I’m tossing, flipping, and restless in a hotel room alone in the middle of the holiday season because I may have contracted the coronavirus. It has been five days since I self-quarantined. When the urge to get the hell out of this unfamiliar place and go to my home and spend the holidays with my family hits my heart, I close my eyes and imagine.
“My mind flashes back to a New Year’s family gathering in 2019. I clearly see myself in the living room with my mother, brother, and grandmother. My father is outside talking with his neighbors. My mother is preparing a special lunch for the entire family that includes a traditional Ethiopian dish. She keeps going back and forth, fetching one thing or another that she might need when the rest of the family arrives in her home and joins us. I can hear my grandmother’s reciting of a torrent of Christmas prayers.”
My mind continues to conjure up beautiful images…
“I see my mom’s face wrinkled with age yet still beautiful, which I’ve seen for decades. I see my brother watching a Tennis match on the TV while the rest of the family gathers around my grandmother to hear stories about grandfather we’ve lost 6 years ago. I see my boyfriend laughing at something my aunt said.”
I see all these beautiful images like exploring a new neighborhood in a new city, full of surprises and the thrill of discovery.
I open my eyes and I’m alone in an unfamiliar bed. But I feel better. My family is not here with me. But they sure are in my mind’s vivid image. Even though I’m going to spend this year’s Christmas and New Year alone, I’m okay.
Why am I telling you this?
Because I want you to practice inside looking, my friends. Right now, most of us cannot spend the holidays with all members of our family. For some of us, we can’t even spend the holidays with our significant other. There is something we can do to spend the holidays with our family, though.
Use the magic of your mind’s eye.
Your mind is a magic place. You can picture the person you love the most. You can see them sitting on the couch, eating cereal, ranting about something charming, like how it bothers them when you change the TV channel.
During this holiday season, your most precious memories can be your sanctuary.
Inside looking can help you to replay fond memories whenever you need them. It can replace loneliness in your present moment with a beautiful image. It can help you spend this year’s holidays with your entire family in your mind’s eye.
How do I know it helps?
Because I’ve been practicing inside looking for five days and nights since I’ve locked myself in a room.
For the past few days, anxiety accompanied me since I was told to self-quarantine like a halo on an angel’s head. When the walls of the hotel room I rented for two weeks feel like they are closing in around me. When the longing to spend the holidays with my family grows so large in my chest, I can hardly breathe. When I can’t drag in a proper breath, I close my eyes and look inside. I imagine a particular holiday memory with my family. All of us lying around watching a movie together. I let myself imagine small, familiar touches and the inside jokes, and the warmth of such simple intimacy.
I had plans for the holidays. A plan to prepare my boyfriend’s favorite dish and surprising him on New Year’s Eve. We had already decided we were going to spend the holidays in our simple home. And we have kindly asked everyone from both of our families not to come to our home. We are not those irresponsible people who gather people in their homes and celebrate the holidays as if the raging virus is not killing people every day.
But I had to throw the simple holiday plan I had out of the window. Why? Because of an international trip, I made at the end of November.
Because I’m a team leader in the Institute I work for, I had to travel and meet our partners to discuss new training plans for 2021. For the first time since the pandemic started, I traveled to Dubai to give training for 21 days with one of my colleagues. We delivered online classes and workshops from our hotel rooms. No standing in front of people and breathing the same air for hours. In the three weeks, we stayed, my colleague and I met our partners in the Middle East for a meeting two times. We kept our distance while discussing training modules and future clients.
With all these precautions, I still may have contracted the virus.
After 3 weeks of intense work, I was in a hurry to go home and spend the holidays with my boyfriend.
Except I was told to self-quarantine.
When the plane carrying travelers from Dubai arrived at the Ethiopian international airport, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was almost home. But my wish was not to be. When every traveler was tested for COVID-19 at the checking point, one traveler from the plane I flew in tested positive. Those of us who were on the same plane were told to self-quarantine for 15 days.
Goodbye, my holiday plans. Now, I can’t even spend the holidays with my boyfriend.
I called him and told him the bad news. “I’m not coming home.” “Wait! What?” He begged me to come home despite the risk. But we both know it’s dangerous as my 81-year-old grandmother is staying with us since her eyesight has gotten poor. “I’m going to stay in a hotel,” I told him. It’s better to be safe than to be sorry.
I will stay at the hotel for 10 more days and because it’s COVID, I cannot make all my friends come and hang with me and sneak in red wine.
But the thing is… I’m okay.
Something unexpected is saving me from loneliness in these holiday times.
I close my eyes and picture a vivid image. I see my boyfriend sleeping like a lion, like a man with a clear conscience, like a rock. I see him destroying the integrity of our bed by tearing out the sheets, rolling them into a ball, and pushing them with his big feet down to the bottom of our bed.
What a beautiful magic our mind is.
I close my eyes (sometimes I leave them open) and picture my entire family celebrating the holidays together. It doesn’t matter that I’m alone in a hotel and my boyfriend is on the other side of town taking care of my grandmother. That my boyfriend’s sisters and parents live outside the city. That my mom and dad are alone in their home. That my brother is living across the Atlantic Ocean.
I’m climbing all the way back home thanks to my mind’s eye.
Here are 3 steps you can take to practice inside looking:
Close your eyes (or let them open) and see through your mind’s eye.
Maybe lie down so you’re cozy. A blanket is nice. Okay. What do you see? If you answer, “Ugh, nothing.” You’re not looking. Really look. Inside. Be patient. At first, it’s dark in there. But if you really look, you will start to see shapes and light flecks forming behind your eyelids. You’ll see pictures.
What you see can be a memory. Your lover’s lingering touch. Your mother’s embrace. The unique scent of your grandmother. Your entire family eating a special dinner in the living room of your family home. The mouth-watering smell of your mom’s kitchen. Your husband kissing your forehead absently while he watches the news on the TV. Your aunt telling you the latest rumor in town before dinner is served.
What you see can be words, like love and happy holiday wishes.
After picturing an image…
Examine what you see: dive in deep beyond looking.
Looking isn’t the same thing as examining.
Don’t just look into an image that comes to your mind. Look into details. You find the stories there. When I examine the images of my family, I don’t just look into an image I see, I dive in. I dig deep. It’s like looking at a picture by calling out all your senses.
For example, I see this image of taking my boyfriend to my mom’s home for the first time. When my mom served dinner, I looked at my boyfriend’s eye for a fraction of a second, but it’s a second I could live in for the rest of my life. I took my eyes away from him and swallowed hard as my heart attempted to beat right through my chest.
When I dive into this image, the image becomes a story when I realized my boyfriend was a keeper.
When you examine what you see, stories with intimate details come out. These details are your stories to keep. To replay anytime you want. These stories are inside you to help you climb all the way back home.
Whatever you see, write about it. Really explain it until it becomes a story.
After examining what you see…
Convey: dive in deep to get a meaning.
Examining isn’t the same as conveying.
What does your image mean to you?
Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, in his powerful book, Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote about the power of our mind’s eye. In his book, Frankl talked about a powerful image of his wife and how the meaning he attached to the image helped him survive horrible incarceration.
“Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun, which was beginning to rise.” — Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning
For Frankl, the vivid image of his wife was life to him.
Give meaning to what you see in your mind’s eye. What does the image mean to you? Is it love? Intimacy? Caring? Sisterhood? Brotherhood? Motherhood? Fatherhood? Friendship? A relationship? Family? This exercise of translating words or images — the essence of what you perceive — into meaning can deliver you to some place fresh.