The weeks of staying home now take tentative steps toward opening doors. I feel the shift in energy as a loosening, a lifting unseen shroud. The fear and anxiety that was easy to be caught in as the unknown tsunami threatened to break against our shores, has rippled and smoothed.
Here in Australia, we have been deeply fortunate. Perhaps the tragedy of the bush fires were enough for us to bear.
Returning home, staying home. It took a while for the edges to smooth with two teenagers isolating from their friends when socialisation is a high priority.
We have slowed, softened and blended together in a soup that will bring lasting memories. Initially, in the early days of our forced retreat, I felt confronted to see certain dynamics, dysfunction, traits within this little family with none of the usual distraction and escape. The time has given us all rest, the chance to unwind and shake off the outside world to the degree we can allow. And time to re-bond, deepen connection, become woven together into a fabric of softer ease.
Accepting that Which I Cannot Change
My mother is in a care home in the UK. My fierce grief that she might die during this time, alone, struggling to breathe, without a loved one by her side, softened to acceptance. Acceptance that for sure she will die at some time in the next years, given she turns eighty-six next month. I live on the other side of the world. To be removed from my mother at this time of her life, regardless of COVID and the restrictions of travel, brings its own process.
All the more appreciation for her being here now at the end of a telephone; and the opportunities to tell her that I love her. That she is doing so well. She too has come to appreciate the small things and has befriended a pigeon who she feeds on the windowsill outside her window. Life has become simple and easy she tells me. “How wonderful”, I reply. “How wonderful!”
As we all begin to emerge from the collective cocoon of hibernation I wonder what we will bring with us from this time of self-retreat. Over these weeks I have become adept at the long lost art of contemplation, of doing very little other than appreciate the slant of light through the blue fig tree and the way a curious king parrot clings to a branch of the bougainvillaea, his bright red and green colouring so exotic, his brief presence so pleasing.
I had to let go. Befriend the voice that nags in my ear … surely you should be doing something? Write a new book, sing a new song. I have been playing the piano, losing myself to the keys that seem to produce such lovely sounds. Re-evaluate the deeper sense of identity, of what does it mean if I have no agenda.
Meeting My Stripped-Back Self
What pressures have I put on myself to achieve something, be somebody, measured by a world system that as we see now, all around us, has run a rampant race that no one feels like a winner of? And all this with two teenagers at home navigating zoom classes and online learning, and still working part-time.
The privilege of working with the very elderly who anyway tend to spend long hours alone. With social connections greatly reduced, their porous loneliness soaks me up like a sponge.
Rest is restorative for the nervous system. We are all tired. Deeply so. Tired of our relentless pursuit of unachievable goals, tired of our critics, our nagging complaining minds, the general disease of a mind that rarely is truly quiet. Rest harbours the tranquil waters of presence. Present to the small miracles occurring all around.
But the undercurrent is there. And when my attention lags, or maybe for no reason at all, a downward pull shrinks me towards clouds of uncertainty, a gnarly fear at what lurks around the darkened corner.
The future we face is utterly unprecedented, an impenetrable obscurity, a vast and dismal cloud of unknowing. – Roy Scranton
Yet the future has always been unknown. We have been living with unrealistic dreams of an elusive utopia, entirely of our making, whilst all around mother Earth weeps. The edge, the tipping point has never been sharper. It is for my kids that I fear the most. What will they encounter, endure?
Yet the sun keeps rising. Painting colours on the dawning horizon. Then departs again with a fanfare in the West. The ocean continues to surge against the sand, rising, falling, providing a carpet for the moon to scatter her pearls as she rises; so huge and luminous on her night of fullness. How miraculous nature is!
There is a scripture called the Hsin Hsin Ming that I have been reading often lately.
Here are a few verses:
The Great Way is not difficult
For those who have no preferences.
If you wish to see the truth
Then hold no opinions for or against anything.
Do not search for the truth
Only cease to cherish opinions.
One thing, all things;
Move among and intermingle,
To live in this realization
Is to be without anxiety about non-perfection.
To live in this faith is the road to non-duality,
Because the non-dual is one with the trusting mind.
After endless warm days with the skies so blue and a gracious divinity splashing light all around, the first chill of autumn reaches us. Leaves spiral in the winds and evening gathers early, bringing her quiet invitation to turn again towards home.
We have had practice now for a beckoning winter of hibernation. And as life demands more from us, the opportunity comes to sift through what is essential and what can be left on the back burner (for now at least). How to remain steadfast in this world of Samsara? It is the essence of all spiritual practices.
As Roshi Joan Sutherland writes:
Every moment, every circumstance, is another chance to experience things as they are, rather than as we wish or fear them to be.
What gifts have you uncovered as a result of lockdown? What reflections have come to you upon the inescapable reflection time? We would love to hear in the comments below.
Blessings to you all.
Hari Om Tat Sat