Feeling Joy, Despite the Pandemic

I feel sad for so much of the world. Lately, I have felt sad for the health of the earth, sad for people affected by bushfires, sad for the animals compromised by human decisions. But now, I feel sad for the masses of people affected by the Covid-19 virus. It has overwhelmed us. There is so much suffering, caused directly through ill health or indirectly through the consequences of trying to keep it under control. The situation is dire.

We all know this. We keep watch on it every day. We are all sad. Some of us are so sad, we are depressed. Some of us accept the sadness and put it aside, enabling us to help others, or learn new skills or join virtual social groups. Some of us have become highly creative.

And some of us are still able to feel joy. Joy in the time of a pandemic feels inappropriate. It feels forbidden.

But due to my personal circumstances, I am feeling joy. It is restrained. It is restricted. But it is still, joy.

Just a few weeks ago, I experienced huge changes in my life. I moved out of the family home, something I had wanted to do for a long while, my marriage having broken down years before. I floated in limbo, haunted by the threat of lockdown, isolation, and a precarious house settlement. I feared the failing of the plan to start my new life. I feared I would not be able to move into my new home.

And then the pieces fell into place. Each step completed and enabled the baton to be passed. At last, I felt relief. I was so happy to be free. So happy to be at the beginning of a new adventure. I felt joy. And it had been a long time coming.

I wondered if it was all right to feel joy in the circumstances.

To a certain extent, I shared my joy with family and friends. When I moved into my new house, my mother, my sons, and a couple of friends came to help – on different occasions. Separately. No hugs. No gathering. Lots of hand washing.

I felt guilty that my mother came out of self-chosen isolation to help me, but I could not have kept her away. My father and stepmother also veered from safety to see my new home. We all understood the risk and the need to do so. Joy should be shared.

The news continued to get worse. The restrictions tightened. Many people died, lost livelihoods, became homeless. The UK, America, Europe, Asia, and my beloved India, all suffered immense losses and other complications.

And I kept to myself: unpacking boxes, placing ornaments, shopping at Bunnings, decorating. Each box I flattened, shelf I cleared, drawer I organised and room I finished, gave me joy.

Sometimes my joy felt so great, I chastised myself for bad form. I was careful who I talked to about it in case it was judged as such. My good fortune almost became a source of shame.

And then I remembered the teaching I had read in the Vedanta Treatise (A. Parthasarathy) – it is our duty to be self-poised, self-pleased, be peaceful and cheerful, that to be miserable is a social and moral crime, that spreading melancholy to our fellow beings is like spreading disease, and that we should rejuvenate others with happiness and joy. Essentially, that means it is our duty to enjoy our lives, make the most of what we have, and share good feelings with others.

With self-possession, we can give more of ourselves, be more compassionate, be of greater use. Feeling good enables us to share good with others.

The creative people that have made the world laugh, sing, meditate, learn, and play during this pandemic, are doing wonderful things for the mental state, even the spiritual state, of the world. Keeping positive and happy within ourselves means we can keep going, keep supporting and keep helping others do the same. The medical and science people are giving so much. So are the cooks, the cleaners, the decision makers. We can support them by keeping a good attitude, being grateful and doing what we can for others, even if that is just a smile, a nice word, some small assistance.

I appreciate my good fortune and it makes me joyful. Joy like this is not easy to attain and it is fragile. It should be relished and stored in my heart where it will make me strong, peaceful, and cheerful. Feeling sad will not help me help others but feeling glad just might.

Coping with Social Distancing

If you had asked me three months ago what social distancing was, I would have answered, when people spend more time communicating through technology than face to face. I would have added, when people use their devices while being with someone.

But social distancing today, in March 2020, in Australia, in the time of COVID-19, means staying physically separate from each other. It means not touching, not shaking hands, not hugging – acts normally that are normal in our society. It means going for a walk with a friend but staying one and a half metres away from them. It means waiting for takeaway in a space of four square metres and veering away from someone who passes us on the footpath. Abnormal behaviour.

