[Allahummabārik. May Allah bless my writing endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Ameen]
Right now, we find ourselves living through some rather tough and unprecedented times. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us suddenly find ourselves cooped up within our own households: we have been told to practise self-isolation and ‘social distancing’ as part of the fight against this (for many,) potentially lethal virus. These are imperative measures, aimed at achieving the objective of ‘flattening the curve’ of incidences, partly so as not to overwhelm already-strained hospitals and other medical agencies with additional patients, and partly so as to prevent the most vulnerable members of our societies (the elderly, the disabled, the ones who suffer from chronic health conditions) from contracting the disease.
What a time to be inside!
There have undoubtedly been some nice things that have come about as a result of these ‘social distancing’ instructions: people are bonding with the members of their family more. Wasting less food; ‘making do’ more. Muslims are engaging in Ibadah (worship) more. The world has finally slowed down a little; we are reconnecting with our collective sense of humanity. We are learning how to be more appreciative of the ‘little things’ – like trips to various places with our friends; like how privileged we are, to have wonderful formal education systems easily available to us. A number of community groups have emerged as a result of the pandemic, with members offering to assist the vulnerable with things like collecting medicines and groceries. We have, essentially, been compelled into confronting some existential and societal truths: like the fact that we are human beings, and not robots; like how the economy is actually built on the backs of workers, and not by executives and hedge funders (and so on); that access to healthcare should be a fundamental human right…
We are also being forced to truly discover the many merits that the practice of seclusion can offer to humankind: it is true that many legendary writers, polymaths, and more, produced some of their best works while in seclusion – which they entered either by their own volition, or as a result of a contemporary pandemic, like this one…
“I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town”
– Blaise Pascal
Together, relative silence and personal space have the tendency to give rise to focus, flow, and creative inspiration-and-industriousness – but only if we give them a chance to do so. Maybe, amid this modern world that prides itself on things like almost nationwide exhaustion, freneticism, hyper-‘productivity’ and workaholism, maybe this pause (granted that we do follow these social distancing protocols, of course) will do many of us a lot of good. [And, all this, without any ‘FOMO’ (‘Fear Of Missing Out’) in sight!]
For some people, these WHO- and government-ordained instructions have resulted in full-blown personal crises: some people have discovered that their entire lives revolve solely around school and/or work, and going out to eat, and so on. Some are finding themselves feeling unbearably bored and sluggish during this time; others appear to be thriving. Freed-up time, indoor space: think of all the possibilities!
In tandem with all the things we are rightfully being told to do – like washing our hands thoroughly and frequently, and staying indoors and away from other people – below is a list of things you could possibly occupy your time with doing, over the coming weeks, as we all eagerly await the abatement of the Corona virus crisis. These are (hopefully) for your own amusement and sanity, as well as the resetting and nourishment of your mind, body, and soul. Please do share this list with others if you found it useful, and let me know if you can think of anything else that can be added to it!
- Dopamine fast.
This first activity involves quite a lot of… doing nothing. There is a certain wisdom behind doing this: essentially (and especially since we find ourselves continuously exposed to a culture of overstimulation, which can have the effect of lifting our thresholds for pleasure, and of normalising ‘plenty’) this would involve a mental (and spiritual) ‘reset’. ‘Dopamine fasting’ forces us to come face to face with true boredom, if only for a little while. But ultimately, we come to learn that there is certainly value in fewness; our general desensitisation to ‘smaller’ sensory pleasures – like the taste of chocolate – gradually becomes reversed. We become less restless; more mindful.
Personally, I have not been able to observe a ‘dopamine fast day’ just yet, although I certainly do intend to. I will sit in the garden, or perhaps in front of a window, and I will simply sketch what I can see, while drinking water. I will switch off my phone and laptop, and will get up for daily-prayer breaks.
2. Create morning and evening routines that you truly intend to stick to.
These can be as complex, or as simple, as you want them to be. But the human spirit certainly tends to benefit from having a certain degree of structure within its days. Now more than ever, when many of us find ourselves away from work or school, it would do a lot of us an immense amount of good to maintain beneficial routines.
