Eastern Long Island is known for its inlets. As its name suggests, inlets are bodies of water that flow inward. They are very beautiful in that they are surrounded on several sides by land and are a place where the sea meets interior bays and waterways. As a child, I summered in East Quogue on the South Shore of Long Island and have many happy memories of enjoying the incredible inlets this part of the country offers.
It struck me recently that the broad concept of inlets…the idea of going inward… is a relevant one to all who are challenged by the Quarantine. I was speaking with several clients recently who were complaining that since the onset of the virus, they have lost all of their “outlets” leaving them feeling empty and stuck. My response to these clients is to recommend that they develop their “inlets.” Since so many of the outgoing activities that we call “outlets”– eating out, clubs, parties, sporting events – are currently off-limits, I think one productive way of coping with the shutting down of our “outlets” is to develop our inner lives, our “inlets.”
The inescapable truth is that many people use their “outlets” to escape from themselves. In fact, most people are relatively unaware of their inner lives; the great mystic Gurdjieef said that over 90% of people are in a permanent state of hypnotic unawareness.
Cultivating your “inlets” may take different forms:
● Tracking your dreams every night. Dreams are metaphors for concerns we have during the day that we are too busy to notice. Don’t jump out of bed, lie in the position you were sleeping in, let the dream emerge (we are usually in the middle of a 45-minute dream when we awake), and then write it down. In trying to interpret the dream, ask yourself, “What is this dream a metaphor for? How does it relate to my waking life?”
● Reflecting on your life to this point — What are your core values? What are you most proud of? What do you still wish to accomplish or experience?
● Developing a new or existing hobby. Painting, writing, fixing bikes, learning a new language are just a few examples of meaningful hobbies.
● Learning to meditate and deeply savor the beauty around you. There are many wonderful books on mindfulness meditation by such authors as Thich Nhat Hanh
● Spending two hours per week in nature. Some refer to the process of being in the woods for an extended period of time as “forest bathing.” When surrounded by nature, try to turn off your thoughts and focus on the sights and sounds around you.
● Reaching out to friends, particularly those who are lonely and struggling.
● Setting goals for physical health and slowly working toward achieving those.
It used to be said that the Chinese symbol for crisis has two meanings: danger and 0pportunity. While the truth is that the symbol for crisis does not mean this, it still provides a useful metaphor for the challenges we all face during the Quarantine. Developing one’s inlets is a way of finding opportunity in the midst of the forced shut down of our “outlets” brought about by the CoronaVirus. And so, I encourage you to stay safe, stay healthy and develop your “inlets.”
Matthew Alexander, Ph.D. is a licensed practicing psychologist, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and an internationally recognized speaker and author of multiple books and articles on “cinemeducation”, the use of movies as a teaching tool. He is also an award-winning singer-songwriter whose 7th CD of original music, Soul River, charted at #11 on the Folk Alliance International Radio Charts in November, 2020. Find out more about him at his websites: www.alexandertherapy.com or www.alexandertunes.com and hear his music on his Pandora Channel, MatthewAlexanderRadio.