Kathmandu: for more than a month now the lockdown has been imposed with a strict curfew; we can move only between 6 and 9am in the morning. Hospitals are poorly prepared to respond to the pandemic. The airport is closed with no flights out of here for now. Even though my own (Norwegian) government has helped to get their citizens home and most people have left, I made a choice to stay here.
Why am I still here?
The truth is that Nepal is where I feel truly protected. I believe that, besides talking our precautions, nothing can ultimately protect us from this disease - or any other catastrophe. We can however, be protected from fear and receive the support to feel empowered rather than be fearful and desperate. My life is quieter here and I have less access to news, statistics and opinions than I would back home, which makes it easier to focus and not give into fear.
And what I want to focus on is the compassionate mindset that is expressed and upheld by my teachers and lamas. Here in Nepal, I am a part of one large mandala that extends from our lamas to their sanghas throughout the Kathmandu valley and beyond: When I wake up in my home it is to the sound of chanting from the monastery next door, to prayer flags waving in the wind and my neighbors already out on their terraces doing their prayers. They pray for the community, for all sentient beings and they live life in quiet resilience, shaped by the many calamities that make up human existence.
This pandemic is yet another confirmation of the Buddha’s first noble truth, The Truth of Suffering. (Please keep reading it is not as sad as it seems!)
An indispensable part of the Buddhist path is to contemplate our own impermanence. The thought, that our lives are as fragile as a bubble floating on water, is cultivated in order to turn our mind away from the meaningless distractions of the world and towards spiritual practice. At the moment “impermanence” has become not just a thought but also the painful reality for all of us. And while this distraction feels painful and dissatisfying, turning inwards could mean peace of mind, so why not turn around and look the rawness of impermanence in the eye?
If we could just stop worrying about the future, stop diverting ourselves, for a moment, we could use this situation as a kind of retreat, a golden opportunity to learn something of great value.
First of all, we must remember that we actually do have choices: what we have taken for granted, our life and freedom to move around, has been threatened. We can fret about it or we can learn from this to count our blessings, to value our own and others lives more.
Secondly, we can take the lesson of impermanence to heart: In fact our lives are always fragile and sickness and death are the inevitable consequences of life. What is important is how we use our short window of health and prosperity to increase our positive inherent qualities like wisdom and compassion.
Thirdly, we could learn that our actions have consequences. There are causes that brought about the current situation and how we react now will form our future: we can choose to retract into self-protection or we can open up into self-care.
While self-protection means to shut oneself off in fear, self-care means the opposite, to practice your sense of connectedness. It means to realize that we have indeed been loved, held and pushed forwards by individuals from whom we received deep care and compassion -people who walked the extra mile for us - without whom we would not be here. If we look closely, we can see that behind them again are other people, forming a larger network around us providing everything we need to sustain our lives. Right now during this worldwide crisis there are many people who are risking their lives, - doctors and nurses, and others who show up to work for the benefit of others.
Is it not only fair then, that we pay it forward? If we could learn, through our practice, to see people in their full potential, rather than as the limited roles we assign them as “others,” the world would look a lot different. Just think about it: Would seeing others in their full human potential not bring comfort, grace and a sense of safety into our lives? And what a great opportunity this could be to change the course of our habitual ego-centered thinking. The more we cling to self-protection, the smaller we make others, and the more scared we will feel.
I encourage you all to use this Great Pause for some reflection and self-care.
Sit down as you wake up every morning to breathe calmly while recalling your network of caregivers. Rest in the sense of being held, being wished well for and let the feeling expand in your heart. The next step would be to extend the sense of care to others around you, from your inner circle of close ones and outwards. Let’s see how far it can ripple into the universe!
Many amazing teachings are also made available through the grace of our lamas (who are not just distant guru figures but engage in everything from providing food and medical care to teaching online meditation sessions) I list a few of them here so that you can enjoy your “retreat”