Are We Shrinking?

I think I’m getting small. Not literally – at 5′ 2″ tall, I don’t have a lot of height to lose. But I do believe something else is happening. My social skills are shrinking, the tether to my house is strengthening, and my willingness to get up every morning and dive into my work is something I have to fight to do. This is my truth.

Other things have gotten bigger, like my desire to watch every single season of Grey’s Anatomy even though I know for a fact is gets pretty bad after season 7. My desire to stay in close contact with my family and talk to my kids more often. And my attachment to my dog who I have been with every single day for two years is to the point where I talk to him, even in public. It’s getting a little embarrassing.

Things are changing, and I wonder what it is. Are you feeling it, too?

I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of weeks, and I realized that some of this comes from our super power of adaptability. Not too long ago, we were sent home with some trepidation but a determination to get back to our routines. We missed our morning lattes, and saying hello to friends at work. I don’t think any of us missed traffic. Then we had to stay home, and teach our kids at home, and have groceries delivered to our homes. We’ve gotten Pelotons to replace our gym membership. We work from different places and travel less. Some of us, not all of us, have emotionally traded our old comfort zones for a new nest.

And, I wonder if our adaptation has outlived its usefulness.

In 2005, the movie “The Legend of Zorro” introduced me to the “The Zorro Circle.” Zorro learned that when outnumbered in a fight, you don’t go towards the bigger goal of conquering everybody, you make them come to you. Then the number of people are lessened and manageable. You bring them to you, and it becomes your fight. Maybe our ego’s fight for survival during this time of discontent has caused us to form a similar circle with a smaller radius so we can manage everything coming at us. And I think it’s be been a decent strategy.

But anything in excess becomes a flaw, and it could be that our brains are getting lazy, and it’s shrinking our courage. Repeated behaviors create repeated synapses firing down the same neural pathways over and over and over again, until we have ourselves a rut. Prior to COVID, our rut was probably getting up early, jumping in the car, driving to Starbucks, driving to work, going out at lunch, getting home in the evening and then interacting with our family members. Some of us might have done some exercise. Then COVID hit, and our comfort zone was blown up. We had to do things differently. We sat in our houses and ordered groceries to be delivered, perhaps for the first time. Some of us sprayed down everything around us with Lysol, including our neighbors and door knobs and cats and dogs. We let our homes become our Zorro circles, and we only let certain people and experiences in. And that was appropriate.

But I wonder what happens if we stay within our circle of control? Do we challenge ourselves? Do we share stories with people who could make us better? Do we forget how to balance our lives with others? Do we lose our ability to take other people’s needs into consideration? Do we stare into a pond of our own reflection and drown our ability to see beyond it?

I know we’re still in the midst of this, and I’m as tired of it as you are. We still need to stay safe. But are there other ways that we can stretch and connect to prevent us from becoming emotional hermits? Maybe we call a few more people. Ask colleagues for their ideas. Solve a problem virtually with a team. Wave to your neighbor. Help a teacher by focusing on how to help an entire classroom rather than one child. Refuse a baited argument on social media, and instead give someone encouragement. Put your energy into someone else.

Because when we’re scared we close up, our ego separates us from others and prepares us for survival. But it starves our heart and our soul when everything becomes about us. We lose our collective light when we fail to spark someone else’s hope. While control is important in dangerous times, not knowing how to slowly release it when things begin to turn can create a story where our circle of life becomes too small, and our light dims, and then everything gets darker.

Control is an illusion, but love is not. Remember that we are all trying to get through this, but we don’t have to stay small. Reach out. Share some light. Don’t stand in a circle hoarding your own. Stretch your rut, and question your ego. When you opt for no relationships for the sake of emotional safety, when you refuse to expand your potential at the cost of skills atrophy, when you start focusing only on your self and family at the price of helping others, everything contracts. That is the universe, expanding and contracting. There is only growing or dying, there is nothing in between.

So, stay safe, but keep growing. Expand. Connect. Remember, you are made of moving molecules. Static is never your permanent state. Light? Now that’s the stuff of which you are made.