Morning routines might include [at least, for my Muslim readers] Tahajjud and Fajr prayer, followed by, perhaps, a small exercise session, followed by… whatever else. And evening routines might include, say, reading for half an hour, and doing some sit-ups before bed – whatever floats your boat.
3. Create daily checklists.
In addition to the aforesaid daily routines, now might be a very good time to draw up some checklists – for things we will ensure we do each day: things like drinking roughly two litres of water in total; praying our five daily prayers; calling at least one friend. These checklists may look rather simple – like a list of bullet points on a post-it note. Or, they could form part of a bullet journal.
4. Read books
Now is an absolutely brilliant time to get stuck into the books that have been amassing in your book pile; to re-engage with our inner bookworms! Many of us former avid readers had found ourselves neglecting this part of ourselves, as a result of the business of life, and due to the fact that the speedy pace of modern life has drastically shortened many of our attention spans. But hopefully, self-isolation (and the art of dopamine fasting – read: activity 1 on this list!) will bring about a restoration of our capacities for deep concentration, so that we can find ourselves becoming truly engrossed between the pages of some good books, once again!
5. Carry out a deep clean of your living space.
Right now, and especially since you are probably going to be spending a lot of time at home over the coming weeks, disinfectant (bleach, antibacterial sprays and wipes…) truly are your best friends. Clean living space, cleaner mind…
When was the last time you… dusted your bed-frame? When was the last time you disinfected your light switch? Now is as good a time as ever to carry out all these often-overlooked little cleaning tasks!
6. Makeup looks.
This one is directed at the ladies. Makeup can be pretty fun to apply to one’s own face – and not just in preparation for an outing or event. Makeup is an art form; our faces are our canvases. Why not use this indoor time to practise your makeup application skills? You could paint your nails; try your hand [pun intended] at some nail art – the tutorials for which can be found on YouTube or Pinterest. You could learn how to contour; how to create the perfect eyeliner flick; how to paint sunsets onto your eyelids; dress up like a 1920s Flapper Girl, for absolutely no reason…
7. Pray alongside all the other members of your household – as a family.
I would really recommend downloading the ‘Athan Pro’ app and/or leaving the live audio stream from East London Mosque playing within your home at all times. These allow you to hear the Athan as soon as it is time to pray. The five daily prayers truly are a gift for mankind: they remind us of our purpose on a daily basis; offer us the chance to have and to maintain a Divine bond; are a form of meaningful meditation; a source of comfort; add structure to each of our days…
Baking – bread, cakes, pies – can be an extremely enjoyable activity. Right now, however, the baking sections at some leading supermarkets are practically empty. Thankfully, many of us already have numerous baking essentials in our pantries. And, what’s more, there are many extremely simple recipes out there, just waiting for us to try our hands at them. You can make (microwave) mug cakes, or you can have a go at baking your own bread. Some bread recipes do not even require the addition of yeast!
One of the best things about baking is that you get to enjoy your own culinary creations afterwards. And even if they (objectively) taste bad, because they are your own creations, you will almost undoubtedly think they are more delicious than, perhaps, they truly are…
The art of photography is a very lovely art form indeed. Some of you may have access to professional cameras; some of you will have to make do with an iPhone camera, for this. There exist a plethora of resources online, which can teach you how to create extraordinary effects on the camera. You can make ordinary household objects – or family members – look brilliant, with the help of a few domestic tools – like fairy lights and/or string.
Why not begin with these 9 iPhone Photography Hacks?
10. Sketch and paint.
Watercolour paints, acrylics, charcoal pencils… There are so many things one can sketch and/or paint. One’s own reflection in the mirror; the view from outside the window; self-portraits; images found online; ordinary household objects… You may wish to consider beginning with a classic artistic activity – drawing/painting a fruit bowl…
11. Create some indoor games.
Use whatever household objects you can, to create DIY versions of popular activities. Egg-and-spoon races; ‘What’s in the Box’; playing ‘keepy-uppy’
with toilet paper; indoor bowling and/or golf; ring toss; a coconut shy… The possibilities are all there; you just need to use your imagination, and ‘make do’ with what you have.
