So many articles are circulating right now about how exhausted and drained people feel after Zoom meetings. I get that. Back in my corporate and academic days, that used to happen to me during Skype meetings and conference calls all the time. I’d often sign off from meetings feeling scattered, exhausted, angry, and far less in love with humanity as a whole.
So why, during a global pandemic, is the Zoom-induced exhaustion that so many are feeling and talking about not happening to me? At all. It’s weird. So I’ve been thinking about what’s happening with me right now. Why is Zoom an energy-giving, life-affirming helpmate for me right now? I’m currently using Zoom–for the first time and in response to the pandemic–to rehearse with my large community choir two hours a week and to meet with my seven herbalist classmates (I’m studying herbalism with a local wise woman) and teacher for two hours every other week. Here are some ideas from my Zoom experience…
- Sing together and alone. Both work groups I’m part of sing together via Zoom. When we do, we mute ourselves (because Zoom can’t deal with a bunch of people singing at once like we humans can), and then we sing while listening to one or two people singing or playing an instrument (drum, piano, guitar, etc.), or we listen to recordings and sing along. Ideal? No. Fun and often energizing? Yes! Singing really helps. Would it feel weird to sing with those you’re meeting with via Zoom? Then you should definitely try this. You may need more singing in your life! There’s no good reason why singing should feel weird to humans. Singing is a gift all of our ancestors left for us–it connects us and holds the best and worst of humanity with similar compassion and grace. Sing more at home on your own and with family. Sing and teach songs from your childhood, your culture, your history–and learn theirs. Sing with birds and radios. Important: SciFi-Fan Lori has decided that if the machines ever try to take over this planet that the only way we humans will win them over to loving us again is by singing together in 4- or 5-part harmony.
- Dance together and alone. During choir rehearsal, to some songs, we dance. We dance more via Zoom now than we did at our in-person rehearsals, because we need dancing more now. Dancing loosens stuck energy, reminds us of what we still do have, and helps ease acceptance of this reality and the myriad faults of Zoom and of life and of humanity in general. I forget that I am actually dancing alone in my home office when there are 35+ choir members (and often their partners, pets, or kids) dancing together on the screen. If you can’t do this via Zoom for work or school, then do this somewhere, somehow. Can I dance more than before? Could we dance together/alone? If we’re going to re-imagine and remake a broken meeting, schedule, plan, organization, relationship, food system, country, or world, surely more dancing will help us. Alice Walker said “Hard times require furious dancing.” She is a leadership light in a sea of leadership darkness for us right now. She has never–not once–steered us wrong.
- If you can’t dance, at least move. Move more. If dancing together via Zoom at work or school is too out there for you, know that any movement helps. With my herbalist group (just 8 of us who are close), we sometimes do guided meditation type exercises with our eyes shut, and breathing deeply. And we see and share each other’s plants, pets, kids, homes, and yards. Plants and trees and kids and animals help ground us. Could you begin sessions by stretching or standing up? Can you bring things to physically lift and show each other or walk around with your device to share your plants, trees, and other grounding things with each other? Or co-invent movement-based ways of communicating feelings: Thumbs up, thumbs down? What is our best, obvious-across-a-thousand-miles “yuck-that’s-a-terrible-idea” face? Can we use exaggerated Yes and No and I’m Confused gestures to communicate? Could we close sessions by standing and bowing or blowing kisses or waving to each other or by demonstrating a movement (a family gesture or dance move or physical exercise move or self defense move) from our lives, culture, present community, or history? Or encourage people to get up and move around every ___ minutes if the meeting is a long one? Can we move just a little bit more together? If ever there was a time for greater fluidity of collective body (from a safe distance), mind, and spirit, this is it.
