Campus capers by Zuni Chopra: Little by little

Recently, my mom’s been reading up on discipline, structure in a structure-less world, and habit-forming behaviors (the good kind). She’s been pressing us all to make little habit-tracking charts and ticking off the days we get out of bed on time (as all good moms do). Despite the immediate visceral reaction children everywhere just had to that statement, this is, astoundingly, something I support.

The only way to get through an experience as formless and disorienting as a five-month long quarantine is to build your own days the way you’ve always envisioned them; and to build them firmly enough that the structure holds, even on days when you yourself no longer have the strength to hold it up.

Being productive

Discipline, then, is something that must be learnt. Not discovered, not enforced, not manifested. That, to me, is what this time is about. The majority of my hours previously were spent melting despondently into my threadbare bedspread, breezing through Netflix and wondering whether my life ever had meaning or whether this has all been some grand distracting illusion from my own pointlessness.

That was me until about a week ago. Until I realised that the work I’ve been doing through quarantine has never needed to be about the work itself. Like many others, I stopped seeing the value in the everyday practise of productivity; what did that even mean in a world that was on fire? However, I began to wonder whether it was ever about working as much as it was about learning to work. Time management, focus, work-life balance, these are all things I have previously managed with as much competence and grace as a dung beetle; now, then, when we’ve hit pause on our daily pandemonium, now is the time to learn.

Now is the time to cultivate, step by step, practices that, if made resilient enough, will kick in effortlessly when life starts up again.

Taking baby steps

I’ve been wondering, though; could this concept of inch-by-inch change, and the force of discipline in a daily routine, apply to other things as well? If I should wake up every sunrise and part the curtains to trill ‘Good morning,’ out the window, like a Disney character from a little French town, would I soon become a Disney character from a little French town? Are we truly nothing more than an amalgamation of our everyday decisions? I guess what I’m saying is, could contentment be more of a practice than an elusive, transient, fortuitous state?

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘one good deed for the day,’ but I’m now prepared to argue that we’ve never looked closely enough at it. Could it mean that kindness, at its essence, is only this: one good deed a day? Metamorphose this concept into other desires: happiness – one smile a day, success – one completed task a day, hope – one uplifting thought a day… the list goes on. It has become difficult, in our current circumstances, to think more long-term than a week; but even if the long-term influence of these practices isn’t immediately clear, picture the day-by-day impact it would have. Imagine a day filled with these ‘one’s. Rich with bits of joy and compassion, made vibrant through carefully structured positivity. Isn’t it worth exploring, even if only for a day?

That’s another beautiful thing about choices; they change. You could explore thousands of possibilities, because in most situations we face, you will almost always be given the chance to try again; to try something different. Here’s the simplest truth of all: existence is nothing more than a choose-your-own-adventure book.

So choose. Stop looking at life as a series of weeks, each day as a fresh page; break it down even further; look at every fresh second, every new moment, every tick of the chiming clock as a chance to choose, a chance to make a different choice; and perhaps, if you make it enough, it’ll be a choice that sticks.

Zuni Chopra is currently a freshman at Stanford university where she’s studying the creative arts. She has authored three books of poetry and one novel. Through this column, she chronicles her journey as an international student leaving home for the first time to study abroad.

From HT Brunch, August 16, 2020

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