The long weeks of Covid19 have inspired a practice of gratitude.
The initial fear, the threat of the virus taking hold in our midst, the incredible good outcome for us that it has not, and what an understatement that is, has brought a deep appreciation for my life.
Suffering, trauma, wars, famine, neglect, abuse, climate change, floods, fires, have all been part of our collective world for as long as I can remember. It suffices to say that there has been untold suffering in this world for as long as history has been recorded.
The onslaught of media attention of this global pandemic sometimes has flavours of before this everything was fine, now it is not. However, regardless of any personal opinion, Covid19 has certainly brought to our attention many aspects of society, our lives, our world, that are greatly out of balance. And possibly never before has there been the same cause of such widespread suffering.
This time of lockdown has highlighted that my tendency is to see life through the lens of ‘glass half empty’. What I lack, what could be better, comparisons to others, what is wrong. Somewhat melancholic, this viewpoint has informed the narrative, to a greater or lesser extent, that my mind creates as life unfolds. A commentary that dictates Ok, not Ok. Welcome, not welcome. Like, dislike. Yes, no. Good, bad. You and me.
The Sanskrit word Samsara can be interpreted as ‘to measure’. To weigh up our experience. The first noble truth of the Buddha is that life is suffering. Samsara.
The more I shift my gaze over to appreciation, the more I note how this influences my perception. That there is a possibility, just for now, that all is ok. Gratitude replaces the grumblings. Eases us into the present, when peace can prevail.
I love to walk. Recently a friend and I discovered a path neither of us had walked before. The path led steeply downhill, through an old forest. Eucalyptus mostly, dried curls of bark strewn in copper and bronze across the path. The forest was silent. Peppered with birds, a rustle in the treetops as a breeze blew through. As the path levelled out a body of water appeared like a mirage before us. The surprise to find it there and the utter beauty of it reminded me of a sacred lake, a place where waters are blessed and worshipped, and the loudness of the crickets chirping their praises amplified the delight.
The path wound up through the trees, elaborate artworks disfiguring the trunks in knots and burls. And I walked for all who could not walk at that time. For my friend in lockdown in India who could not leave her small apartment, who is grateful they have a terrace and a place to be outside. Who is grateful that the hot season has been kind this year and the power cuts have been fewer too.
I walked for the man who lives down the street who has Parkinson’s. I see him most days out with a carer, being pushed in his wheelchair or walking himself, holding onto the wheelchair, his gait unsteady. An effort to take each step.
Then there is John. John is ninety-four and has no next of kin. His daily dawn walk to the war memorial near where he lives was the highlight of his day. His balance has become tricky and the strength in his legs seems to diminish every time I visit him. He walks with a wheelie-walker now even around his flat, scared to fall, like he has done several times of late.
My mother has always loved to walk. In her older age, she joined a walking group in the Roman town where she now lives. As time wore on so did her joints. Crippling Arthritis leaving chronic pain that nothing seems to help with. Walking became more of a struggle, yet she would push on, leaning heavily on her walker frame. A swollen knee and pain in her lower back. It was painful to witness her daily struggle along the corridor to the lift, to the foyer downstairs of the care home she moved to late last year. Nowadays she can’t even walk along the corridor. There is a case of Covid19 in her care home now. I find it so sad to consider not only my mom but all the residents isolated even more, unable to leave their rooms.
Care homes have been so much in the limelight of late. Why is it that we have allowed our elders to be cared for by staff who are underpaid? There are no easy answers of course. A myriad of reasons why family structure is as it is. But in this time of the pandemic, perhaps we can question how we can do things a little differently. Maybe a return to the ways of old will be the solution, as the economy no longer allows for the great privileges we have become accustomed to. Have come to expect as our right. I’m often reminded of rural Indian villages. The old grandmother nursing a young baby on the steps of a grass roof mud-brick house. Old men playing cards, smoking beedis, drinking chai, whilst kids play close by. I cannot idealize any tradition but shutting our elders away seems deeply informative of so much that is amiss in our society. Families need to pull together. Share resources. Ease the burden on our Earth. If only it were that simple.
Ours is a society of denial that conditions us to protect ourselves from any direct difficulty and discomfort. We expend enormous energy denying our insecurity, fighting pain, death and loss and hiding from the basic truths of the natural world and of our own nature. – Jack Kornfield
More so than ever, I feel immense gratitude for my life. I am acutely aware that it is a great privilege to sit on the step of my home, on a late autumn afternoon. Birds sing in harmony, hot ginger tea steams in the cold air. Warm clothes and a wood-burning stove ready to light. The vivid beauty of low light spilling through vibrant green leaves all lit up in glory fades the moment the sun recedes behind a cloud. It’s constantly shifting. Changing. Poetry in motion.
The teaching of impermanence rests by my side.
A verse from the Ashtavakra Gita:
All things arise, suffer change, And pass away.
This is their nature.
When you know this Nothing perturbs you,
Nothing hurts you.
You become still. It is easy.
God made all things.
There is only God.
When you know this, Desire melts away. Clinging to nothing, You become still.
And tonight the most incredible sunset. A collage of unsurpassed beauty. The river reflecting swathes of golden glory. A solitary pelican. Stillness. A deep hush as the skies shift to blood red. Time slows for the passing day, a gentle pause, the in-between. Neti Neti. Not this. Not that.
The words of the Buddha: Be a light unto yourself.
May your light shine brightly.
Hari Om Tat Sat.