If there is anything to say right now, it is this: that I hope wherever you are, you and those dear to you are well and safe. We are together in this storm, but we aren’t all in the same boat. If these unprecedented and challenging times of pandemic find you struggling, may you have the support and care you need. If this time finds you at ease, may you harness your steadiness in service of others in need, in a way you are able.
The metaphor of a storm fits my experience of quarantine, a time of flux, of amplified highs and lows like giant sea swells in a storm. Experiences and emotions feel denser than pre-pandemic. One day it’s lightness and ease, the next — heartache and grief. Guilt, wonder, helplessness, spaciousness, exasperation, awe – each pass through like temporary visitors. Time feels twisted — a day feels like three, two weeks feels like one. Then comes the fleeting sense of being in a waking dream, of having been swiftly thrown into a portal, only to have emerged into a new reality of uncharted territory to which we are adjusting. At every bend, a new discovery. And now this. And this. In the words of my wise friend La Sarmiento, COVID-19 has “turned all our worlds upside-down, questioned most everything we’ve known to be true, and created a level of collective uncertainty that at best can clarify and purify the harms we humans cause ourselves, other beings, and the planet.”
This has been, for me, a time of “family retreating’ — extreme social distancing together. Six of us plus a dog exercising our privilege by escaping to a small and funky beach cottage surrounded by wide expanses of ocean and sand. I say this with sprinkles of both guilt and gratitude. I have lost track of time, but I believe this is week six in this crowded abode. The situation has made us lower our expectations, slow down, deepen our capacity to be with things as they are, and redefine the measure of a day. I find myself, over and over, returning to self-kindness and self-forgiveness for my own and others’ trespasses, as we quietly begin together anew each day. To help us along, we’ve befriended a few new creature comforts to bolster us — and our waistlines — through these unsettling times. I am only half-joking when I say we’ve become whipped cream hoarders. At last count, I found no less than 5 containers in the refrigerator.
And, I realize, I am one of fortunate ones right now. My loved ones are well, at least right now. I have food and shelter. I see the love and care that has created this quarantine. I question what more I could do in this time, beyond caring for the emotional and physical wellness of my brood (which I find is remarkably time-consuming). I am discovering I am mostly a hopeful and curious person. But I am also finding that my definition of hope in this stripped-down version of life has been placed under the microscope, and as such, is getting redefined.
One silver lining given to us in this time of pausing, of collective retreat, is the opportunity to see what remains when layers are stripped away. As the ground shifts beneath us and the structures crumble, we are offered the opportunity to bring awareness to, and befriend, what remains. What is left? When all is said and done, what is most important? At a fundamental level, what is worth waking up for? In the remains of the day, what are the murmurings of your heart, your deepest motivation? Finding, and realigning our hearts and minds to, the answers to these questions is both the opportunity and the gift of these times we are in.
There is the story of the CNN reporter who asked the Dalai Lama what was the first thing he thought of when he awoke in the morning. “We thought the world’s most famous meditator would say something deeply profound or insightful, something along the lines of vowing to save the world from its own ignorance.” Instead, the Dalai Lama simply replied, “shaping my motivation.” He said everyone, including himself, has to remain vigilant so intentions are focused in a skillful direction. Shaping his motivation every morning reminds him to extend lovingkindness and compassion to others. Not only is it a relief to me to know the world’s most famous meditator must take time each morning to reset his heart and mind’s compass to align with his highest aspirations, it also points to the power of intention. The power in being clear with what our motivations are.
Whenever I get the opportunity to sit down to brainstorm with my dear friends and mindfulness co-teachers Fred and Ofosu, I feel grateful for our collaborative synergy. One thing I feel feeds this synergy is that, when meeting, we intentionally begin with a check-in, voicing what is alive for each of us, what is motivating us, where the compass of our heart is leading us. We give space and respect to what arises. This care and attention sets our rudders and aligns our boats. Although we sail different ships, we sail together.
I have found this process of setting intention, of checking our motivation and finding the pulse of our hearts over and over again — a powerful and skillful tool in keeping things clear. And even more so when done together. In the words of Mingyur Rinpoche, “Motivation is the single most important factor in determining whether your experience is conditioned by suffering or by peace”. It is no surprise perhaps, that the more and more we have asked ourselves these questions, the more fundamental the answers are. It has become clear that what moves and motivates us most deeply is the kindness, generosity, and connection born from compassion.
If your heart could speak, what would it say? This is a question you might explore with your loved ones, together. In this time of uncertainty, may each of us take refuge in, and create space for, our most basic aspirations. In closing, I offer you this reflection by an unknown author:
When you go out and see the empty streets,
the empty stadiums, the empty train platforms,
what you’re seeing is love in action.
What you’re seeing, in that negative space,
is how much we do care for each other,
for our grandparents,
for our immuno-compromised brothers and sisters,
for people we will never meet.
People will lose jobs over this.
Some will lose their businesses.
And some will lose their lives.
All the more reason to take a moment, when you’re out on your walk,
or on your way to the store, or just watching the news,
to look into the emptiness and marvel at all of that love.
Let it fill and sustain you.
It isn’t the end of the world.
It is the most remarkable act of global solidarity we may ever witness.