“I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to feel about being in isolation or quarantine in this unprecedented situation. ... We are being stripped—like Inanna in the underworld—and we are being offered the gift of hard-won wisdom.”
In the story of the ancient Mesopotamian goddess Inanna, she enters the underworld to try to reclaim a lost love. In order to enter the realm of death and endings, she has to go through seven gates, removing seven veils or seven items of clothing, until she is stripped naked. While there, she effectively dies, but then is reborn again (this is similar the Easter story). When she returns to the above-ground world, she is a better queen, a better leader, a wiser woman who knows how to bring life to the world because she understands the meaning of death.
During this worldwide pandemic, I think a lot of us are being stripped of our veils. We cannot rely on the things that made us feel like ourselves before: seeing friends, going to work, being “busy” all the time. I was certainly someone who relied on being busy to feel like myself. Rushing from place to place and running my energy down to zero every day was part of how I used to distract myself from the existential anxiety of being a person.
I’ve been working on this tendency for a long time, but, thus far, nothing has forced me to see myself without the crutches of a full social calendar, a rush to the future, and a constant sense of busyness quite like this before. All I am doing is working from home, spending time with my partner, and doing yoga. It’s not all bad, it’s just very different from what I was doing before.
It’s been a fascinating challenge that I am both straining against and also enjoying. I’ve been barefoot at home baking a lot, which doesn’t quite match my self-image as a strong feminist business owner—but it’s nice. My world has gotten much smaller. I can keep more to myself and for myself. I am writing every day, and it’s bringing me joy. I take a lot more naps. My back hurts less.
And, yet, at the same time, I struggle against the bonds of this situation. I want to run to my friends’ houses and embrace them for a long time. I want to be able to plan ahead. I want to feel as if I am accomplishing something.
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to feel about being in isolation or quarantine in this unprecedented situation. But the experience of seeing ourselves in a new light without being able to lean on whatever it was that made us feel like us is a hard and fascinating challenge worth meeting with a clear mind. We are being stripped—like Inanna in the underworld—and we are being offered the gift of hard-won wisdom.
This may or may not be a time to get things done, to be productive, to distract ourselves, to work on our relationships, or to close our eyes and try to sleep through the crisis. We’re all dealing with it how we’re dealing with it. But we have a unique opportunity, perhaps, to see ourselves stripped naked in this underworld, knowing that, somehow, eventually, there will be a rebirth into whatever the other side of this is.
Who do we want to be when we reemerge into the light? Will we go back to all our old habits or will we take some of the gems and riches from this underworld experience with us? Even as we struggle and suffer with the changes that have been forced on us, can we also ask ourselves, “What am I learning about who I am?”
Read more about rediscovering perspective in the pandemic.