The silent retreat has ended and I’m heading back to Washington after a few great days in what had been a new part of Virginia to me. It’s overcast, chilly, and damp as we head back to the city and to the prospect that the virus will shut down most or all of daily life for some period of time. Already heading into this weekend, many things were being canceled. For that reason, I’m doubly glad this retreat went ahead as planned as something like a gift for whatever’s to come.

Cal Newport writes on Plato’s Phaedrus and wisdom for pandemics:

One of the more profound representations of the soul in the Western Canon is the Chariot Allegory from Plato’s Phaedrus dialogue

“[T]he charioteer of the human soul drives a pair, and secondly one of the horses is noble and of noble breed, but the other quite the opposite in breed and character.”

As elaborated by the character of Socrates in the dialogue, the charioteer represents our soul’s reasoned pursuit to cultivate a worthy life. This task requires the charioteer to allow the noble steed, representing our moral intuitions, to lead the way, while preventing its ignoble partner, representing our base instincts, from drawing the soul off course. …

There is, I propose, a simple two-part solution to this state of affairs.

First, check one national and one local new source each morning. Then — and this is the important part — don’t check any other news for the rest of the day. Presumably, time sensitive updates that affect you directly will arrive by email, or phone, or text.

This will be really hard, especially given the way we’ve been trained by social media companies over the past decade to view our phone as a psychological pacifier.

Which brings me to the second part of the solution: distract yourself with value-driven action; lots of action. Serve your community, serve your kids, serve yourself (both body and mind), produce good work. Try to fit in a few moments of forced gratitude, just to keep those particular circuits active.