- Notice, embrace, and celebrate more of your whole selves. These are strange, often painful and scary, times. Members of my Zoom groups are willing to embrace our strange, wonderful, and hidden selves more fully in response to the pandemic and we’re sharing more of our bad ass real selves via Zoom. Can we notice, embrace, and celebrate more of our selves right now? Via Zoom and elsewhere? If not, what is standing in our way? At first, in early March, choir members showed up via Zoom as they did in person–hair done, makeup on, nice clothing on, quiet people like me not saying much, remarkably focused on the directions of our two leaders, worrying about our hair and our wrinkles, and so on. By mid April, we were far more comfortable showing up as how we are really feeling–scared, tired, needing help, straining against isolation, and also grateful just to see faces, powerful and capable of helping others with all sorts of things outside of choir, helping each other hold grief, and more free to be ourselves and share even more than we were before. Leaders, all! We began more fully owning how we feel and allowing that to show up on our outsides, too: more crazy hair (I’m just ridiculously proud of my first imperfect self haircut!), comfortable sweats on (I think I saw PJs last time, too), no makeup or shoes, more family members invited and welcome (or at least tolerated) to be present at points on the call. We look at each other’s faces now, sing for each other, and we forget our own eye bags and stress-eating weight gain, at least for a while. We started singing songs that mean something to us personally, too, from our pasts, not just the songs chosen by the directors to learn and perform. Singing these impromptu, beloved songs feels like sitting around the campfire, singing with my family. I stopped hiding my tears when the music and the company are so beautiful I feel like crying. Cats show up when people begin to take themselves too seriously. Children, dogs, and others show up to play when curious or when we’ve been working too long. The curious and the playful are great teachers and colleagues too. Can we allow them to be? I know we can here. I’ve seen it.
- Show up to learn, follow curiosity and wonder whenever possible, and when you need to teach, try teaching as visibly learning, in real time, groups. Zoom is great for demonstrating the power of human wonder, curiosity, and for teaching and learning as groups–because we can witness and do this in real time together, not just talk or lecture about it as experts. For example, one of our choir directors is naturally wonderfully silly and goes off on tangents. Our other choir director is naturally more serious and likes to stay on task, although her genuine curiosity will move her off plan now and then, too. Both of their ways of being come from places of bone-deep love for us and a remarkable love of music–that is even clearer now, thanks to Zoom. Almost every week, they get a little snippy with each other at moments, work it out in real time, tease each other, and we get back to the joy of singing–aware that who we really are is ok here, even when conflict happens. I LOVE that they both stubbornly show up as who they really are, every single time. Their individual “flaws” and differences aren’t really flaws at all–they demonstrate that we are often more beautiful, and more effective, together than alone. Especially when partnering with people who are very different from us. Even their bickering fills me with gratitude. What a powerful lesson and gift in a scared and exhausted human world and for a person who fears both conflict and showing up as her true self. Can we show up to learn about who we can be together? Can we notice and name how our differences make us stronger, more beautiful, and more free?
- Lean on the power of small groups within big groups. In our choir, which is a group of around 35 people on Zoom (70 people in person), we usually start by breaking out into small groups of 3 to 5 to start. In small groups, we do a 15-minute check in together to see how we’re doing and if there’s anything we need help with or want to talk about. The meeting leaders break us into small groups and pull us back into the larger group after the allotted time. Group members don’t need any special skills to do this, which is nice when you have a lot of tech-wary group members like we do.
- Lean on others to stay with your fear of looking bad and of failing. Every time we meet via Zoom, something goes wrong. User errors, connectivity issues, and bugs, oh my! So much failing and learning. People get mysteriously dropped, some people can’t get in at all, the whole meeting ends 10 minutes in and we have to start over. Internet connectivity fails or is fuzzy. Somebody accidentally leaves their microphone on. Or can’t figure out how to turn their video on. People talk over one another and we can’t hear what is said. People show up late or have to leave early. Someone can’t find the document they want to share. A screen freezes. Or a cat decides that these 35 humans need to experience the joy that is their webcam-magnified bum hole. It’s remarkable how often that happens. Zoom is our The Comedy of Errors, but it’s better (sorry Will!), because we’re all its authors and its actors. In my groups, we weather these troubles gladly, most days, because we deeply value each other and we want to spend time with these voices and these faces, doing this work that we believe deeply matters in the world. Are you Zooming with people who energize you? Who make all the noise, mess, and frustration of modern life worth it? People whose very presence helps quiet your fears? Doing work you believe deeply matters to your community, family, and you? When we are, I’ve noticed that the result is often similar… Gratitude. Energy. And the stunning wild and unkempt beauty and power and graciousness of true community. And love. Falling in love with neighbors and coworkers and friends and learners and teachers and their families, young and old. I can see this now, in part, thanks to Zoom. Thank you Zooming humans. It makes staying with my fears a little less daunting when I witness rooms full of humans down the block and around the world doing the same.