12. Watch some movies.
Dead Poets’ Society; Interstellar; the Breakfast Club; Spider-man; Disney’s Tangled (whose themes are actually highly pertinent, right now. Fun to watch with kids); Inception. What are some of your favourite movies?
You could even create your own at-home cinema – perhaps complete with cushions, a blanket fort, a snacks table – in order to truly enjoy your movie-watching experiences.
13. Gardening / indoor plants.
“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her” [William Wordsworth]. There is just something so soulfully invigorating about connecting with nature – with plants, and with their roots, and the soil – via the activity of gardening. If you have a garden or a balcony, Spring has finally graced us with its presence once again. It is time to cultivate some beautiful flowers, and maybe even some produce!
If you do not have any outdoor space in which to do some gardening, window-sills are an excellent alternative. You could plant a few herb plants; cress (which is unbelievably easy to sow (and can even grow from cotton wool, used in place of soil!); succulents; air-cleaning plants, like aloe or peace lilies…
Ah, the old ‘Blitz spirit’ of ‘making do’, and of wasting as little as possible… It makes cooking – which can be an extremely enjoyable at-home activity – that much more interesting. What do you currently have in your cupboards? And how can you utilise these ingredients in order to create the best meal possible?
If you have siblings or same-age housemates, you could take it in turns to cook for one another. Or, you could even challenge one another to a ‘MasterChef’-like competition, or different tasks could be delegated to each individual. Cooking can be great fun, and it involves several steps, from planning out a recipe, to doing the washing-up (which can be an awesomely therapeutic task!) at the end.
15. Homeschool younger members of the household.
I think this can be an insanely rewarding activity: not only are you helping them preserve what they know and fostering their deep-seated intellectual curiosities – you are also giving both them and yourself an added sense of structure: you may wish to draw up a schedule, beginning ‘school’ at 9:00, and ending at 15:30.
‘Subjects’ may include: spelling; PE; DT; Art; Science; Maths; Guided Reading; you could give them research projects; teach them how to use Microsoft PowerPoint; design indoor treasure hunts and obstacle courses for them… Children really can be very fun to hang out with, and to mentor in such a way.
Therapy: the art of healing. Almost all of us could do with some – some remediation and reassurance – especially at such a fundamentally confusing time as this one. Pretty much all of us have some dark or negative thoughts, which can eat away at us if we are left alone with them. But we can work on correcting them, and on making our minds paradises as opposed to purgatories.
‘Writing therapy’ is an excellent medium through which we can, in the comfort of our own homes, and for free, self-therapise, and to come to know ourselves on a profound level. You do not need to concern yourself with writing ‘well’. You just need a piece of paper – or a notebook – and a pen, and your thoughts, ready to process them. You could light even some candles for ambience…
Personally, I am a fan of taking a ‘two-pen’ approach. One pen colour represents one type of perspective – e.g. all the sad stuff, the bad stuff, the negative thoughts, the bad memories… The other pen can be the remedial pen – the pen of rational emotional perspective, and of hope, proactivity, and rational positivity.
If you are feeling too lazy to write, theatrical self-dialogue might work too… And (hopefully) there won’t be a single soul in sight to judge you for this. You can lie down on your bed and relate, to yourself, all the bad things. Then you can get right up and be your own counsellor, reassuring yourself, and telling yourself how best to move forward. Weird, yes, but hopefully quite effective.
Here are some self-therapy prompt questions to get you started. Just write – or say – your responses to them without any filter. It is primarily through being very honest with ourselves that we can truly begin to heal and improve…
- Some things I struggle with, in life:
- Some things I am hopeful about:
- Some things I dislike about myself:
- Some things I truly like about myself:
- Some negative feelings that catch up with me on a regular basis:
- Some unfavourable memories that tend to replay themselves autonomously in your head:
17. Watch documentaries.
About astronomy, serial killers, food… There is a documentary out there for almost every topic conceivable! Documentaries are a brilliant way to tickle your faculties of curiosity, without the extra mental energy it takes to read a non-fiction book. So expand your mental horizons, and look for a good documentary to lose yourself in – whether on YouTube, or on Netflix, or on the TV, or on BBC iPlayer…
Various studies have shown the immense benefits that the practice of meditation can bring to the human mind and soul. Indeed, frequently partaking in meditative activities even holds the potential to boost cognitive function, and to rewire the brain, in a very good way! When we meditate, we calm our minds; connect with our bodies; lower our stress levels; improve our capacities for deep focus; we learn to be kinder to ourselves…
In general, meditative practices do not require much work [that is, sort of, the very point of them]. All it takes is a quiet and cosy space; sitting in a comfortable position; focusing on our breaths, and on little else.
