“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”
This will not come as news that almost all universities in the United States have shifted to a form of remote instruction right about now. As a graduate student myself, the notification that Tulane University is shifting to remote instruction came as quite a shock, even though we were expecting that to happen. For those who are not aware of the term, remote instruction basically means that all classes/exams/seminars/presentations will be conducted online going forwards and until further notice. This means that there will no longer be any in-person classes. Given the situation with the Coronavirus, it is being done in the best interest of students because by cancelling all in-person mandatory gatherings, the universities have basically removed any compulsion for students to come together in a group all the while still continuing to learn.
I will be honest with you, even though mine haven’t really started yet, this whole online classes scenario does not make me the happiest because a majority of my motivation to study and maintain a routine comes from the set time table we have to often follow being a graduate student – for instance catching the bus on time; getting to class on time; heading to the library; stuff like that. And shall I mention, the change of scenery itself is such an amazing source of inspiration, it just blows my mind.
Now that we will not enjoy that luxury for a little while (for us it is this whole semester), you might find yourself in a peculiar state of mind. What do you do with all that extra time? How do you deal with social distancing? Are you being forced to become a temporary introvert? Well my answer to that last question is a single syllable – “yes”. As for how to deal with it, well that is why we are here.
Build a Steady Study Routine
First and foremost, you need to remind yourself that the semester is still on-going. Even though the classes would be conducted online, the midterms and assignments, the finals and prelims, are still happening. So you need to get with the program. Trust me when I say, despite the fact that you have more time now, you will end up wasting even more of it if you do not make a conscious effort. So design your daily activities around a steady study routine to make it workable. You can start with writing down all important dates, readings to be finished, text book chapters to be read and assignments due. Divide them into doable segments and assign those segments to dates by spreading them equally throughout your week and then subsequent months. The last bit of advice is to stick to that routine to ensure you do not fall behind and since there is no obligation to be anywhere anymore, you can be as dedicated a nerd as you would like.
Catch up on your reading
For me, this has been one of those rare opportunities where I can dedicate some of my time to my first love i.e., reading. During PhD, you have so much of your routine readings like research articles and text books, that whatever time you actually have, ends up being dedicated to those mandatory texts. So on our last day of campus visits, I raided our university’s library to stock up on some of the titles I had been yearning to read. I curtailed myself to 12 worthy titles and made it a goal to finish reading these 12 books before the end of term. Its a hefty target but I am all for it. You can find my list of ten books to read during quarantine on my blog or by clicking the link.
Build a Self Care Routine
Next up is self-care and you do not have to be a woman to have a self care routine. Most graduate students and especially PhD graduate students, end up looking like they live under a bridge because the routine simply does not allow for a complicated self care ritual. Well, guess what? Now you have the time. Self care also means trying to achieve that morning routine you had been eyeing like waking up at 6 AM! Since you do not have to be anywhere physically, you can just take a nap during the day if initially such a challenging routine makes you sleepy. Also, this would be the perfect time to try out some home workout/yin yoga videos especially since physical cardio activity is significantly curtailed. Some of my favorite are from this YouTuber but you can find many more. Trust me when I say that there will never be a better time to test out a self care ritual that makes you feel accomplished and on top of your game. So order those hair oils from Amazon and some bath salts while you are at it and allow yourself a time truly dedicated to pampering yourself. It is life altering.
Create a Spiritual Routine
Spirituality/meditation is also something that takes a hit when your days get busier. But now, you literally have the whole day to yourself to do with it as you like. Catch up on reading some “tafseer” or simply meditating by a burning candle with some light classical music in the back ground. As a muslim, I’ll tell you, the thing that has me most excited is that you can actually make an effort to be prompt in your prayer timings as well because (for the millionth time) you do not need to be anywhere so being punctual within the confines of your living space gets less complicated.
Redefine your eating habits
I know I know, we never really have the time to cook and be creative with what we eat. So it’s mostly just the same old quick meals and instant noodles and what not. But now – and I say it with the same lure of time – you can actually take the time to cook what you would love to eat. I would still recommend meal prepping, as in cooking two to three meals in one go so that you do not end up cooking every day as it is time consuming, but cook! Cooking can itself be so therapeutic and a home cooked meal beats any take out any day.
Remember spring cleaning? Well, do that now. There was never a better time to sort out your winter clothes and put them away. Bring our the spring wardrobe, organize that pantry and sort out your mail. The less clutter you have around you, the happier you will be. There is something about a deep clean & reset routine that purifies your mind. And you know they say that a cluttered living space is a cluttered mind but you never really believed? Well, test it out for your self. This can also include a digital de-clutter. Sort out your laptop/phone/hard-drive and keep only what matters. Take a look at my spring clean and reset routine.
Indulge in some hobbies
Have you been looking to try out some new hobbies but all the time you were not studying or eating or sleeping, you were using in commuting to and from your classes/seminars/conferences and stuff? Well now you have all that in-between time to spend as you like. So why not to indulge in that scrap-booking activity that you really wanted to try? Or maybe other arts or crafts; or maybe a bunch of new recipes? There are so many things you can try in the extra four five hours that you have now. What is even more amazing is that creative allows for a cleanse like no other because you simply provide your inner self an outlet.
Say yes to Netflix
Redefine Netflix and chill! After spending a productive day and indulging in a robust routine, allow yourself a warm dinner and amazing TV. Netflix these days has some amazing new shows that will keep you hinged to the TV for longer then you ideally should but hey, it is all worth it. I am all about good old fashioned entertainment and you end up learning something in the process. You and your TV – come on, it is me time at its best.
I am a strong proponent of the power of writing down your thoughts and the impact it can have on your mental well being. So naturally, I would recommend that you take some of the granted extra time to journal. Just grab a random notebook or even a stack of loose leaf paper and jot down whatever is in your mind. Who knows what ideas might erupt and what bounty unleashes.
Reflect and Contemplate
I recently read some really amazing thoughts on a Facebook page owned by Hamid Dabashi and I share them here:
“Maybe Mother Nature is telling us something with this new Virus— maybe she’s correcting course — telling us we are grounded for misbehaving— stock markets are fumbling, productivity is down, factories are closed, the air is clearing over China, flights are cancelled over the Atlantic, jet fuels are not destroying the atmosphere, politicians and lobbyists and the ruling elites of governments are sick and resting at home, we run less from ourselves and are forced to live in isolation with our families . . .
Maybe what’s now called “social distancing” is an occasion for a moral retrieve— for what the mystics used to call “Khalvat”— contemplative solitude — a solitary confinement within our own souls —
From what we know it is the older generation that is most vulnerable to this virus, people of my generation and older, those responsible for bringing the world to its current precipice—
Today I’ll be teaching my first virtual class of my entire career — maybe that’s how it should be — give the world the virtual worth of what we are good for, what we know, and don’t much bother and harm it with our residual presence—”
Think, reflect and analyze! Contemplation is a lost mystic characteristic but holds immense power. You can read my thoughts on contemplation here.