A colourful cup image with the word 'now' on the outside.

Strange Times

I have a dear friend who lost her job when COVID-19 came out of hiding and began stalking the global stage. She had had a life of relative ease, albeit hard-working. Through her job, she was able to contribute to others from her decades of knowledge and skills.

Now, like millions worldwide, she has fallen through the cracks of society. Just living from week to week is bad enough. But the worst thing, she says, is that she doesn’t feel useful now. That has led to despair.

The pandemic has taken its toll, even for those who have kept their jobs. Perhaps the worst affected are health workers. Tragically, many have died in the line of duty. Overworked, in dangerous environments, these front line workers have also had to sacrifice precious time with friends and family. We owe these people–from doctors to hospital cleaners–a debt that will be impossible to repay. How do we repay days, weeks, months of someone’s life freely given to keep us alive?

At the moment in NSW, I have the freedom to go where I want. But I experience a kind of community stress whenever I go out. At two of my favourite cafes, staff who were formerly relaxed are now rushed and grumbly. At the supermarkets, it’s heads-down, bums-up to get the extra work of cleaning and disinfecting done. Customers are equally stressed by having to check they are standing exactly on those 1.5 metres floor x-es. And they are concerned about whether they might have handled some produce or packet that a sick person touched.

At the Anglican Op Shop today, I was served by a white-haired volunteer. Standing behind the counter, she was protected by a perspex window. It used to be that only bank tellers needed such protection, ostensibly from robbers. Behind this gentle server was a sign that reminded her to disinfect her counter hourly. In addition, she had to clean the changing rooms and disinfect chairs and mirrors. I’m sure she didn’t imagine that her commitment to volunteering would play out like this.

Challenging Times

We are still hoping that things will one day return to normal. In an earlier post, I described the time we are living in as the ‘New Now’. It feels like this is possibly where our hope lies, in the act of cultivating presence. Tuning into the moment might have us reorder our priorities. How would we live if these were our last days? How would we use our time?

I have been graced. I’ve spent the last 50 years developing yoga practices that have fostered some helpful qualities: calm, honesty, adaptability, self-care. Not that I practice these at all times and in all situations. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and used terrible judgment at times. These experiences have definitely been grist for the mill!

In these challenging times, I’m trying to keep to a few routines that help me look after my well-being. These are a daily loving kindness practice and a physical yoga practice that includes pranayama. I am graced to live in Nature, in semi-rural New South Wales. There are three couples who comprise our household, and I’m fortunate to have their company and support. We form a small intentional community, a perfect  arena for my practising loving kindness everyday. Or, coming to grips with my behaviour when I fall short.

I feel deeply for those who are doing it hard these days. You, dear reader, may be one of these. I don’t have advice for anyone who is being supremely challenged by loss of income, isolation or anxiety at this time. For my part, I try to reach out to others, phone calls or visits, and even through my writing.

Today I came across this lovely message from the Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. He’s basically saying that the only way we can find certainty is within ourselves

Taking refuge in the island of self doesn’t mean that you leave the world. It means that you go back to yourself, and you become more solid. It’s possible to walk in the city and still be in the island of yourself. Your response to what’s going on around you will be quite different if you are solid and not overwhelmed.

I’ve felt that the lockdowns and quarantines could be seen to be enforced retreats. They are potentially where landing on ‘the island of self’ doesn’t have to mean that we are castaways. It might be where our true natures can be revealed.

I have adopted one more practice that I learned through Thich Nhat Hahn… the inner or outer smile. The gentle monk says that, ‘to meditate well, we have to smile…a lot.’ So, I’ve been going into cafes, supermarkets and in my walks on the beach, and I’m smiling. At the post office, at the bank, gardening, I’m smiling. It’s simple. Try it. And let me know how what happens.