Recent weeks have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people around the world trapped in their homes. Faced with a worldwide pandemic, a large number of governments have instructed their populations to stay indoors, only venturing out under certain circumstances, and even then under threat of punishment if they do the wrong thing.
This has the same effect on people, as it does on animals forced to live in captivity. Deprived of their usual ability to travel as they naturally would, they are compressed back into a much smaller space, and expected to get on with it. This has repercussions for both physical and mental health.
If we examine the territory over which a human travels under normal circumstances, movement is not usually confined to the home all day. (It is true that a number of people are house-bound, and credit to them for managing that.) A child, for instance, may have a morning journey to school, followed by a lot of rushing around between work and play activities, before perhaps afternoon activities, and a return to the home in the evening.
The daily outward and return journeys of children and adults, mimick millions of years in which animals have been used to travel in their own ways. Just as zoo life is a poor substitute for wild life, so, for humans, life trapped at home is a poor substitute for the usual ebb and flow of a day.
THE RELEASE ZONE
What, then, are the possible release zones we can bring ourselves, in order to counteract the effects of being trapped in the same home for hours on end?
Many governments offer some respite, either in the form of permitted shopping trips, or exercise routines. These are two chances that many people have to get away from the home zone, and push out into a release zone. Strangely, these reflect, a little, the natural patterns of a hunter-gatherer, seeking food, and also exercising the body to keep the faculties of movement lithe and healthy. In this way, home delivery can be a bit like delivery of food to a zoo cage, depriving us of our natural ability to stretch our limbs and expand our movement footprint.
Other release zones are more severely impaired: old animal instincts such as display, socialisation, mating and identity affirmation are extremely limited. If lockdowns continue, we might expect people to find it harder and harder to repress these instincts – ironically, when they lose patience and indulge in these ‘social’ behaviours, they will be reprimanded as ‘antisocial’.
GOING ONLINE – A DISEMBODIED SOLUTION
Online life is being hailed as an answer, and indeed it does satisfy some of humans’ evident needs to display themselves, socialise, engage and express identities.
But it is not the same as an embodied existence, in which several other senses and perceptions come into play. Online life leaves out 360-degree vision, 360-degree sound, smell, taste, texture, and many other aspects of three-dimensional sensual life. In that sense, it is an extremely limited medium.
Even if we use online resources, our bodies are likely to become impoverished in their ability to negotiate the world around us. When we return to something approaching normality, we will need to re-learn much of our outdoor social existence. For children at a crucial time in their development, they will need to catch up what that kind of movement brings.
SOLUTIONS IN THE MEANTIME
I guess our solutions in the meantime will be quite contextual, and dependent on our own characters as people. Those who gain a lot from exercise may need to push to exercise more, and enjoy the freedom of movement and exploration that this can bring. Those who gain a lot from giving might take the opportunity to shop for others, integrating their ‘hunting’ instincts with an ability to alleviate others’ suffering.
Families need to respect that family members might have very different movement needs. One member might be very happy staying within the home. Another may need to travel as widely as permissible, in order to shake off latent energy, and satisfy the wish to move around, and make use of release zones. No way is right, no way is wrong. We should be careful not to insist that everything is done all together in families – even families need to alow members to act independently – it is part of our natural development and self-expression.
In these tricky times, we can make sure we respect release zones, both our own and others’. One person may need to be alone a lot. Another may need to be surrounded by family. Another may need to be the one to go out ‘hunting’. Another may need to find opportunities to be in contact with non-family members outside the home. All of these are valid instincts. If we can adapt to each others’ needs, rather than imposing one solution for all, we will be finding kindness.