- Lean on Zoom to practice noticing what matters most to those you’re with, asking for and receiving help, and being a simple listening ear before offering other help to others. All of my meeting leaders allow us to help each other–with everything from tech troubleshooting to making masks to connecting each other with much-needed rest and trees and plants and music and beauty and food. We feel free to ask for help and to help each other with life, not just work and school. If my meeting leaders didn’t allow this, I’d start my own group immediately, because wow do we need help these days, and wow do we love to help each other when we have our feet under us, and what a foolish waste of community and faces and voices not to lean on each other fully and listen to each other better than we used to. There’s so much life and power and love in receiving and giving help when we need it, and in simply being aware that we can help each other, at any time, even across great distances and differences and during pandemics. Often the only help that is needed is being a silent, listening, non-judging ear for someone. If you and your Zoom humans (of any age) don’t feel free to contribute and speak and help each other and to receive help from each other without feeling bad about it or punished for it, then maybe that’s what you should be using Zoom for right now. Often exhaustion comes from not acknowledging and talking about the most important thing to those present. Do you know what’s most important to those present with you on Zoom today? If not, use Zoom to ask and to practice listening well until this practice/work becomes habit/play.
- Play together and vent together. Try a Zoom water cooler, Zoom happy hour, Zoom playground, Zoom bitch session, Zoom theater gathering, Zoom book club, Zoom exercise session, Zoom meditation and prayer time, or Zoom family hour first. These are just names for informal gatherings using Zoom–I’m not talking about special features of Zoom here. Skype, FaceTime, Marco Polo, your balcony or your driveway can be used too, not just Zoom. If having your formal work or school meetings via Zoom is exhausting some or all of you, you could work on why that is together and make changes to fix it. And/or we could recognize that being part of a global human-centered world, not to mention a global human-centered pandemic, is exhausting. And right now many (most?) of us are missing our usual in-person relaxing together times. And we could re-create some of those for ourselves. Host some virtual play time or steam-releasing time together first. Get together as whole human beings first and often (whatever often means to you). Looking silly and failing and having fun and venting when we’re upset are necessary and eventually welcome parts of play and life. Some groups can do this as part of work and school. Some people and groups don’t want to. Some may want to and will need to practice their way into it together. It’s amazing how much BS you can tolerate and overcome and even thrive in the face of, when you know each other’s backstories and fears and dreams and secret (play-revealed) powers, and you actually really want to be together. If playing together with colleagues via Zoom makes you nervous, I think the keys for making this work are a) the people setting them up have to be people who really personally need this (they have to be self organized, it can’t just be somebody’s paid job to set them up) and b) people must feel both welcome to attend when they want to and free and safe to simply not show up when they can’t or don’t want to, without apology. Can you play together? Can you prioritize play, relaxation, bitching, bickering, and venting as important parts of the whole? If you can play together, you can re-imagine obstacles, set backs, failures, mistakes, and other grown up monsters together. If you can bitch/bicker/vent your way back to the point of laughing together, you can move with/through/past individual anxiety and worry, most days. Not bad ways of being (or skill sets to have) right now.
- Remember your power to choose, notice, grieve, and rest. There’s a global pandemic happening right now. As of today, just six months past when health agencies began noticing and worrying about this corona virus/Covid 19, 3.2 million people have had this scary disease that stealthily attacks humans from our brains to our lungs to our toes and can be carried and passed on by people feeling no symptoms at all. And more than 230,000 people have died from it. This fucking sucks. And it is terrifying as hell, especially for 1) elders, 2) people with underlying health concerns and conditions, 3) people who don’t have extra money in the bank, 4) (in my country at least) people of color who are failed by our support systems regularly, and 5) everyone who loves and worries about people in categories 1-4. That’s a LOT of people terrified on earth. Can you feel the weight of so much heartbreak, fear, and loss of life now? I can: in my back and neck and jaw and in my belly some days. And. Wow, life is such a gift and a blessing–it’s hard to forget that when you witness loss of life and also courage, sacrifice, generosity, teamwork, and inventiveness on a planet-wide scale. Life is more tenuous and short than most of us want it to be. There are people around the world who cannot stay home to help slow the spread of this virus. And so many people and other beings who may starve to death because of it and our response to it, too. If you’re one of the lucky people who can stay home, and can use technologies like Zoom to communicate with others, you are doing so by choice. Your choice. To stop the spread of disease and death. Or to keep your job. Or to keep learning. Or to bring comfort and joy to yourself and others. You are here by choice, even if also compelled to be here by fear or boss or school or government. Remember that when the Zoom meeting annoyingly ends itself unexpectedly or the cat wants to repeat his look-at-my-bum-hole performance for the 3rd time this month. You have choice and the ability to notice, grieve, and rest. These are substantial gifts. Don’t ignore them.
