How are you doing?
We are entering a strange, new era. If this era is a painting, we have barely seen a stroke. With a firm grip, COVID-19 pulled the rug out from under us. Done so swiftly that we lost all sense of balance and predictability. Life moves in rhythms and in a parallel process. This season, Mother Nature ordered bed rest for herself. As a part of her, we now find ourselves stuck inside our own four walls.
My life slowed down, almost to a complete stop, in April. My work and my relationships with the children I worked with were deemed non-essential and stripped overnight. That moment it dawned on me that I was losing a bond formed so organically with these children. They are my true North in this current life season. To have that bond and community abruptly removed, was crushing.
I believe most of us have lost something since COVID’s arrival on our shores.
Our losses are relative to each other but unique and significant to ourselves. Losses, big and small, deserve their own funeral rites. A space to give our losses a voice. This ritual need not be grand. Sometimes the most potent release resides in a quiet whisper.
Like a stream, we drift into the future under time’s ceaseless nudge. The act of grieving becomes sacred at this moment. We find in this repertoire, pockets of breathing spaces to bring us back to the present. When we allow ourselves to grieve, we are giving permission to honour the people, moments and experiences that were valuable to us. It is acknowledging that “this matters to me” which at a deeper level, actually means, “I matter”. The future is and always will be uncertain, COVID-19 or not. But our steps are firmer, more grounded and easeful when we honour the wisdom of the past in the present and bring it along into the future.
If we do not give our grief due attention, we end up existing on borrowed time, suspended in the void between the realms of ‘what used to be’, ‘what is’ and ‘what will be’. Our body continues to hold grief in aches, pain and lethargy while our mind compulsively obsesses over the future.
We are still in the eye of the storm. This act of grieving will perhaps need to repeat itself, over and over again, like a practice that requires discipline.
As I sat with my grief, questioning my relevance to this world, I made a new friend. Her name is Stillness. She pulled out a chair and joined us. The three of us sat quietly, watching as life unfolded in the early mornings.
In this time of enforced isolation
I’ve learned to find tiny pockets in my HDB flat
discover, create and transform
a tiny pocket into the most spacious sanctuary
With the coaxing of the Universe at daybreak
a gentle birdsong orchestra begins
singing to my heart
bowing tree branches
calling of the wind
how do I want to experience time?
an unhurried free-falling
follow the thawing of the tea leaves
unravel in the simplicity that is time
in the vastness of my breath
flirting with the caressing breeze
Sipping on Eternity
dancing on the steady stream
of my dawning Light.
Whenever we lose something, we gain something new. Death delivers birth. It is the law of Nature, an eternal one. In the silence and stillness of my early mornings, accompanied by meditative movements on the mat and in the kitchen, I began to notice an inner stir. An inner stir of ideas yearning to dance. To move in this world with ease and confidence. To act on my passion with conviction. To indulge in my creative energies once more.
Naming the losses of the past and my fears about the future help. The simple act of allowing our fears to occupy a visible space releases their grip on us. They lose power over us. Once we recognise them and put it out in the open, we have taken the first step to stop their control over us.
Life finds a way. That’s another law of Nature.
Beyond our individual struggles, the rug that COVID-19 pulled out has exposed the fault lines of inequalities in our societies. Just like our own unnerving losses, we need to square up to these structural exploitations that we have been sitting so comfortably on.
There are groups amongst us who are struggling to still keep their boats afloat. Not everyone has the opportunity to process the losses in this storm.
While it was heartening to watch multiple groups activate help and support immediately, I wondered about the real systemic changes that this wave of movements can trigger. At the heart of the ‘helping hands, helping hearts’ narrative that we enjoy retelling lies one ugly truth, out of many. Our help comes with a price tag based on deservingness. Are we ready to look into this mirror?
Moments of hard truths and overwhelm will continue to surface for some time to come. In those moments, I invite you to choose. Choose to offer unconditional kindness to yourself. Choose to share it with someone you know will offer compassion to you. Choose to marinate in your own version of stillness while sitting in the deafening truths. Listen in the emptiness and listen to each other. Bring curiosity along. Clarity sprouts in an open conversation.
Extend this unconditional kindness to the vulnerable populations of total strangers amongst us. Support the advocacy groups and charities who speak your cause. Open your heart to learn more about structural inequalities in Singapore. In stillness, we can reflect upon ways to shift the larger system in our personal and professional roles.
The future we are walking into is a densely complex one. A genuinely inclusive collective is one that continues to adapt and thrive. May we pivot towards a new collective consciousness that embraces differences with authenticity, kindness and acceptance.
It’s May. What have you lost? What have you gained? Tell me, I’d love to know.
This On Being podcast episode “when things fall apart” is simply everything. A warm, soothing balm for the heart right now.
A few friends with interesting perspectives to share:
Nick from Starknicked released a deck of digital conversation cards to continue meaningful connections with our family, friends and teams. Have a look and try it with someone! Here’s to open conversations.
Xiangyun from Klin Studio wrote this piece on mental health. Connect with her if it resonates with you. Here’s to more open conversations about our mental health and coping with COVID-19.
Hong-hui wrote about her own grieving experience here.