Quarantine is my Refining Fire

There’s no time like the present to deal with put-off problems.

By Kali Morgan

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Wait too long and you’ll get stuck in the sand. (Photo taken in Bandar-e-Laft, Qeshm, Iran)

It’s ironic that coronavirus showed its ugly face right at the time when most Iranians are in the middle of khooneh tekooni, or the annual ‘house-shaking’. It’s a period of extreme deep-cleaning before the Persian New Year (which coincides with the Spring Equinox). You must be ready for the new year, be your best self, and be ready for loads of guests at any time! I had been cleaning a little too, but as the pandemic hit before the new year, I also felt the communal frustration of uncompleted plans and preparations. The cleaning to date has never stopped and I am still stuck attempting to tidy the same rooms and items over and over again, repeating the same processes ad nauseum day after day. It’s also an accurate metaphor for my personal, inner life, and it has not been lost on me.

Escapism No Longer Possible

I am a big-time procrastinator, claiming the need to wait for better conditions to discuss, enact, publish, plant, you name it. Today is never the day, but tomorrow might be!

As you can imagine, this has led to countless unfinished projects, unwritten great ideas, weak attempts at gardens, unresolved discussions, and a very messy home and personal life. Things get really bad when absolute work deadlines show up and the false ‘balance’ tilts completely in one direction. Combine the never-ending pile of to-do’s with being stuck in the same place, day after day, and you will find a person at the almost-breaking point. This quarantine has not been easy, and for all the beloved walks and excursions I am no longer taking, I have all the more time to lay in the bed I have made, so to speak. It is not pleasant. It is extremely painful.

I have all that much more time to lay in the bed I have made, so to speak.

Now the future I have been worried about has suddenly shown up, and I am not prepared in the least!

Repair and Rebirth

This time of frustration and reflection, self-criticism, and resulting stress from past decisions now coming to a head has made me desperate for change and for improvement. The few times I have actually accomplished anything has left me hungry for more of that good feeling. I want to finish the cleaning and celebrate some results, finally!

It’s become evident that a lack of planning and adherence to any sort of structure is the most prominent factor in my personal delinquency. So what can I do to change? I have tried to make schedules and failed at following them so many times. What’s the best way to bust this bad habit?

  1. Do a deep cleaning on myself

Fortunately, I have some amazing people in my online network who have been through this before and have made resources for how to break free. I recently started a 10-day reset course on how to “design my daily practice.” In the first video, instructor Heather Jo Flores talks about her own history and habits keeping her from her full potential:

“It took me a long time to tune into that and to recognize what I was doing; that I was undoing myself, undoing my dreams by behaving in these ways.”

Those words could not better describe what I am currently doing — in effect, my bad habits are my worst enemy, and by not changing them, I am basically building on a bad foundation, and that’s why everything always falls apart or does not last.

It’s ironic that I’ve been working toward a Permaculture Design Certificate and yet I haven’t actually sat down to completely deal with zone 00, or my inner landscape til now. If my longed-for permaculture homestead is to happen some day, now’s the time to start laying the foundation, not a few months from now.

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Sprouting onions in teacups

2. Start tending a plant, then add on

Heather also mentions how the rhythm, seasonality, and needs of a garden were ultimately very helpful in getting her to make a routine and plan for her own life. It is coincidental that lately I, too, have started to have a deeper involvement in our garden, and have been feeling more accomplished and more energetic after my daily aphid-squashing, flower watering, and rosebud inspections.

Even though I can’t go out and buy all the garden supplies I want now, I’m not letting that stop me! There are plenty of resources out there about how to start growing veggies from food scraps or from seeds taken from spice collections. I’ve started small and added on as I have gotten better at keeping something alive. Daily tending has added a lot of value to my life; I have learned to check in and care for something on a regular basis and adapt as needed. I have also learned what happens if I don’t keep up the routine; unchanged water for onions will lead to rot and carrot tops will drink up water so fast you may need to water twice a day or they will wither!

But to make sure I spend time working on these plants, I have shifted some habits to force me to get outside more. We moved our washing machine to the basement (whose door leads to the garden), and as it is an old-school machine that requires moving the laundry from one compartment to the other every 15 minutes, I make that in-between wait time my gardening time. So far, it’s been working quite well.

3. Prioritize and make boundaries

I tend to take on way more than I can ever finish. Everything is interesting, and I can see myself able to contribute to many projects, all the time. Somehow I never seem to understand that my actual available time every day is much less than the amount I think I have. Especially these days, when we are all at home, all the time! So now my policy is to finish the highest priority things before starting something else. No more “multi-tasking”, especially with parenting and computer work. You cannot answer emails while reading a story. Ever.

Boundaries are important, too. Scheduling the time for when specific types of work happen and not running to check my device each time it pings are two easy ways to make sure I stay focused on my family when it’s their time. When I allow work access to my every waking moment, everyone, not just me, suffers. Plus, I don’t get that much done.

4. Let someone else take on a task or two

I nearly drove myself, my marriage, and my work over a cliff these last couple months. I was doing everything: cleaning, cooking, writing 24 documents, work calls, bath times, homeschool, gardening, bedtime stories, etc. I was pissed my husband wasn’t doing more, and yet I wouldn’t let him. I may be able to clean a toilet better, but can I juggle that along with everything else all at the same time? NO!

I’ve also learned to not volunteer for everything that comes up at work. Let your coworkers share the load. If they need some coaching on a specific task, do that, but you are always going to be expected to do the same massive workload if you always take on so much. Keep it manageable and your energy levels up so you can step in if need be, and not the other way around. Just because you are copy-writing at the moment doesn’t automatically mean you are any less a writer. Give others a chance to try things you excel at, and then do the easy work (for you) and clean it up if needed.

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Potential, waiting to be nurtured and harvested (Photo taken in Tehran, Iran)

First Things First

As I stated earlier, I am not ready — my garden is not planned. My home is still only 25% cleaned. This home isn’t even the home we plan to stay in — it’s a temporary abode til we find that dream homestead.

Nothing is in the perfect condition that I had been waiting for.

But would anything ever have been perfect? Why am I putting all on hold for a possibility? I can be doing what I desire now. The setting isn’t perfect. Maybe someday I will have that homestead. But for now, this is what I have and I will not squander it or myself.

I ask myself again and again, what do you wish you had going on now that an apocalypse of sorts has arrived? What could you have been doing before now to be ready? I’m starting with all those wishes and desires and applying them to now. I might have to start over if we do move at some point. But I will be quicker and more proficient in reestablishment and replanting. And I will have actually done something to be proud of in the meantime. Start small and build the foundation first, and the rest will come, if they are still right. Plus, as more expertise comes in mastering the small things, they can be shared with others and the ‘next level’ will come with more ease.

But none of that is possible unless I’ve made the foundation ready. So, time to take a moment to sort and organize, and then the real building can start being built. If it’s stable and solidly built, it won’t fall apart (like it did this time) when the next catastrophe comes along.

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