19. Write letters.
Perhaps you could do this in preparation for Eid, or just to give to your loved ones as soon as this pandemic comes to an end… In your letters, you could express gratitude to certain individuals, for having them in you life. You could think about how you first met them; some of your favourite memories of them; your hopes for certain joint experiences, in the future…
After all, who wouldn’t love receiving a personally handwritten letter?!
21. Challenge yourself to overcome your smartphone addiction.
Disconnect for a while; overcome your dependency on your little handheld device, which many of us currently find ourselves enslaved to. Bring some true mental rest, peace and clarity into your life!
22. Practise yoga.
Get your Downward Dog on! Not only could this discipline make you become completely and utterly ‘zen’; yoga workouts can also allow you to work on your flexibility, strength, circulatory health, breathing, and vitality.
23. Plan a party (for the near future).
Whether it be an Eid party, a tea party, or a belated graduation party… parties can be surprisingly fun to plan.
‘Marie Kondo’ your entire living space. Throw some things away; keep some aside to give away to charity once we are all let out. Organise your drawers; wardrobes; cupboards.
25. Indulge in an indoor spa day!
Oil your hair (and remember to wash the oil off); give yourself a facial. Have a bubble bath, perhaps with some essential oils dropped in, and some candles. You can give yourself a manicure, a pedicure, maybe even a haircut if you are feeling particularly courageous…
You don’t require fancy spa products – or even things from Lush or The Body Shop – to give your body a treat. There are many simple recipes online for homemade body scrubs, hair masks, face masks, and more!
26. Create a model of a town, or of a castle, or a house, using cardboard and other recyclable materials.
27. Play some board games.
Chess, Scrabble, Articulate, Monopoly… And if you cannot find anybody within your household to play with, certain board and card games can be played solitarily – like chess and solitaire – and there are also some apps that allow you to play with others, online.
28. Learn some crafts from Tik Tok.
Because, why not?
29. Recite Qur’an.
Qur’an truly is food – life-giving stuff – for the soul. So immerse yourself in it – in reading it; understanding it; listening to it; maybe even to memorising it…
An especially relaxing and enriching practice is that of sitting or lying down in a very comfortable position, and letting the melodies of Qur’an recitations transport you. I would recommend these reciters: Sheikh Sudais, Sheikh Read Al-Kurdi, and Omar Hisham Al-Arabi.
30. Go jogging / bike-riding…
In the immediate vicinity of your home, keeping (of course) adequate distance between you and other people.
31. Do some knitting and/or embroidery.
Superior art forms, these. You can create some truly beautiful things by practising these skills. To learn how to knit, all you need are some knitting needles and some wool. For crochet, you will need a crochet stick. And, for embroidery, you will need some embroidery thread, an embroidery hoop [optional. You could even make your own embroidery hoop using an old circular take-away container], a needle with a large eye, and, perhaps, a great deal of patience.
And, as always, tutorials for these activities can be found on YouTube; ideas and inspiration can be found on Pinterest.
32. Plan an adventure for the future.
And, often, low-budget adventures are the most enjoyable ones… You can look at maps of places; use TripAdvisor to investigate local amenities; browse through AirBnB to find the type of accommodation you would want to stay at.
33. Do some boxing.
YouTube workouts are your best friend! From 5-minute boxing workouts designed for beginners, to lengthier ones designed for fledgling pros… The videos are all there! Boxing is an excellent outlet for anger; a brilliant way to break a sweat, while working on your arms and core, in the comfort of your home.
34. Give wood-crafting a try.
The materials needed for this are actually surprisingly minimal, and cheap. And the end results can be astounding!
