By Suma Varughese
How can we emerge with grace from as much pressure as the Coronavirus has put us under? Here are a few perspectives based on my own felt experiences as a resident of Mumbai, which has combated more than its fair share of crises over the years.
- First things first. Always remember. Each of us has a destiny that has been written for us even before we took birth. If you are meant to get Covid-19, you will. Otherwise you will not. Similarly, even if you get it, if you are meant to die from it, you will, otherwise you will not. And if you are meant to get it or die of it, nothing you do will make a difference. On the other hand, if you are not meant to get it, nothing you do will make you get it. Now, this is not an invitation to be careless because that could be read as in fact your being meant to get the illness!
But this logic will keep you sane and grounded, instead of succumbing to paranoia, considering that we are dealing with a virus we cannot see, smell, hear or touch, and which can be transmitted to us through human contact and surfaces like metal.
This faith in destiny has helped me to cope with the SARS virus outbreak in 2013. I remember commuting to work by the crowded Mumbai local train at the time, and reminding myself of this truth in order to stay afloat. Similarly, during the terrible terrorist attacks on Mumbai’s local trains in 2006, this thinking gave me the courage to take the train the day after the bombing. Repeating this mantra will help you get perspective. Instead of breaking into a sweat each time you have touched a metal door knob or another human being, it will help you to do all that you possibly can to keep yourself and your family safe, and after that to let go!
- In moments of crises it is wise to live one day at a time. Resist the temptation to fast forward to the future. Stop worrying about the economy or if you have a job left. Stop getting agitated by the number of cases in your country or city. Simply stay with today. And do what you need to now: Cooking, cleaning, helping with the kids’ studies, playing a game with the family, or resting. Let go of the rest. The Coronavirus has shattered our illusion that we are in control of our lives. It was never us. It was always God. So leave the future to God. And do what you can today. I learnt this lesson when I was looking after my mother who was crippled by paralysis after a stroke. It was the hardest challenge I had ever been given, and I did not know if I had the strength to go through it. Eventually, I learnt not to fret and fume and simply take care of my mother lovingly one day at a time until she passed away two and a half years after the attack. All of us have enough courage, money, resources and everything else for the day. It is when we fast forward to the future that we fall into scarcity mode. So, stay with the day.
- Stay happy. This is crucial in these times. The real secret of happiness is to focus on what works, and not on what does not. There may be millions of things going wrong, but can’t we focus on the things going right? Maybe the housework is getting to you, maybe you are longing for a walk, maybe you are fearing for your daughter living far away from you. Shift the channel and look instead at the glorious outdoors, or at the love on your spouse’s face. Remember, no matter how bad things are, they could be much, much worse. I know of people who have had to go for surgery in these times. And think of the poor who may not have food to eat, water to drink, money for medicines and so much else. So, thank a merciful God for all the blessings you have. When you focus on what works and not on what does not, you will learn to take your joy from the simple things of life, like children do. The joy of spending time with your kids. The satisfaction of a delicious meal. Of having a video chat with a loved one. The incredible blessing of good health for you and your family. Listening to your favorite music. Keeping a gratitude journal. Writing, painting, singing, dancing, doing something new every day even if it is trying a new recipe. There are so many small ways to stay happy and engaged. And remember, what you pay attention to will increase. So, if you focus on the good things, there will be more of that.
- Cut yourself some slack. There are going to be innumerable moments when you are going to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. When you lose it with your family. When all the extra work of cooking and cleaning seems too much. Well, cut yourself some slack. You are not superhuman. Forgive yourself and love yourself. Be there for yourself. Do positive self talk. Tell yourself how sorry you are that you have to go through it. Tell yourself how much you love and trust the person you are. How much you believe in him/her. Here is a small mantra I practice when I feel I can’t do something: I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. I can so do it. A few rounds of this and you will be able to tackle the hardest of chores.
- Let’s all be extra careful in the next couple of months or as long as it takes for things to return to normalcy. Right now, anything going wrong is not going to be easy to rectify. In an absentminded moment, I switched the geyser tap off without switching off the geyser, and lo, my geyser is blown! I am now heating water on the stove and lugging it to the bathroom for my bath. It is most important that we take care of our health. Eat light. Eat healthy. Do a little exercise. Pray. Stay in touch with the Divine. Take responsibility for your mental and emotional well-being.
- Have faith in alternative therapies because they raise immunity, and that is what will win us the battle. So pull out your home remedies, consult ayurveda, or homeopathy. Even if they don’t help, they can’t hurt. There is an audio that went viral from an Indian from China who details that many Chinese who caught the virus did not go to hospitals but gargled four times a day, inhaled steam four times a day, and drank hot water and hot fluids four times a day. Now this may not be the cure, but it is entirely harmless. So why not implement it? Turmeric and pepper will also up your immunity. Put plenty of these condiments in your food.
- Learn your lessons. The Coronavirus, in my opinion, is a karmic visitation. We have lessons to learn both as a society and as individuals. It is such a huge corrective, don’t you think? Men are learning to cook and clean. Women are learning to manage without maids. I am not fond of housework, but I am doing the dishes, washing my clothes and sweeping and swabbing. And pretty much enjoying the new independence it is giving me. Yes, I will receive my maid back with great joy, but I won’t be thrown the next time she takes a day off. These times are about going back to basics. No entertainment. No eating out. Making do with scarce resources. Staying indoors. Nature has simply driven us like so much cattle into containment. So, ask yourself this question. What lesson has the Coronavirus taught me? If we can learn the lessons we are meant to, there will be meaning in all this suffering. As a society, two lessons stand out as extremely important if we are to not just free ourselves of the Coronavirus but also prevent other assaults.
One is that we need to move towards a more holistic way of life. We cannot ignore the fact that we are part of Mother Earth, and not its masters. If the Earth collapses, so will we! And that we share the Earth with millions of other species. Look at the way Nature is rejoicing in our absence. Look at how blue our skies are. How animals are cautiously venturing into territory that we took over. How the Earth is so much better off without us. What a shame!
Two, I am also convinced that our obsession with the economy has damaged us immensely and degraded our sense of purpose. We are not here to buy and sell. We are here to discover who we are, to have livelihoods where we can contribute the best part of ourselves. We are here to serve the rest of life. We are, above all, here to attain enlightenment. So, economic progress is a belief we will have to unshackle from. Yes, it is going to call for sacrifices. There will be pain. But if we can build a better world for our children, is that not something we should do?
My gut feeling tells me that the Coronavirus is a game changer. And if we learn our lessons, we are going to move into a better world than we have created so far. I think we will learn to be kind, more generous, more harmonious, more valuing of relationships and family, lead more holistic lives. And each of us can contribute to this emergence by our life choices.
- And finally, this too shall pass. Impermanence is the law of the material world. So brace yourself. As rocky as the ride is, it will end. Much love to all of you. May you be safe and happy.
Suma Varughese is the founder facilitator of the Zen of Good Writing course and former editor of Life Positive and Society magazines. A passionate visionary, her focus is on helping to bring about a holistic way of life.