COVID-19. One word with so many contradictions: death, innovation, anger, selflessness, anxiety, adaptation, depression, creativity. The fullness of life! To date, at least 8,457,305 infections; 453,882 deaths. We hear the counts every night like reports from a war zone. We know it is not gone. The financial fall-out we haven’t begun to comprehend. The isolation affects all of us differently. For me the last few months have been like living in slower motion.
Focus sharpens in times of illness. We come face to face with mortality. We have time to think. We see and hear in ways we haven’t before. This slowed down time, this slower motion has revealed itself to me like a kaleidoscope, the changes going on around us and within us. We see the turn of the seasons close up. A birds-eye view, this time of concentrated inward reflection in the world. This time of intentional watching has revealed the contrasts and contradictions: Black and Indigenous lives matter! People can work at home and be productive. Children and parents have more time to bond. Those already isolated find they have more ways of accessing the world online. We can cut greenhouse gas emissions, just like that.
We have to be still. We have to listen. We have to be.
I offer three strategies for COVID, think of them as spiritual practices. From my own experience: Walk. Walk more. Give thanks.
Walk or whatever movement you can manage. I had a sprained ankle for the past six weeks, so sometimes that movement has been guarded, sometimes limited to watching the movement of light, wind, and life outside my window.
In the river valley, I’ve found my way around paths I was afraid to follow before. The Dawson-Kinnaird parks are riddled with animal and human trails in hidey-hole places. I’ve taken them, daily, sometimes twice daily, and learned their routes as I’ve followed my feet. When there was still snow on the ground and long before the leaves, I followed the trails, winter into spring, spring into summer, knowing them one layer at a time, when I knew I couldn’t get lost. And now I can’t. (For the full unfurling I’ve witnessed this spring, visit my twitter feed @audreyjwhitson)
Walk more. Make a pilgrimage where you live, another practice I’ve taken up. A pilgrimage in honour of Saint Brighid suggested by a friend of mine in the neighbourhood with Irish heritage, Kate Quinn. I set out on this walk at least once a week early in the morning. During COVID, the streets are quiet. I see the occasional fellow drinking coffee on their deck, smoking a cigarette, searching for bottles in the dumpster or walking like me. Everyone is friendly. I don’t remember a time when I felt so comfortable talking to “the stranger.” We know we’re all in this “unprecedented” time together. I stop at the homes of neighbours I know and pray a blessing over the hedge, “May the cloak of Brighid flow over this house.” Occasionally they see me or I see them through the window, but that is not the point. The point is to be present in the void. The point is to ground myself in my world and to come home feeling more connected than when I left.
Give thanks. The final strategy for COVID is something I’ve learned from another friend in the neighbourhood and have adopted as my own. I’ve kept gratitude journals over the years and prayed lists too. But this is simpler and means more to me. At the end of every day I write down one thing that has made the day extraordinary: some encounter, some event, some exchange. For me that might mean crossing paths with wildlife; experiencing a piece of art in word, image, or sound; a rich conversation with a friend or receiving a comment from a complete stranger. Often something small in the scheme of things.
Savour the fullness in the nothingness of this time.