35. Converse with the people within your household. Genuinely.
Sit with them and talk, perhaps over some tea or coffee. If you live with your grandparents, tell them to tell you some personal stories from when they were younger. Ask your parents what they remember from the day of your birth.
36. Watch some TV shows.
Some unfunny-but-still-somehow-funny TV shows include: Friends; How I Met Your Mother; The Big Bang Theory; Ugly Betty. And, of course, the actually funny TV shows, like Brooklyn-99, Modern Family, and New Girl.
If you are feeling nostalgic, you could use this time to binge-watch old Disney/Nickelodeon cartoons and series: Wizards of Waverley Place; Girl Meets World; Good Luck Charlie; Shake it Up; Austin and Ally; Phineas and Ferb…
37. Do some colouring-in.
Who ever said that colouring-in is only for little kids? Adult colouring books (and colouring pages online) exist too, you know. This particular pastime is actually very good for mental health; doing it can truly alleviate stress, and get you into a nice state of ‘flow’.
All you need are some sheets to colour in, and some sharpened colouring pencils!
38. Become an at-home archaeologist.
Dig out some old pictures and other memorabilia. You could look through your attic; your garden shed; your garage; through ‘memory’ boxes and such.
39. Play videogames.
Fortnite. GTA. Minecraft. Wii Fit [does anybody even still own a Wii console anymore?] Or, if you do not own a gaming console, there are plentiful online game websites, such as Friv.
Collect as many magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes (etc.) that you can find, within your home, and produce scrapbook pages. Each page could have a different theme – for example, one could be entitled ‘inspiration’, while another could have a blue colour theme.
41. Learn calligraphy.
I personally find Arabic calligraphy to be particularly gorgeous. The art of calligraphy can be done using fountain pens, or with paint, or even with permanent markers (preferably those with chisel tips, as opposed to round ones).
According to experts, it takes roughly two hours to learn the fundamentals of calligraphy. Once again, numerous tutorials can be found online – on YouTube, and elsewhere.
42. Watch some YouTube videos.
Maybe you already have a lengthy list of favourite YouTubers. Or maybe now is the time to create one.
There exist myriad genres and types of YouTube personalities and videos: you can live vicariously through these individuals and their content, at least while you’re trapped within the walls of your home… Furthermore, if you are looking to drown in your feels, strangely enough, Thai life insurance videos like this one tend to be real tear-jerkers and/or soulful uplifters.
43. Generate a bucket list of things to do once this all blows over.
Hopefully this entire experience teaches us to really appreciate our freedoms and the comfortable lifestyles we are fortunate enough to be able to lead. Your bucket list could include ‘big’ things, like buying a house. It could also involve lots of ‘little’ things, like taking your little cousins to a museum; walking through a fountain barefoot; treating your friends to a meal at a restaurant.
A lot of people are afraid to write, because they are convinced that their writing “isn’t very good”. But nothing suppresses creativity more than self-criticism and -doubt. Besides, we should write for the fun of writing; the immense rewards that we can reap from the practice, as opposed to any expectation that others will read and enjoy our works! You might want to consider utilising the following prompts, and writing:
- Lengthy answers to philosophical questions: https://owlcation.com/humanities/100-Philosophical-Questions-that-Make-You-Think-and-Discuss
- What you feel like when it rains
- Letters that you will never send
- Diary entries from the perspectives of your favourite historical and fictional characters
- A love letter to the moon
- About two seemingly very ‘opposite’ people who become friends
- A play – even if you do not intend to publish your work
- A novel
- About what you would do if you were told you only had a week left to live
- About how you feel about love these days
- About a strange fictional character who hides themselves under layers and layers of mismatched clothing
- A poem (or a rap!) – about anything. Try to write some haikus about your immediate surroundings, or a sonnet about your bed.
- Letters to your future self; to your future children; to your future spouse.
- ‘Quarantine Diaries’. Make them as melodramatic as you wish.
- A day in your life if you were of the opposite gender
- A good life would entail…
- A story about a zombie apocalypse
- Write about everybody you love. Perhaps you could give these written profiles to them in the future, so they could be reminded of what they were like, when they were younger.
- You can find some more creative writing prompts on websites like this one.