I’ve noticed that this lack of closeness, so foreign it needs to be thought about, has turned to wariness. People aren’t smiling or even being polite when they pass each other; a sad side effect.

‘Non-essential services,’ a term meaning services that we can live without, have closed in order to reduce social contact further. People have lost jobs, livelihoods, security. Some people have lost the only social interaction they had in a day.

Social distancing today, the result of an attempt to curb a rampant flu virus, has major repercussions. Negative ones.

I worry that social distancing, in place to curb physical sickness and escalation of cases, will have a terrible effect on the mental state of many people.

Ironically, this is where technology will help. Instead of being the problem, we can now use it to solve the problem. If we have a working device, Wi-Fi, data, and the skill to use them, we can use them to talk, see, meet, watch, laugh, and devise ways to stay socially connected and to work. If we can’t interact face to face, flesh to flesh, then virtual interaction is the next best thing.

People are rallying. Alarmed and self-interested to begin with, people are now looking to work from home, to communicate, entertain, express, support and be supported. Life has slowed down, and in a positive direction, imagination has soared.

Gurus are talking to us about quarantine and meditation, Yoga instructors are running live sessions,  artists are teaching kids how to draw, all using technology and the internet, all Posting on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube or other media. There is an abundance of choice in the ways we can connect.

Musicians, actors and comedians are turning old songs and skits into Covid-19 humour. Mothers at home, men with pets and small precocious children are becoming famous in a day, their clever creations turned into film and uploaded to the world who is lapping up the creativity and distraction. We are sharing these films, songs, pictures, motivationals and lessons, with each other.

This is our new social interaction; this is social-distancing – distanced but immediate, our new closeness.

‘Personal space,’ may be a whole lot bigger today than it used to be but through the vastness of cyber space, we don’t need to be distanced! Use it well. And smile! We will cope with the new norm and social distancing will pass.

 

Note: Having no internet or means to use it, is a problem in today’s world. Please be mindful that some people do not have access to this resource and do what you can to be thoughtful and kind within the safety guidelines. We need to care for those most affected by social distancing.

Social Distancing Information:

https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/social-distancing.aspx

https://www.lifeline.org.au/get-help/topics/mental-health-and-wellbeing-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak

Words of Wisdom:

On Facebook:

Shri Jasnath Asan (Yoga Science) – A quiet daily talk from Guruji at the ashram I was at in India, earlier this year.

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=shri%20jasnath%20asan%20(yoga%20science)&epa=SEARCH_BOX

Eckhardt Tolle – author of Power of Now

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2744042518965586&external_log_id=793a80a87e475cd18b551878cd507d3a&q=eckhart%20tolle

On YouTube:

Russel Brand – Self Isolation and Mental Health

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1sbp5oyVh4

Podcasts: many

Good for a Laugh:

Facebook, Instagram, Youtube: countless funny videos being shared on WhatsApp and Messenger

https://www.facebook.com/saved/?cref=28

https://www.facebook.com/starbrightangels.angels/videos/2781754881938912/

Chris Mann – American singer and songwriter – hilarious take off of My Sharona by the Knack called My Corona

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojrtwXqqc6g

Online Education:

Ayurveda and Nutrition Course at Prana by Dimple Jangda

https://www.instagram.com/pranabydimplejangda/

Online Yoga with Lilya Sabatier in India

https://mailchi.mp/ab7a376097d3/onlineyogawithlilya

Ekhardt Tolle – Spiritual Teacher

https://eckharttolle.com/free-resources/?utm_campaign=Message%20to%20Community%203-20-2020%20(JtXbyH)&utm_medium=email&utm_source=CC%20on%20all%20emails&_ke=eyJrbF9lbWFpbCI6ICJzaWJ5bGNAc291bmRzdHJ1ZS5jb20iLCAia2xfY29tcGFueV9pZCI6ICJOazd6WmIifQ%3D%3D&fbclid=IwAR0hH07Q1yPNPQIVs_9EZSFnefxltC31FSpyxc6DuGlxqWcXTVpOof9o7MY

