Way of the Bodhisattva
“May all who are sick and ill,
Quickly be freed from their ailments,
Whatever diseases there are in the world,
May they never occur again”
From Bodhicharyavatara, by Arya Shantideva
Last time I spoke about my own personal suffering, but the pandemic is beyond one’s own pain, it is a collective suffering. Despite all precautions, I still got covid, not only did I get it, my entire family, husband, child, our house helps, and their families were affected at the same time.
Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh said, “When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.”
As I felt my heart moved by the suffering of others and that of my own, deep compassion arose and all barriers melted, and we became one in the tears, fears, and anxieties. Tara Brach speaks about being that one person, who is calm in the centre of the storm, to open up to this suffering with an awake heart. This suffering turns us towards our deepest resources, makes us brave, the failures and losses wakes up our consciousness, this is the place where we grow the most.
When my symptoms showed up, my legs shook in the night as I developed a fever and felt body ache like I had never felt before. I lay in bed the whole day not understanding what had hit me. I was worried about my work and all the sessions I had that day and over the next few days, as I was part of a course which I had been looking forward to since months.
Sheer motivation pushed me to stand and take part in a beautiful immersive expressive arts weekend with lovely batchmates from all over the world. We created a transformative portal which made me see how resourced I was, art gave me strength. Even as I didn’t know what was happening to me, I drew strength from my creation and the course. I danced, I painted and I wrote poetry.
Suddenly, my husband lost his sense of smell and tested positive. It had hit us finally! I cried and felt helpless and was then sure that I had contracted it too, there was no other explanation of my different yet viral-like symptoms. I refused to give up and continued the course and creating, despite the anxiety and fatigue, I found sanctuary in my faith and kept praying.
Finally, my dreaded report showed up positive. I had contracted what I feared the most. When the smell goes you feel like one can’t breathe, there is no sensation in the nose. For a few hours I just kept gulping air thinking I couldn’t breathe. I just couldn’t smell anything. I went crazy trying to smell. It hadn’t sunk in that I had got covid and I was still fighting the fact and wanted to deny my condition.
I spent a sleepless night tossing, turning feeling like I couldn’t breathe, my anxiety got the better of me. The whole night, I imagined scenes of being at the hospital played in my mind and the horror of it kept me awake, till I turned to mindfulness and took refuge in my practice. I listened to Tara Brach’s talk on facing the pandemic with an awake heart.
Tara Brach speaks about directly facing anxiety and fear with her RAIN meditation—Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Nurture. It gives one a pathway to having a fearless heart and compassion for oneself.
“First, just recognize, “Okay, I’m feeling fear.” Mentally whisper it, and that helps right away.
Then allow it. Just let it be there, don’t try to run away or fix it or control it or judge it.
Then investigate it. Begin to come into the body and just feel where the fear is in the body. Find out how it feels and breathe with it, with a gentle quality of attention.
And then nurture. You might just put your hand on your heart and offer a kind or soothing message to yourself. You can say to the fear, “Thank you for trying to protect me; it’s okay”. Or tell yourself, “It’s okay, sweetheart”.
Something softened as I heard her soothing voice in the middle of the night. As I sat alone with this tremendous fear, something shifted and I turned towards my fear and surrendered to a larger presence. As she spoke, I felt myself held by God; I was holding the little me, the child who was scared, and the adult me felt the larger presence of God, holding me safely. I connected to that small part of me, gripped by tremendous fear, but I held her in my arms safely. As I felt held, in that holding, something relaxed in me and I was able to finally rest.
Her talks became my refuge and I listened to her every day and that is what helped me cope with the tremendous anxiety, fear and panic that were actually more than the actual symptoms of covid. It’s the unknown which scares us, the illusion we have that we can control things around us. But we cannot, covid broke all falsities that we held about control. It manifests differently in each one’s body. One has no way of knowing whether it will slowly pass by or take one straight to the hospital, away from one’s loved ones and safety.
“During this global crisis, we all need pathways to calm, clarity and openheartedness. While it’s natural to feel fear during times of great collective crisis, our challenge is that fear easily takes over our lives. Mindfulness and compassion practices can help us find an inner refuge and deepen our loving connection with each other.” (Tara Brach)
The entire 14 days of my home quarantine were spent in caregiving, as my son contracted it too and my husband and I looked after all our helps who had also contracted it and we prayed for our friends and family. There was a vulnerability in this suffering. With so many of us suffering together, my heart opened up and tears flowed as I surrendered and prayed to God.
All barriers that we may set up came down, as I consoled my cook’s wife and got appointments for her children. I could relate wholeheartedly, as I too suffered and cared for my child. We were all in this together.
As the symptoms started fading a feeling of joy started emerging and art came to my rescue again. I had to co-facilitate a beautiful workshop on the ‘Therapeutic Value of Indian Dance’, one of my favourite topics. In the last days of my recovery, I prepared for my workshop and watched a zillion videos on the beautiful classical and folk dances of India. It completely transported me to a different world, a time when I would dance freely. A time where we would perform in the temple as an offering to God. A time when we were free to meet, to touch, to hug and be alive with the joy of dance. I felt all the sadness and depression of the last 2 weeks slowly leave my body, as I danced and sang and immersed myself in the Navrasa, liberating myself from the hold the disease had on me. I felt a cathartic release and the dance and the dancer became one.