By S. Sandhu
Illustration by @demen.art
It’s been more than a year since the whole world came to a standstill due to Covid-19. Eighteen months to be precise, since we’ve been on this relentless and very visceral roller coaster. The constant adjusting to the climbs and drops of various Covid waves across the globe, is undeniably starting to take its toll. We started out as “we are all in this together” and yet Anne Bronte’s words “there is always a but in this imperfect world” seem to be more true today, than ever before. Yes, we are all together in the fight against Covid, but we are all in such different stages of our fight or flight response, it’s becoming a challenge to see ourselves as always united in this struggle. It’s difficult to keep track of all the rules and restrictions and what’s open or not across the globe.
It’s hard to see pictures of people on vacation in Mexico and Maldives while some of our loved ones are stuck in countries with a travel ban.
Healthcare and essential workers are overwhelmed and overworked, surrounded by suffering and death. The situation on the ground feels like an everlasting peril, with cases continually rising alongside the harrowing death toll. It’s difficult for those of us who aren’t physically there to even picture how much worse the situation may be, given that what we’re seeing and what’s being reported is only a fraction of it. And whilst the Indian government has catastrophically mishandled this crisis, governments of the West and pharmaceutical companies have been debating whether or not to waive vaccine patents whilst people suffer. When US President Joe Biden announced his support for waiving the intellectual property protections of COVID-19 vaccines, big-pharma companies saw a swift drop on the stock market, highlighting that a lot of the responses to this pandemic have put profit over people, contributing to the current situation.
As well as this, many countries have banned flights from India. Understandably, governments want to avoid any new strains being brought into their countries. But countries like Australia took extreme measures, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison banned flights and threatened jail time for those seeking to return from India. This ban has since been revised after backlash, with the Prime Minister saying they would begin to bring back “vulnerable citizens”, but with the existing conditions being as they are, one has to ask “who exactly is invulnerable?” and many Australian-Indians have remained stranded in India for the time being. At the same time, there are concerns about rising case numbers in neighbouring countries, particularly in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Nepal has already begun appealing for international assistance, with a 47% case positivity rate, and remarkably hard to reach communities littered across the nation.
The three countries have seen a sharp rise in case numbers during April, adding more worries to both local populations and the diaspora on whether the strained healthcare systems will collapse. So we’re faced with a no-win scenario, not wanting the dire situation in India to be replicated in other countries, but also feeling abandonment and sorrow for those who can’t return to be with loved ones.
This bleak situation has left many of us including myself, out of jobs, miles away from our loved ones and feeling loneliness to our very bones. Oscillating between desperately seeking to take a break or constantly pushing to motivate ourselves, our daily existence is a myriad of conflicting experiences. Never mind the all consuming fear of the safety of ourselves and our loved ones. Adding to the stress is the jarring experience of seeing some countries open travel, restaurants and other avenues of social gatherings while in some countries people cannot physically leave their homes without being in violation of Covid rules.
Those of us in the diaspora can only note our own distance, our inability to help at a time when help is so depserately needed. Even where successes have been had internationally, with many countries conducting massive vaccine rollouts and lockdowns beginning to ease gradually, for many in the diaspora these successes feel hollow. Rather than chronic anxieties receding, we find them building in exponential degrees as we look to South Asia and find it battling a bigger beast than we ourselves had to contend.
For some of us, the small victories of other countries in curbing the virus have led to an odd sense of survivor’s guilt. As we head out for a meal on a patio for the first time in over a year; or pack our children’s backpack for their first days at school following months of closures; as we see the case counts dropping and the burden on ICUs easing; every milestone, every moment of relief, feels like a small betrayal.
And all the while, we stare at our phones wondering what news we’ll hear next.
Over and above the actual experience of the virus itself, we are united however, in a universal suffering of our health, be it physical, mental, emotional or financial. Raise your hands if your shoulder, back, or head hurts, seemingly without any reason. Raise your hands if you feel like unresolved issues from your past are finally catching up with you. Raise your hands if even in your best moments, you are just one more lockdown away from falling apart completely.
For me personally, this is a deja vu that has become all too real. This time last year, I was stuck by myself in a foreign country, without a job, my spouse stuck in India for five months and a back injury without access to medical care, due to lockdown. This year, I find myself dealing with the exact same situation only, a year has passed and it feels like nothing has changed. Canada has banned flights from India, again. My partner who recently travelled to India for urgent work is stuck there indefinitely, again. My back is still healing and I am still not working full time. There are times when I wake up and have to remind myself, that it’s not 2020, that I have made progress in the last year and still have a lot going for myself.