Header Photo credit:

http://www.swinburne.edu.au/news/latest-news/2020/01/updates-on-coronavirus-.php

Social distancing includes simple, everyday actions that can contain the spread of COVID-19

Extreme Start to 2020

I was in India when the bushfires were ravaging Australia. Even in an ashram in a tiny village in Rajasthan, news reached me that the coastal town of Sussex Inlet, where my beloved river house sits, was in danger. Fires were out of control throughout the South Coast of NSW devastating bushland, National Parks, and towns.

Over December and January, at least thirty-four people and a billion animals died; 186 square kilometres of tree-covered land including 5900 buildings, were destroyed; people lost possessions and livelihoods; wildlife lost their food.

It’s depressing to think that some things won’t recover. The fires were too vast and hot. That which will recover, will take a long time.

But feeling depressed doesn’t help. There’s too much to do.

People are rallying to help. Communities are growing and bonding over the effort. Solutions are germinating, just as plants will.

Ironically, I was in the ashram to talk creatively about the environment. Despite the huge environmental problems in India, it is a place of such spiritual energy at its core, it’s inevitable that seeds of recovery are sprouting there.

The ashram was the location of a conference-like festival called Utasava Maa, ‘a transformative all female festival, uniting extraordinary women from across the globe to share, inspire and collaborate in response to the ongoing international repression and violation of the earth and her daughters.’

Women, the traditional carers and protectors of the communal environment, joined heads and hearts to create ideas about change, starting with ourselves and the most basic of local levels.

Like many of the other Western women, I was attracted to the festival by the passionate motivator, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic. This woman’s capacity to inspire and rejuvenate others is at goddess-level. To be in her company, and of others like her, for nine days in a soul-stirring environment, was life-changing.

On the eve of the end of 2019, Western and Indian women danced together. It was barefoot and free. We sat around the campfire wrapped in thick, woollen shawls, and listened to the guitar and the tabla, and the voices of those who sang or had something to say. We wrote things on paper, things we wanted to let go of, and burned them in the flames. We said goodbye to unhelpful things. It was a ritual that closed off the past and wiped the slate clean for the future. It was cleansing and uplifting.

Except, at home, the fires burned. The contrast was poignant.

I’m concluding that getting back to the ancient ways is a good place to start restoring health. But I’m not going to turn this Post into an opinion piece.

Despite the euphoria I felt at midnight on the other side of the world, reality is problematic. Since I’ve been home in Australia, the positivity I felt coming into the year, has been attacked several times.

Issues that lay dormant over the Christmas/summer holidays, have seeped through the cracks and emerged, persistent. Normal life is uncomfortable. It’s bills and emails, shopping and cleaning, responsibilities and duties.

Reality has a way of slapping you in the face if you get too carried away with dreams. A very dear friend, a passionate, loving, shining light of a woman, lost her struggle with cancer and died last week. Her light has gone out and she didn’t want it to. She had life to live.

It’s important that we live knowing that time isn’t endless. Not only is our time here on earth restricted, but it can be extinguished way before we’re ready.

My point is, that we should use each day well. Be positive and step forward. Do the things that you plan to do, despite the difficulties, the fear and obstacles; despite the chaos of real life. Think about the future, yes, but live each day with vigour, concern for others and care for the natural environment.

In National Parks, the motto is, leave nothing but footprints. But a national park is like an ashram. It’s the ideal. Ideas grow into deeds like seeds grow into trees. In the real world, leave your mark. Even on the smallest level, do something to make the world a better place. Raise the children to be community minded, grow a garden, lend someone your strength.

2020 is going to be another life-changing year for me, starting with moving house and ending with a publisher for my book. I do more than hope. I do something each day towards my goal; despite the everyday hassles and drama; despite what anyone says. My dreams mix with reality. They merge and flow and continue to grow with any fertiliser thrown at them.

