Yesterday we wandered across the frayed wooden floors of the Old Quarantine station at Point Nepean.
This is one of the places in Australia where newcomers were sent to wait before they could participate in the community. If they or someone on their ship was ill, everyone was held here for days or weeks or maybe months until declared ‘non infectious’.
Dotted around the room were entries from a diary. The fragments I remember came out on this page:
‘The burning question for people upon arrival, after disinfecting body and belongings, was this: how does time pass here?’
‘Morning was a bathe after breakfast, for those brave enough to swim with sharks’ (top left). Then came the challenge of filling the wait ‘until dinner hour’. ie: time seemed to drag between meals. Some played cards. Others took long walks. Trying to ‘fill’ time is not necessarily a luxury.
Can you feel that longing in your own body? Boredom imposed by constraint? Loss of freedom, limited choice.
The occupants were held here for the safety of the community, to contain the potential spread of disease.
I wondered: When am I held back for a greater community good? It seems rare to me today.
Do I keep myself busy in part at least to stave off the feeling of boredom and pointlessness? Do I ‘run late’ for meetings to avoid the pain of waiting? Aversion to ‘idle time’?
When am I ‘made to wait’ for the benefit of others today? What was my earliest experience of that as a far less powerful human in a child’s body?
What was the early body experience of waiting like for the other people I encounter at work or home or out in the road? What have their bodies learned about being restrained, hemmed in, held to a shared timetable?
Do we get a taste of that same quarantine boredom when waiting for a train? Or standing in line at the supermarket? Waiting for the doctor? Or a plane? Or at a cafe, waiting for a friend to arrive? In a meeting that was due to start 5 minutes ago?
As I drew on the page and blended the soft pastels with my fingertips, I tried to sense my own energy about waiting. Freedom constrained. Food off limits.
Which part of my body feels that? The left side of my ribs, yellow and powdery, and then expanding up into my throat. Boredom seems unbearable. And yet it is borne. Not because it ‘must’ be. Simply because it is. The hours passed in that quarantine station, just as they did outside its bounds, regardless of what anyone felt or didn’t feel.
The feelings of the occupants didn’t matter when it came to eating sooner or being free to come and go beyond the compound. Is that when our bodies learn ‘there’s no point feeling your emotions’?
Mum, when’s dinner?
Dad, can we go now?
My own kids on this holiday: what are we doing today?
Living dependent on other people’s rules and timetables.
At the quarantine station, I noticed I silently and breezily dismissed my own discomfort at the idea of being held here. Long hours of nothing to do? ‘Wonderful! I’d write a novel. Paint. Draw. Chat. Play cards. Walk. Meditate. Slim down.’
What if there was no paper? Or others around me were glum? What if I was hungry between meals? What if I felt enraged and hungry and frustrated and sad?
Soberly, I am savouring my current sense of freedom to eat and drink when I want, walk where I want, go where I want, express what and when I want.
Now I notice there’s a prickle of hot shame around my cheeks: a memory saying ‘see how lucky you are, you shouldn’t ever feel unhappy or complain’.
Why not? We are human. I hope that noticing these needs not being met in other humans will deepen the freedom that comes from understanding myself and others with compassion.
I’m sensing how painful it can feel when these needs aren’t met: freedom to contribute to the wider world and to come and go from a permanent home, adventure, food, pleasure, company of peopls we choose to spend time with, creative expression, power to act on our sense of purpose in life … for all human needs to matter.
I don’t see these experiences as privileges. Yes, we ‘cope’ when they’re not met. But how painful it may be, especially when many of our human needs are not being met?
I don’t want to tell me or anyone else to: ‘toughen up, cope, shrug it off’.
Because I want to learn how to feel discomfort fully when it arises, to be with the pain of unmet needs in myself and others. That attention to what I am feeling and curiousity about others brings connection, relief, acceptance, closeness, understanding … and almost always needs to finding creative new solutions together. If I don’t value the need when it’s not met, how will I have the awareness or choice to find other ways to meet it or mourn it?
I’m wanting more to grow my trust in this wisdom. When I notice and explore the distress of boredom or resentment or sadness or anger, I reduce suffering.
It makes so much sense. Why add loneliness and resistance to pain by denying its presence?
Instead, I’m safe and free to notice every feeling. Where is it in my body, what is its colour and shape and temperature and vibration? How is is changing from moment to moment?
I’ve found that in recognising feelings I naturally connect with unmet needs. I can treasure them. I can feel relief at naming them. I can be compassionate about not having them met and open to other choices and pleasures.
And I’ve found that when I’m with the discomfort in my body, it helps me resist speaking or acting before I’m wise. There’s less urge to rush away from the pain with a ‘quick fix’.
I want to savour this quarantine station as proof to my doubting self that I, like all humans, can be with long hours of discomfort – and gently accept that boredom can be painful! I want to soak in the fact that we all savour freedom and choice and meaningful use of our time.
I want to trust that the more I learn to pay attention to my body’s reactions, the more I will be able to trust myself to live without force towards myself or others. The more I will be able to be a wise contributor to the world around me, and the more skill I will gain in influencing the changes I long for in the way humans relate to each other at work and home.
Are you confused or doubtful about this? Or nodding? Want to explore your own response?
What have you found painful to wait for in life? Is there something beyond your immediate control that you’re waiting for at the moment?
How does that feel in your body right now? What part of your body is most noticeable to you right now? Where do you first notice sensations at the moment: tight, hot, cold, buzzy, heavy, numb …?
Want to grab some crayons or pencils or paint and make marks on paper?