These are truly uncertain and challenging times, the ripple effects of which are slowly infiltrating every aspect of our lives.
Yet, there is one other skill that unites us as human beings and that is resilience, our innate capacity to recover from even the most formidable challenges. Resilience, simply put, is the ability to adapt. Being the most adaptable species, anyone can learn or develop the skills to a path of resilience. The generations before us have been here before, multiple times. Be it the Flu pandemics or the Cholera pandemics, the world has come to a deadly standstill before and still survived and thrived. It is probably going to sound like a cliche but alas, hope, faith and even prayer have kept us all going till now. I started out that way too, but having spent so much time by myself lately, and getting tired of waiting for things to get better, so I could finally move on with my life, I felt the need to change something about myself more than wanting to change the situation(s) that we are facing.
Finding a Way Through
I discovered something that fulfilled more than my need to connect with others, it finally allowed me to truly connect with myself. That thing is Meditation and practicing Mindfulness. Believe me, I have raised many an eyebrow at the idea of sitting quietly trying to be thoughtless, or focus on eating my meal in peace and quiet when I could be multitasking and accomplishing things even during lunch hour, but ultimately, I realized that it was the missing piece in my puzzle of life. I realized that work never really finishes and that stressful situations never cease either, in fact when it rains it pours. I realized the idea is not to deny ourselves negative feelings and experiences that only fester with time, but to befriend them anyway, as a part of life that helps you learn, grow and find peace and contentment in your daily life, as opposed to waiting to be happy once this or that happens. The biggest learning for me has been that power does not always have to mean control and that surrender does not always have to mean helplessness. It has changed my life because it has changed my mind. As much as it has been imperative to stay connected with others, I found that allowing myself to connect with my inner self, even in these challenging times has been more of a saving grace than I ever imagined.
This is in no way to diminish the real struggle being faced by millions across the world. I am not naive to think that people barely making it through the day would have the luxury of time, to take on another thing to master. And another caveat here - when it comes to finding “solutions” to the problems we’re facing, there’s a distinction between individual solutions and wider, political solutions, As far as political solutions to this crisis, we’re largely dependent on the government’s actions. What we have seen is a solid grassroots effort in India, with communities coming together to organise oxygen tank refill stations, food donations, and providing support to one another where the government has failed. Which is in most areas. But for those of us who aren’t physically able to do this, we can focus on individual solutions to help ourselves and those around us find a shred of mental rest and relaxation within this calamity.
As someone rightly said, we don’t meditate to get good at meditation, we meditate to get good at life, and there is never a better time to start that journey. It costs nothing, and can be done in multiple ways and absolutely any way that suits you. Even the smallest but consistent efforts can yield results. To start with, all you need is five minutes of your time with your own mind and breath. Apart from its many scientifically proven health benefits like reduced stress and anxiety, better sleep and overall better health, I found it to have a consistent and compounding calming effect in my life over the last few months. It helped me through finally kicking the butt cold turkey and it’s been 6 months since I smoked my last cigarette! It’s what finally made me understand the concept of mind over matter, and that I can train my mind to make better choices and take better actions for myself. In turn, it has positively impacted my relationship not only with myself but others as well.
It may even seem daunting at first, but honestly, for me it simply started with taking the time to quietly enjoy the colours and textures on my plate of food, rather than watching a screen while eating. We all become amateur home cooks during the pandemic but I realized how important it was to actually allow that food to comfort me by enjoying it mindfully. I think for me, the best way to describe the impact of meditation and mindfulness is that it’s made me befriend myself and my experiences. There is a plethora of free help available online, if anyone out there is intrigued enough to try it for themselves, I am attaching the links of resources I personally found very helpful.
Free Meditation YouTube Channels/Websites
Free Meditation Apps
The Miracle of Mindfulness- Thich Nhat Hanh
Real Change- Sharon Salzberg
The Healing Power of mindfulness- Jon Kabat Zinn
Total Meditation- Deepak Chopra
If you or your household is experiencing covid:
https://www.instagram.com/p/CN20yGFJJY3/ - If you are taking care of someone with COVID-19.