Be uncomfortable. Be active. Do what you need to, to make 2020 a good one.

In the words of my guru, Liz G, Onward!

 

What will you do to thrive in 2020?

 

 

Shedding

It’s the end of the year and that’s a great time for shedding. I’m not suggesting you slither out of your skin. And I’m not saying you should go build a man or woman cave. I’m referring to letting go, leaving or removing ‘things’ that are no longer good for you.

Those ‘things’ can be objects in our homes that no longer have purpose or give joy; or clothes we no longer choose to wear because they don’t make us feel good.

They can be actions we take, mindlessly, because we have always done them. They are patterns of behavior that don’t serve us anymore and keep us from moving forward. If there is no reward, why keep doing it?

Some habits are detrimental to our health. My weakness is for sweet things: cake, chocolate, ice cream. And crisp white wine. Neither are good for physical well-being and professional advice is to cut them down. I need to shed the habit of such indulgence, and make it a treat now and then.

Shedding relationships is much more difficult. And sometimes a relationship is the most important thing we can let go of. Whether it be parent/child, husband/wife, friend/‘friend,’ if it makes us feel bad, drains our energy, generates self-doubt or keeps us from being ourselves, it should go. It can be almost impossible to divorce ourselves from a relationship, but it can be most liberating.

Being true to ourselves is one of the hardest things to be. Social norms insist we’re polite and behave according to rules of our culture, family or social group. We’re all brought up to be ‘good,’ and it can be challenging if we discover that being ‘good’ doesn’t serve us well. We learn to wear a mask, even with our loved ones. But how can someone love us truly if we’ve disguised our true natures and desires? Shed the mask and we might lose a few friends, but we might also gain truer friendships.

Let unfavourable things go at the end of the year. It makes psychological space for the entry of more favourable possibilities in the new year. Shed, and put fresh skin in the game.

PS. On a personal note, I was the successful bidder, last month, on a small house (see the Take a Chance blog) and therefore I have begun the shedding of things, with enthusiasm! It also means that I will be thinking of new things next year. All that I keep and all that I gather, will serve a purpose and give me joy.

2020 will, for me, be a fresh start. I hope it will be for all of you too. What will you shed now to make space for good things in 2020?

Take a Chance

I’m a chance-taker. It makes life more interesting. It changes life and takes it forward. Sometimes, taking a chance can take all my courage. Sometimes I get my fingers burned. And sometimes, I fly. Today I’m taking a chance. Today may be a life-changer. Today, I’m bidding on a house!

Is that all? you might say. That’s no big deal. Been there, done that! Ah, but this is different. It is a big deal! It’s the first time I’m making a major life-changing decision since I’ve been on my own. I’m planning to purchase before the sale on my current house has settled. That’s the chance. That’s the tricky bit; the unsavoury, scary, thorny bit. I could lose my deposit if fate turns bad.

Leaving my marriage a few years ago, a relationship of thirty-seven years that had started in my teens, was the biggest chance I have ever taken. It was complicated and I was fearful that ‘taking a leap of faith’ so dramatic, could be devastating. But I could also see how I might thrive, instead.

That’s the difference in taking a chance over a risk. A chance has possibility. It incites, carries with it feelings of hope, anticipation and excitement. Risk has a negativity. It warns, threatens, forebodes. It screams, stop, don’t do it, run! The consequences of taking a chance and a risk may be the same but taking a chance enables us. The idea of taking a risk can scare us so much, it stagnates us.

I could fail. I could lose money. But thinking that way will shackle me. Chances are, I won’t fail. Chances are I’ll win. I’ll go into the next stage of my life in a home of my own by the sea. I see myself there. A little bungalow in a quiet suburb with a yard that backs onto a clifftop golf course. Not a fancy one, but a scrubby, natural kind of one. Just how I like it. A bit rough around the edges. A place I can walk with my dog at dawn or in darkness. A place with a yard where my future grandchildren can play. There’s a lot to win in taking this chance. I see myself winning.