45. Listen to podcasts.
Our …recent ancestors… had radio shows. We have podcasts! Plug in your headphones; search up topics of interest on podcast apps [e.g. Apple Podcasts or Spotify] and instantly be transported. A great thing about podcasts is that they can be listened to while you do something else – like the laundry or washing-up, or even some embroidery…
46. Conduct some brilliant at-home science experiments:
You are never too old to marvel at the micro- and macro- marvels of the world around you. There are many simple but ingenious at-home experiments you can carry out, perhaps to better understand how magnets work, or about the water cycle, or about why tornadoes occur. Here is a list of 50 easy educational science experiments to get you started:
47. Partake in some online lectures and classes.
You can learn about absolutely anything you want to. And all you need is an internet connection and a willingness to learn. There are some specialist sites, from which you can download lecture series; many outlets (for example, Islamic ones like faithessentials.online and amaliah.com) are also running free online ‘webinars’, exercise classes, and more; there are hundreds of lecture recordings available on YouTube, too.
48. Download some brain training apps.
Train your brain; improve your memory. ‘Nuff said.
49. Hone your Mendhi (Henna) skills.
This is a (de facto) essential skill that, apparently, all Desi girls must become experts at. Go wild: start with painting flowers on your hands, arms, feet. Move onto attempting dragons. It is highly unlikely that very many people are going to see them anyway…
50. Hadith studies.
There are hundreds of Hadiths – sayings of the Prophet (SAW) – that we Muslims can gain access to (for example, the entirety of ‘Sahih Bukhari’ can be found here). We can analyse them, memorise them, formulate questions for debate, with them. We can think deeply about how we can apply these prophetic teachings to our own lives.
51. Go on social media.
Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Whatsapp. Thankfully, ‘social isolation’ does not mean complete and utter social isolation. We may be physically distant from one another, but we can enjoy memes and fun and interesting conversations via online platforms.
52. Deeply think about your future.
What kind of career would you like to pursue? If you would like to get married, what kind of person would you like to marry? What kind of lifestyle would you like to live? You could create, from all this, a list, or a vision board.
53. Become a faster typer!
You can use this website to enjoy ‘type-racing’ against others across the world. What is your current typing speed [you can find out by visiting the website]. And could you possibly beat the current world record – a truly startling 216 words per minute?!
You can even use this website to challenge your own friends to type races.
54. Video call a friend.
You could have a tea party or picnic over FaceTime… Granted, you will not be able to physically embrace them, but you can still enjoy enriching conversations with them. You could even simply video call them to ‘have them there’ while the two of you carry out your own respective tasks.
55. Become a pro at origami.
The Japanese art of paper-folding. By closely following online tutorials, you could create an entire zoo of paper animals; paper speedboats; flowers; cranes.
Origami is a beautiful visual art form, and it helps develop hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and mental concentration.
56. Complete some crosswords.
Prima facie, maybe a tad… tedious. But, once you really get into them, they can be rather mentally stimulating, and fun. You may even find that your vocabulary expands as a result of doing them.
There are thousands of crossword puzzles available online. Once again, thank the Lord for the existence of the internet!
57. Commit to learning a language…
… or to learning several. Or to honing the ones you already know. You could even, like Eminem used to do, scour through the English dictionary for new words to add to your vocabulary. And, as well as more traditional languages like French, Spanish and Arabic, you may even want to consider learning how to code, and/or how to speak British Sign Language! If you have ever wanted to become a polyglot, now is your chance!
There are innumerable resources available online to help you with this. For example, this website claims to be able to make you a fluent Arabic speaker in a matter of three months!
Insha-Allah (God-willing) this too shall pass. We will come out of this; we will find ourselves on the other side, whether in a month’s time, or three. But we must focus on how we can make the most of the situations we presently find ourselves in. Hopefully, by the end, we will have deeply reconnected with ourselves, and will find ourselves living ‘Tayyib’ (good, pure) lifestyles: praying on time; eating well; being more present, more ‘in the moment’… I hope that, at the end of it all, we emerge as more content, healthier, happier, more creative, and more at-peace and self-comfortable, individuals.
Happy Quarantine-and-Chilling, my dudes!
Sadia Ahmed, 2020