I’m having dreams about talking with people. About sitting in beer halls and talking about normal things. About meeting people for dinner. About speaking to people in English and in Italian and Spanish. I desperately try to find a seat, but there are so many people all together that it’s standing room only.
And I wake up every morning and say hello to my plants. I ask them how they slept and tell them that I will make sure to give them water in a few minutes. We have a snake plant we’ve had for almost a year and a new arrival, a peppermint bunch.
“Hold on just a minute,” I say. “I’ll be right back to talk more after I have a shower.”
It’s day 53 here for us.
I started counting after 40 days because it felt like I should. I’m going up and down on the rollercoaster that all humanity is on for the foreseeable future, and it’s been a particularly cruel twist for me over the last ten days.
It went from everyone being worried about us here in China and things getting relatively back to normal, to being in limbo with a heavy heart watching Italy and South Korea go into the fight, to watching the world fall one by one like the collapse that the Marshall Plan envisaged, but viral contagion as the driver and not alternate political philosophies.
It’s hard to keep going, and there is probably a lot more to endure.
We’re going to make it, though. I’m making it. If I can make it, then you can make it. You, person reading this. You are strong. You can do this. You can fight, too. Hold on.
We need to share what’s getting us through this unprecedented time. I’ve made a list below, but if you’re reading this, please start your own. Share it. Send it to your family and friends. Send it to me. Let’s get this going.
#1 – GET GREAT MUSIC
Holding on is going to take a lot more than we normally have in this department. Make your own music. Sing to others. Listen to the greats of classical, electronika, and Eurovision. Hold a silent disco in your living room.
But use the music to drive you. I’ve been having a really hard time focusing on what needs to get done in terms of work because my brain is full of the fog of war mixed with the haze of tedium. A pair of headphones and some Japanese stadium rock and BOOM I’m productive again.
Nostalgia is a great driver now, too. Play music that got you through difficult times in the past. Remember the times that you thought that nothing would work out. Keep wildebeasting.
#2 – USE YOUR IMAGINATION
This is meant from the standpoint of the Active Imagination that Carl Jung was a fan of. I didn’t know until this year, just before the shit hit the proverbial wind tunnel, that Jung spent long periods of his life in what might be called a depressive state. For him, it seemed that taking walks and making an imaginary world into which he could retreat to deal with his issues head on was a saving grace. he went as far as making poppets from natural things outdoors and spending time in conversation with them. I’ve never done that, but imagination is a comfort.
In these circumstances, many of us cannot go out much. Our beloved mountains in this area are still blocked off for the most part. I use music to push me to imagine what the world may be and to “travel” beyond the walls of my apartment and through time. It’s all in my head, and that’s totally fine.
I recommend finding music that inspires you and letting your feelings guide you to what you need to imagine. I’ll post some of the pieces I use for this below. Keep in mind that even if the music is from a movie, you don’t have to imagine the movie itself. You can make whatever stories you want from the music.
Max Richter, one of my favourite composers, says that a musical piece is a place to think. Here are two of his. One is from a CD presciently titled, “Songs from Before.”
#3 – SEEK CATHARSIS
Might sound a bit crazy at the moment to seek out crying. But that’s exactly what I’m asking you to do. You probably need a good cry, given what is going on. It’s really hard, and I don’t want to downplay anyone’s way of dealing with their emotions, but the catharsis of yelling out, crying tears that need shedding, throwing rocks into a stream in anger, or (SAFELY) lighting fire to a list of anxieties cannot be over estimated in these times. Turn on bittersweet, epic classical music and let it all out.
We spend so much of our lives trying to hide or suppress emotions. This is not a time for that. Find time to be by yourself and get in touch with how you are really feeling. You’ll be better able to put your game face on for the fight ahead if you make time to express your feelings.
Get physical and vocal. You’ll feel better.
#4 – DAILY MEMORIAL TO THE NORMAL
If there was something that you did every day in the past, do it now.
Keep your routines and spend a few minutes remembering what it was like before. Carry this feeling with you into the near future and savour every moment of your moment of normalcy. It doesn’t have to be a long one, especially if you have other responsibilities that you need to take care of like childcare.
Make a cup of coffee and spend the whole time really thinking about that cup and how to make it feel normal. Hold onto that like a talisman against the unknown. If you can still make a cup of coffee, things aren’t as sideways as they might feel yet. Breath in that normalcy.
#5 – MEDITATION
This one is the best medicine there is for this time. You don’t need to be religious or spiritual in any way. Sit down. Light a candle. Gaze down the tip of your nose into the flame. Stay for as long as you feel is useful.
I set a ten minute timer for myself every morning or evening. But if you can’t hold the space that long at the moment, don’t worry. You’ll be able to get the very real benefit of meditation even if you only manage 60 seconds.
#6 – “PRAYER” BEADS
I put the prayer in quotes because you certainly don’t have to use them for praying if you aren’t into that kind of thing. When we were in Beijing in January and we were watching the quarantines come down in real time on our phones while we rocketed across the country on a train, I realised what the beads that people have carried for meditation and prayer for at least centuries (if not millennia) are actually for.
Malas, rosaries, Misbaha, ojuzu, knotted string. These are for keeping your hands busy and your mind focused when things are so bad that you don’t have the words. You can simply hold them in your hands, wear them around your neck, or use them to repeat mantras/prayers a certain number of times. I have a rosary and a japamala I made myself that I carry alternately.
I hold mine in my hands when I’m trying to fall asleep, and repeat my favourite “mantra” for this situation 108 times a day at least: “Morning has broken.”
There’s a lot of information out there about how to cope with whatever the hell we’re supposed to be calling this time of being apart. If this slightly alternative list helps you, get in touch. I’d love to share more ideas.