Run Silent, Run Deep

It is early in the second week of April 2020 and I am at my desk in a mountain cabin. Outside my window I can see a powdered sugar-coated hillside of snow, a few pinyon pines, rabbit brush, lilac, and a neighbor’s house—perhaps 200 yards away, and silent, no movement, no sound—we are indeed miles from any threat of the Wuhan coronavirus. The nearest grocery store is 25 minutes away.

Our seclusion began on March 19 when we cancelled the following week’s patients and drove to the Sierra Nevada.

The first few days were filled with the anxious feeling that something was terribly wrong. “We need to be at the office, seeing patients! What are we doing here?”

But then a second order of change settled in and we decided that we could just try to enjoy this as an unscheduled vacation.

We drove back to San Diego on Sunday, April 5 and saw a full day of patients on April 6 then drove back to the mountain cabin on the 7th.

And the mood has shifted again. It’s deeper. It’s silent. We’re not on a submarine deep in the Pacific in the middle of a war, and I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m comparing our days here with what our submariners lived through after Pearl Harbor. And yet we’re running silent and deep. Physically, socially, and emotionally.

Looking over the White Mountains east of us on April 4, 2020.
April 8, before the storm blew in.

Things are easier here in the mountains. In San Diego, our local park is surrounded with yellow Caution tape. Kids aren’t allowed on the playground and no one dare picnic on the grass. Beautiful Mission Bay, with its miles of beach and walkways and bike paths, is not only closed but guarded with armed police officers to ensure that no one goes there.

San Diego County sheriffs issue citations to anyone who parks near the ocean simply to look at it. The fine can be as high as a thousand dollars. Shear craziness has descended on the land.

One wag recently posted this on the internet: The Corona virus will go away, but Government will never forget how easy it was to control every aspect of our lives.

Thousands of miles of hiking trails are open here in the Sierra; you won’t see armed guards at the trailheads. We walk or ride bicycles every day. Today, April 8, rain is forecast for the afternoon followed by snow this evening. Still we got our few hours in nature.

But this doesn’t feel like an unscheduled vacation anymore. I’m in contact with a few patients, with our consultant, and a handful of referring doctors. I’ve watched our office checking account shed thousands of dollars with nothing coming in. Many of you, whether dentists or other small business owners are in the same boat.

The ONLY “non-essential” business is the one you didn’t put your heart and sweat into building. Don’t ever forget that… (Dan Bongino).

We’ve furloughed an employee. We’re unsure when the office will get up to speed again. We have patients scheduled beginning May 4th. How soon will it be back to a high level? Do I need to explain the feelings? I’ll bet I don’t. It feels like grief, the same tight dark cold triangle of pain in the chest that is there with the death of a parent or a friend. There are tears at the dinner table.

Time to run silent, run deep.

And going deeper, we revisit a hundred childhood traumas and move on.

So, what are the tools? For us, it’s a very regular routine. Up at 5 am. Coffee. Headspace (the Andy Puddicombe creation that is helping millions find mindfulness or just plain relaxation and, well, head space every day. Check out his TED Talk if you aren’t already familiar). Yoga side by side together on our yoga mats, the same postures like a couple of synchronized swimmers though perhaps not as graceful. A bite of breakfast: for me a handful of almonds and a small square of chocolate. A mountain walk, anywhere from 2 ½ to 5 hours, or sometimes a bike ride. Lunch: usually a half sandwich. Nap, if needed or desired.

Housework also divided up into specific daily chores, and a little gardening may be on the schedule (well, maybe no gardening this week given the weather forecast).

Then reading or study time. During the Wuhan coronavirus “shelter in place” mandate I’ve read Hugh Thomas’s history “The Spanish Civil War”, A.N. Wilson’s “C.S. Lewis, A Biography,” New York Times sports writer Matthew Futterman’s “Running to the Edge,” about legendary track coach Bob Larsen, and “A Passage to India,” by E.M. Forster.

Also notable, Andrea and I have listened to a couple of excellent podcast-interviews by Tim Ferriss. The first was “Esther Perel—Tactics for Relationships in Quarantine.” Here’s a link. I think this would be worth your while during your own sheltered time.

The second was Tim’s March 9th interview “Jack Kornfield—How to find peace amidst COVID-19.” I found this to be deeply impactful and I recommend it, even if you don’t think an interview with a Buddhist trained meditator would be your thing. Here’s the link.

Andrea and I have watched hours of various instructional videos, especially those offered by The Great Courses.

I read Scott Manning’s newsletters regularly and although he is generally insightful regarding dental practice, I find him especially cogent just now as dentists try to work on themselves and their practices in this time of lockdown. Here’s a link. Highly recommended.

What do I emphatically NOT do? I do not watch the news, ever. If something big happens, I’ll hear about it. I find that among my patients and acquaintances those who are most panicked, frightened, emotionally distraught in this time of “sheltering in place” are those who sit in front of CNN for hours at a time.

Our neighbors home across the street.
Dr. Halligan photographs apple blossoms covered in snow.

April 9, 2020. I woke up to a winter wonderland of snow. It’s way beyond a powdered sugar now. It’s nearly like Christmas again. I’m on the sofa in my robe watching a steady snowfall; Andrea is wrapped in a blanket. It ain’t gonna be a bike ride today, that’s for sure. Will we go out for a walk? Or is it time to light a fire and break out that jigsaw puzzle that’s sitting on the dining room table?

Meanwhile, it’s time to plan on reopening.

Yesterday I heard that President Trump said something along the lines of “We built this economy before and we can build it again.” (No; I did not see the presser myself. No TV news, remember?). And for many of us during this down time, remember that we built practices or small businesses before, and we can do it again. God and the Government willing we safely reopen the country and get rolling.

Run silent, run deep? For now, yes. Austria and Denmark are opening their economies again starting now, today. Maybe by May 1st we’ll do the same. Periscope depth then surface. Time to build it again. Now or very soon. Prayers and good wishes. We can do it again.


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William Halligan

William F. Halligan is a 1972 graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Dentistry. He practiced general dentistry during most of his career with an emphasis on restorative dentistry. He is a member of the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain and a founding member of the Academy of Clinical Sleep Disorders Dentistry. Dr. Halligan’s practice is located in San Diego and is focused on treating TMJ disorders.

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2 thoughts on “Run Silent, Run Deep”

  1. Nice work. I agree that the mountains offer something that nothing else can. I, too, have completely barricaded myself from any news knowing that “news” is designed to grab and shock you. Those book selections were eclectic and interesting. For those who get through this there is the potential that this is a blessing in disguise.

  2. Appreciate the elevation and distance perspectives. We all can use more distance and elevation on the long view, to break up the news sense of urgency… Building peace.


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