Life Perspectives in Isolation: The Monkey Mind and Stepping off the Hamster Wheel

I had no intention of writing this post. Sitting here at my desk at 8:30 p.m., on a—hang on, let me check because who knows what day it is these days—ah, yes, on a Tuesday night, I watched the little cursor blink on and off, on and off, for about five minutes. It wasn’t a lack of ideas that caused me to pause and rethink what I wished to share. Plenty of ideas, notebooks full actually. The root of it was how I spent my day. Or maybe, more appropriately, how I did not spend my day. That, and the ensuing battle with my get-things-done monkey mind. And the habit of the mindless run on that hamster wheel. The Wheel that makes me feel like I’m getting things done simply because it requires effort.

In the beginning . . .

About five weeks ago, we all knew the company was in trouble. The Covid-19 kind of problem. As an international company, we have enjoyed a certain amount of insulation from complete economic hardship. Diversity has ensured no single country’s economic downturn affects the entirety of our organization. A pandemic washed away such insulation. 

Three weeks ago, the bottom fell out, and I received my layoff. I was the architect of my own demise. It was the crisis reduction plan I had authored that the company implemented. And I had placed my name on the list. The decision to do so had pitted my business rational against my personal interests. 

For the sake of the Wheel, we would sacrifice a few of the hamsters.  

We departed with a “let us not say good-bye, but rather until we meet again.”

Let there be light . . . 

And therein lies the problem. My brain did not fully adjust to the light of the new reality. 

In part because it can not say, with any certainty, whether work resumes this week, or next week, next month, or next year. So, there was no feeling of permanence in the outcome.

Humans are not good at uncertainty. Modern humans are far worse. We believe there is an answer for everything.

We don’t believe that we can, or should, live in a world with unknowns. To counter our discomfort, we often choose to think the most irrational, bizarre, conspiratory answers rather than conclude, “we just don’t know.”

And when all else fails? We replace the need for an answer with the assignment of blame. Blame is satisfying when the answers are unavailable or incomprehensible.

Essential Existentialism . . .

My brain’s turmoil, of course, had nothing to do with Covid-19. Someone manufactured it, or someone ate bat meat, or it’s one of the god’s punishments for <insert people’s behavior you oppose>, or it’s nature’s little balancing act. Politicians and Pundits can figure that out, I’m not interested in the knowing. 

The real problem I faced is that my monkey mind struggled with the concept that there is actually nothing to do career-wise.

During my previous layoff in 2016, I was alone in the struggle, and went diligently to work freelancing . . . There were career things to do back then.

Apparently, today, my incredible skill set is not incredibly essential.

Had I been fired, my mind could have moved on. But the layoff is temporary. 

I talk to my CEO every week, sometimes every day. His monkey mind is having more issues than mine. I almost don’t have the heart to remind him, “you’re not paying me.”

He, like many of us, seems to need the business talks. In the beginning, I needed them too. His monkey mind is still chattering that I’m the CEO, these are my people.

The intentions are true but the reality is invalid.

Tomorrow (that’s your yesterday — don’t you love time travel) we have another call. 

On the call, we’re to discuss things we can do for the business to be prepared for when we get back.

I’m attending the call out of the same type of interest one might show when passing a car crash. In this case, I happen to be one of the bodies on the asphalt.

But I am curious as to the expectations.

It is a zombie apocalypse, but I’m eating time instead of flesh . . .

But this is not just about him. 

My mind has found its way to my desk almost every day. 

I’ve completed projects that are a part of this year’s business plan. Even in the absence of a business.

This morning was the first morning in twenty-one days that I shut it down or, more accurately, I shut down the monkey mind. 

So maybe there is something to the 21 days to form a new habit thing.

I felt terrible for that little monkey. His disappointment was a horrible thing to see, but it had to be done and done twice in one day.

It started around 10 a.m. I was at the kitchen table, ready to go to my office. Not with the intent to work on my latest novel, which currently pays as much as my (former/sort of) employer—actually slightly more than them. 

No, instead of focusing on passion projects, I considered a few work things I might complete.

 I looked out the slider, and at the sunshine, and the shimmering pool (yes, it’s challenging to think Flu in the Sunshine State). 

I thought, maybe later, I’ll get out there and work on my tan. 

My monkey mind cheered me on—he loves when we run nowhere on the Wheel.

“Why later?” I wondered.

“Because we have many, many things to do,” said my monkey mind. “Important career things.”

“You do realize that we are not currently vice president of anything?”

The monkey mind was quiet for a moment. I took the silence as an opportunity to continue.

“In fact, you’ve been promoted to the CEO of go enjoy your time.”

I put down my phone, I changed into my swimsuit, and I went out to the pool.

Maybe Vitamin D is a Cure . . .

