
For me, the hardest part of the last two years has without a doubt been the times when I have not been in agreement with people in my life about how to handle the pandemic. Issues around masking, vaccines, and quarantining have felt especially hard while living in a place that I moved to largely to be surrounded by like-minded people. And not being able to talk in person has made some challenging conversations even more painful.
As we approach the two-year anniversary of the beginning of COVID lockdowns or stay-at-homes or whatever we want to call it, I’ve been reflecting on the impacts of long-term stress. We didn’t have any serious illness or death as a result of this pandemic, but we have for sure dealt with the insidious stress, which is damaging in its own way.
And what has been more damaging, I am beginning to realize, is the loss of ways to complete the stress cycle that used to be a regular part of daily life here.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of “completing the stress cycle,” I highly recommend checking out the research of Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski. In short, it’s about how humans are adversely affected not by long-term stressors (the things that cause us stress, i.e., a two-year pandemic) but by the long-term stress that is caused by the stressor (i.e., our physical, emotional, psychological response to that pandemic). One specific strategy that the Nagoskis recommend to deal with that stress is to complete the stress cycle.
Completing the stress cycle basically means working through the stress in your body in ways that humans have evolved to do just that. Nagoski and Nagoski give some concrete recommendations for ways that human beings can accomplish this kind of completion including laughing, moving their bodies, talking to people, intentional breathing, affection, crying, and doing something creative.
As I reflect on the past bit, I am realizing how much of our regular daily life here used to incorporate those suggestions, and how we have had to be much more intentional (read: put a lot more effort in) in seeking out opportunities for those kinds of activities for the past two years.
A weekly potluck alone ticked off at least four of those boxes, especially for those of us who see cooking as our favorite creative activity. Add in a song circle (breathing, laughing, and crying), weekly check-in groups (talking, laughing some more, maybe crying again), some good jokes at the WIP (week in preview) meeting, some fun sprinting in an Ultimate Frisbee game, and a writer’s group or maker’s meeting, and you get to almost everything on that list.
While those events used to be regulars on the calendar, we have had to work so much harder in the past 22 months to make them happen. Holding a potluck outdoors in the winter is not ideal for sure, and 45-degree temps make it a lot easier to just say, “nah, I think I’ll skip this week.”
When they aren’t regularly scheduled, a given that I can just count on, and I have to make more of an effort to make them happen, I appreciate both how much we have lost and also how much there really is here.
So we have been struggling on, scheduling events when we can (checking the “feels like” temperature and wind speed has become a regular thing for me). And even though it sometimes feels like too much effort to arrange a skating outing or to meet up for some afternoon sledding, it is so worth it in the end.
I am looking forward to a time when we go back to those regular, minimal-effort stress release activities, and in the meantime I’m ready to recommit to making things happen, weather be darned.
Okay, now I am off to send one of my well-known emails to schedule an activity. Who’s up for a game of capture the flag next week?!
Chistina Lovdal Gil is well known in the village for her enthusiasm for organizing village events. This editor is relieved that Christina is not losing her energy for this! When our community returns to a normal level of interaction, we will need her penchant for planning activities more than ever.