And sometimes, that’s all you need to make life worthwhile.

 

What chance are you going to take to improve your life?

Relationships Change

It would be helpful in all relationships if we reflected on how we change over time: as an individual and as a member of a relationship.

Our needs and our deeds are different at various stages of our lives.

When we are young, we are incomplete, still feeling our way: exploring, experimenting, discovering. What do we like, dislike? What do we want, not want? What and who inspires us to develop within? Some relationships that we build will bond forever. They become part of our foundation – cemented by who we essentially are at our most basic. Some, we find, are not of the same material, and these will fall away like bark from a tree.

Between young and middle age, we are building our lives along with ourselves: our careers, our homes, our families. These external pursuits bond us to those in the same position: peers, neighbours and other parents, joined by commonalities. Activities, struggles and achievements shared, tighten these bonds. But as we develop and commonalities pass, only those that have grown together and have respect for the emerging differences, will survive.

The relationship with one’s child and the relationship with one’s intimate, “romantic” partner undergo the largest changes and strongest stresses.

The child needs to be nurtured to grow well. Each child requires our individual attention for it to be the best it can be. We give our children everything, until we feel sapped of nutrients ourselves. We must take time out to replenish ourselves. We need space, time and pursuits of our own. We must continue to look after ourselves in order to look after our children, and in the process, our children learn to be independent. The relationship changes and if we resist, it will break. We need to release our children for them, and our relationship with them, to thrive.

Perhaps the intimate relationship with one’s partner, is under the most strain. It experiences the greatest external pressures: work commitments, finances, household chores, dedication to children, influence of parents, siblings and friends, the minutiae of life. It changes constantly with circumstances. Our responses and feelings ebb and flow. The demands we put on the intimate relationship – predictability, stability and consistency – can be so great they are impossible to achieve.

The intimate relationship begins in a state of perfect compliment. We cannot get enough of each other’s eyes, thoughts, bodies, company. It is a self-enclosed world of perfect unity.

It eases off into a companionable sameness; two separate people heading in the same direction, reaching for the same goals. Loosely hand in hand, supporting each other, learning from each other, admiring each other. This relationship can build a life together; a family, a business, a mature self-sufficiency in an ever-expanding membrane.

In middle age, when we have built our worlds, raised our children, reached or given up on dreams, there is, inevitably, another change. There is opportunity for growth. Without clinging nostalgically to the past, we can adapt to the new circumstances and reach for possibilities. Our goals may differ, pursuits diverge, viewpoint shift. If we allow freedom rather than restriction, growth rather than stagnation, respect rather than criticism, our intimate relationship can thrive in a state of ongoing friendship. For this to happen, we need to understand and accept ourselves and our partners.

External and internal circumstances cause everybody and every relationship to change. We need to hold loosely, dance lightly and be generous to ourselves and of ourselves, for any relationship to thrive with these changes.

The inspiration for this blog came from reading, Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

“The light shed by any good relationship illuminates all relationships.”

The novel I am writing explores these changes in relationships. I would be interested in your thoughts.

Novel Commitment

Today’s blog Post will be short and sweet, and a notice that, until the end of the year, it will only be published on the last Friday of each month.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m writing a novel. I am also doing a one-year course called Write Your Novel with the Faber Academy Sydney at Allen and Unwin. Currently, the stakes are high, and the writing needs to be produced. The novel has become my priority: apologies to my blog readers, friends and Toastmasters.

My mantra has become – Just write the damn book! ­Through discipline and perseverance, and also joyous enthusiasm, I shall. Its working title is The Rest of Their Lives. I plan not to let the writing of it take the rest of mine!

The words of wisdom I will pass on to you today, come from The Scottish Himalayan Expedition by W.H.Murray.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy…The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never have otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events raising in one’s favour…unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.”

Hesitate no longer, my friends. Commit. Persevere. And Providence will provide.