At 1:30, I felt, perhaps, I had indulged enough in the sun’s vitamin D infusion.

I headed inside. 

My monkey mind spied my phone. It grew anxious to check for important business messages.

I had received an important text. It was from my son. He was on his way over to enjoy the pool. 

“But,” spoke the monkey mind, “shouldn’t we do a little work?”

“I am going to do some work. I’m going to be the CEO of spending time with my son.”

Hours later, we had done an excellent job finishing off a bottle of wine and a few beers. I don’t really like wine, it makes me sleepy, but since I can now sleep whenever I wish, I went for it.

We went inside and ordered a pizza and watched a movie.

“What are you doing tomorrow?” my son asked before leaving.

“Vodka?” I responded.

“On a Wednesday, Dad?”

“Okay, White Claws, it is.”

“See you at noon,” he said.

“But, but, but,” the monkey screamed. “You have a conference call at 1:30!”

“Showing up drunk and smelling like coconut oil is on my bucket list,” I countered.

“That’s not true! And you’ll get into trouble,” the monkey yelled.

“Well, I will take the risk that I may be fired from a job I’ve already been laid off from.”

Looking at the Wheel from Outside the Cage . . .

And that was the day.

The day I officially stepped off that hamster’s Wheel. The one that goes round and round and makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something of importance. 

When it is time to go back to work (e.g., a paycheck), I most certainly will. 

But I can’t help but think I’ll look at the work in a much different way. 

It’s not just the job that I’ll view in a different light. 

In the span of a single sunny day, I realized the real value of my time. I saw that I’m running on the Wheel just to get that bi-monthly pellet called a paycheck.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good paycheck, and I like to eat.

But what I find so frightening is how programmed I am to run on that Wheel. 

I was willing to run on the Wheel even when no pellets were provided. 

The List of Dreams . . . 

I made a list that I titled, Ten Things I Want in the Next Twelve Months

I decided that nothing on the list could be specifically related to my career. In other words, the financial means, when required, could not, in and of themself, be a goal.

I had spent thirty years making and achieving career goals. And yet, here I was, still unemployed and still not fulfilled. My monkey mind could not be trusted with a list that included even a single item of work on someone else’s dream. It was addicted to the Wheel.

The Cost of My Dreams . . .

The list is impressive. Many of the items were not new thoughts. In fact, some have spent years coming on and off my yearly resolutions like regulars at the corner bar. 

But I have a new outlook on them.

Some of the items require money (publishing three books and getting a tattoo), and others require little or none (writing three books and relearning Spanish). 

I placed a dollar-cost on those that did. 

The grand total was $9,750 to achieve all ten things in twelve months. That’s 187 dollars a week.

I placed an estimated hour count on how much time might be required for the others. 

The total was 416 hours over twelve months. That’s about 8 hours a week.  

That’s all ten items delivered in twelve months at a yearly cost of $9,750 and 416 hours.

The totality of my current goals could be had for a $9 an hour part-time job and an additional one hour a day of my time.

If, as we say in the business, that was the value proposition I could sell it all day long.

Blue Pill or  Red Pill . . .

I wondered why I had not already achieved everything on the list.

The answer was right in front of me. 

My monkey mind trained me to invest my time in someone else’s Wheel and to spend the pellets earned on things that weren’t on my list.

My perfectly aligned priorities were not so perfectly aligned.

I needed this very unique situation to reveal that truth.

It will be interesting to see my life after isolation. 

Can I keep the monkey mind at bay? 

Can I keep my time on the hamster wheel to a minimum and stay true to my goals? 

As I sat at my desk writing this, the guy I used to work for sent me a text. He wanted to remind me that we had a 1:30 call the next day. 

I sent him a thumbs-up emoji because I couldn’t find a hamster wheel. 

I don’t foresee many “free” conference calls in my future. 

I can’t imagine trading a chapter in my next novel for an hour-long discussion about a place I no longer work.

1 thought on “Life Perspectives in Isolation: The Monkey Mind and Stepping off the Hamster Wheel”

  1. I went for a trike ride – because I needed to get out.

    The writing is going well – but the body just doesn’t work until late in the day on many days, and I need to move occasionally so the joints don’t freeze.

    They’ve taken our pool away for some reason I don’t get – only seniors here were using it, and they actually had a staff member making sure we social-distanced. But our COUNTY (unbelievably names YOLO) decided all pools should close, and I haven’t gotten around to talking management into getting an exception.

    The mainstream fiction I write was stuck for a long time because my tiny serving of daily energy went to dealing with all the virus-related things that HAD to be done first; now, I no longer have to do that.

    I spend my days in Uttart Pradesh, September 2005, monsoon season, and the filming of the action/adventure movie OPIUM. It’s a lot more fun, and I have a lot more control, than watching DT.

    Happy writing. Time will pass.

    Like

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