My last tip is this: don’t spend too much time on Zoom and don’t expect others to either…
- I spend no more than five hours a week on Zoom and FaceTime right now. Back when Skype and conference calls exhausted and enraged me, that number was more like 20+ hours a week. No more than five hours is what works for me. How many hours can you spend on Zoom and still feel energized?
- When you begin to feel tired, can you notice, say so, and leave?
- When you see others get tired, can you let them know it’s ok to leave early? That it’s ok to go out and talk to the clouds and listen to the trees and kiss the kids?
- When people do leave early or you notice their minds wandering off and not paying attention, can you lead with trusting them to know what’s best for them right now and try not to take in personally?
- And for God’s sake, if you have power and influence over people (employees, students, citizens, audience members, etc.), can you not demand that they do exhausting things and then complain, blame, or punish them for being disengaged, belligerent, and exhausted?
Most people are holding a lot right now–far more than we can see through a Zoom window. That we can get together at all is a miracle for many of us right now. Every week I feel the heavy absence of the 35 choir members who cannot or choose not to engage and sing with us via Zoom. I pray that they’re well and safe and that we can be together again in person soon. And when we can be, I will offer these elders free lessons in using and singing together via Zoom if they want them. In case waves of this virus keep us singing from home again and again.
It’s easy to blame technology for our exhaustion, because wow does it have its failings. And maybe during a global pandemic it’s even wise and healthy to direct our frustration, rage, I’m-helpless energy, and sorrow at technology for a while instead of at ourselves and each other.
And, right now–in a moment I’m finally well rested because I’ve received so much good neighbor energy and love–I’m also wondering…
Can we slow down even further, set our righteous blame down for just one moment, and recognize that being part of a global human pandemic is exhausting? Can we practice trusting each other enough to simply be happy to see faces again, because they are faces, like children and puppies do? Can we play like trees and laugh like elders and grieve and scream like adults and move like dolphins do until we recognize how lucky we are to be able to connect virtually and never forget that some people are working themselves to death for humanity and some people are starving to death right now? Can we, just for a moment, imagine ourselves as the earth herself–as the plants and the animals and the oceans and trees and land and mountains, plus little us, too? And slow down into noticing the “better world” so many of our ancestors’ and former selves hoped for might actually be all around us right now? What about inviting children and animals and elders to more of our meetings, intentionally, going forward? Or offering trees and rivers membership on our boards, like the wisest of humans already do? Apprenticing with the wind and the stars and other ancestors? Growing and cooking food and sharing all extra with neighbors as a daily or weekly habit? Buying what our closest neighbors have to sell first, before having it shipped from elsewhere? Can we smile as we realize how many humans no longer need to wear pants to work and school meetings? Can we trust ourselves enough to know that we’ll be ok together, most days, even when everything falls apart and nothing goes to plan? Can we both rest more and step up to allow others to rest more too?
Can we allow the digressions, disruptions, grief, shared pain, the unexpected, the kids, the cats, the trees, the asking for and receiving and offering help, the injustice, the rage, the gratitude, the singing, the silliness, and the rest of this beautiful world to be part of the love we feel, which really is much bigger than all the rest? Of course we can. We’re doing that here most days and we’re practicing it all the time. Using Zoom together, we have an additional small window into seeing many of our community members doing this now, too. And we can see how they’re fairing. And how we can help each other, even from a distance. We can also see just how much of the world, her wonder, and her people we miss out on, on the days when a screen is the only tiny window to the world that we open. A lesson my generation very much needed to learn. Or was that just me?
Stay well. Grow food. Thanks for being your weird true selves. And thank you for showing up for your neighbors in old and new ways.
Lori and the whole Silly Dog Studios crew