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“My skin didn't start to change until I changed the energy around me.” - Alicia Keys
Two years ago, I called my mom in a panic and asked if I could borrow a bit of basil. I was whipping up a quick dinner and, in a mad dash through the grocery store, had forgotten to grab it. A while later, she rang my doorbell and handed me a potted basil plant. I stared at it in utter confusion — I just wanted a bit of basil. I didn’t have the time or desire to water, nurture, or care for another living being. I had a full-time job, three children, and a chaotic life. Ever grateful for the gift, I tried to keep the plant alive. But eventually, life got in the way and it died.
Prior to the pandemic, my overscheduled life was problematic in many ways. I hosted monthly socials, threw family functions, and chauffeured my children through a revolving door of birthday parties, dance recitals, and playdates. I had a cyclical string of hair and nail appointments for galas, fashion events, and photo ops. Only partially present in each activity, my mind performed a steady stream of logistical gymnastics to prep for the next task. Waking each day at 5 a.m. and ending every night with a two-mile run, my legs and mind wildly sprinted on a never-ending treadmill with little time for self-reflection.
Yet, and still, I loved my life. The pandemonium was familiar and secure. It was the life I chose and purposely built. Never bored or lonely, I felt fulfilled and lived every day like it was my last. I sought joy in the parties, friends, and brunches stacked one on top of the other and enjoyed living in my purpose. This was me, and I knew nothing different.
Then the pandemic hit, and with it, the words “shelter in place” scared me. The thought of home confinement for an unspecified period of time seemed unreasonable, like a parent telling a child to go to their room. The first few weeks were uncomfortable as I transitioned from a fast-paced schedule into one of excruciating monotony. All days felt the exact same and the duplications were suffocating. The interesting twists and turns that once gave me life were now unreachable. The repetition was frustrating, unnerving, and uninspiring. Knowing that depression was on the horizon, I braced for impact. But the exact opposite happened.
Several weeks in, I noticed the self-induced negativity was eating me alive. I desperately wanted to break my own toxic cycle, realign with my soul, and connect with inner peace. I needed to find my resiliency and empower myself to survive my personal crisis. Destined to reclaim my life, I made the conscious decision to thrive.
I approached my path to freedom as if I were in an escape room. I silenced my natural instinct to panic and turned on my thinking cap. Scanning my small habitat with a fresh sense of purpose, I took inventory of some items that may be of use later. My short list included the backyard, a forgotten blanket, and an old folding chair. With these tools in my back pocket, I began devising my escape route.
I spent weeks transitioning my backyard into a beautiful retreat. I looked around the yard and remembered my mom’s basil plant from years ago. Could I give my faulty green thumb another shot? With nothing to lose, I decided to build a garden. For weeks, I sowed, watered, and witnessed my harvest come alive. And it wasn’t just basil; I grew 15 different herbs and vegetables. In the mornings, I studied the nuances of soil health and changing characteristics of each plant leaf. Over time I learned the art of nurture, patience, and gratitude for small growth and progress. Soon, my pastime transitioned into soul therapy. My happiness began to bud. I saw life.
Every afternoon I grabbed my forgotten blanket and set up a picnic in the park. As the kids biked and played I spread my blanket in the shade, ate a quiet lunch, and stared up at the sky. I would watch the clouds drift apart, regroup, and reshuffle into new forms, much like my own changing state. With the sun on my skin and the sounds of nature providing a soundtrack, I learned to meditate. An inner peace began to sprout. I heard life.
In the evenings, I often grabbed my old folding chair, sat on the porch, and watched the sun set. One day I noticed an oversized tree in my front yard I had somehow missed all these years. I stared at the tree for hours while watching the beautiful evolution of the evening sky. In this moment I realized that I no longer ran from despair but toward the light. Bearing witness to majestic solar transitions and fully present in this process, my soul blossomed. I felt life.
I intentionally practice these activities every day of my quarantine. The repetition is now refreshing, invigorating, and inspiring. I am no longer concerned with my hair, nails, or the hottest party. I seek fulfillment in the beauty of the mundane. What originally felt like a government-mandated adult time-out several months ago now feels like a self-constructed sanctuary. My escape room, once a windowless cell, is now a sunroom full of rich life. No longer burdened with the intrinsic desire to flee, I now wish to stick around here for a bit and just be. I am grateful my self-expansion uncovered a new, fresher layer of me. I certainly miss my old world, but for now I am more than okay. I met a new me, and I like her.
This essay previously appeared on Zora.