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The COVID pandemic is one of the worst catastrophes in human history. To date, in the United States alone, over a half million people have lost their lives. Ten to twelve million people have lost their jobs and still haven’t gotten them back yet. Now the vaccine is bringing us hope for a brighter future. But still, our patience is being tested; it will be a long time before life gets back to “normal.” During this pandemic, everyone has been impacted in unprecedented ways. Many of us are overwhelmed, frozen, and even apathetic at times.
Life brings us events of “chaos” and “disorder” like the COVID. Things get piled up and unsorted, without positive outcomes. We experience an arrhythmia of the mind. At these times, we may feel caught up in the middle of nowhere—dumped into the chaos. If we enter into that state, how can we manage it? What do we do with these stagnant feelings that often make us feel powerless? They may cause us to lose a sense of ownership of our lives. When this happens, how can we get the powers back in our own lives and feel more grounded?
Whenever my thoughts get cloudy or caught up, I use my body and begin doing a small thing that I can physically control. Polishing the sink and faucets, tidying up the desk, or reorganizing the pantry or inside the refrigerator are all good choices. This small action, like the AED defibrillator, saves our sanity before a panic attack. When I do this, I do it meticulously and wholeheartedly. It helps me clear the clouds, wipe out worries, and fill my mind with a sense of achievement.
Tidying up—a short, achievable physical action with a visible goal—is the key to changing your rotten mood.
I have used this concise interruptive action as part of my spiritual practice for a long time. Sorting out something small near you allows you to grip the handle of the door to lucidity in your life. When I polish and shine the kitchen sink and faucet, this small, symbolic act of cleaning leads me to find fulfillment in the chaos, which further sheds light on other areas obscured by dimness.
When you choose a small action that’s altruistic in nature, like fixing a family member’s showerhead or even tightening their loosened chair legs, your once-stagnant mood will vanish, totally blown away. Even the smallest physical action has the potential to help you open, access, connect with your core, and locate the groundedness within you.
In mid-February of last year, just before the pandemic was announced, I began to experience a disaster in my household: a serious kitchen flooding caused by water leaking out under the dishwasher. I’d had another flooding episode in the previous year from a defective valve in the dishwasher. While I awaited the dishwasher technician, I wasted some time. The flooding was caused by not the dishwasher but a pipe tear behind the dishwasher in the wall.
With the limited work availability and confusion with COVID, the kitchen repair and reconstruction took over three months. During the construction, my kitchen was in containment and had no water supply (though I still had access to the refrigerator).
As soon as this additional disaster became part of my life, I intently focused on my daily writing to make it a sort of pacemaker for myself. Also, I began to offer more frequent gatherings—four times a month—on Zoom to an existing spiritual group I’m a part of. This is the way I’ve shared my concern, empathy, love, and support with the people in our spiritual community daily for many years. But I always find it true that what I do wholeheartedly for others helps me the most. I am the luckiest one; I receive tremendous psychological and spiritual support from the sacred and invisible. Gratitude, which always comes without expectation, is my best reward.
In June of 2015, about a year before his passing, my husband, Patrick, was again transported to one of the rehabilitation centers in San Diego after having undergone a couple of surgeries and their consecutive hospitalizations. By that time, I knew that the conventional healthcare systems would no longer support Patrick’s care and life. I sensed the end of his comprehensive healthcare approaching. As many doctors had already suggested, we would soon be thrown into new terrain: hospice care at home. I was under pressure to prepare for this next step.
Back then, no matter where he was hospitalized, Patrick needed me all the time. I’d fulfilled this need wholeheartedly during his treatment; I didn’t know how to do otherwise. He’d already been traumatized by the hospital staff’s sometimes intentional, other times unintentional neglect of his needs to urinate in time. All the healthcare staff was spread too thin to care for every patient’s needs. I was attempting to comfort Patrick and ease his time in the hospital with my compensating “extra” efforts. I tried my best, one action at a time. That was the only way for me to get through the heaviest storms in my life.
Two days after Patrick moved to the rehabilitation center, a man joined him from a different room. The roommate was tall and handsome, in his eighties. I’d seen him in the lobby on the first day Patrick got transported to the center. As I followed Patrick’s gurney into his room, I’d glanced at the man—sitting in his wheelchair, extending his legs forward, resting his temple on his right palm with his elbow bent on the wheelchair’s arm. Since then, whenever I’d walked through the lobby, he’d been there, waiting in his wheelchair, alone, beside a crowd of rather cheerful old ladies also in wheelchairs.
The center’s aides called him “professor” and treated him with respect. When he and I finally spoke, he told me, in very formal language, that he’d come to the center to recover from a couple of recent stroke episodes. But it was evident that he had dementia. While speaking, he occasionally experienced a sudden withdrawal—became quiet and held his temple with his palm as if something inside his head was falling apart.
During Patrick’s stay, I saw his wife twice. Her visits were short and rather distant from her husband; she seemed mainly there to meet with the center’s administrators. She came to his room briefly and reported how difficult, even impossible, and it seemed to get long-term care for him. Her voice broke in frustration. As she noticed me on the other side of the partition, she spoke even louder, as if she wanted me to listen to her “tragedy,” what she was crying for in her life.
While his wife shot words at him, the man kept asking, “Where is the chocolate cake? Where is it? You told me you would bring it the next time . . . Where is it?”
“I told you I would do it next time,” his wife said, trying to stop him from speaking. Then she quickly picked up his wheelchair, pushing it out to the hallway. Five minutes later, they came back, and then she disappeared.
On the day of Patrick’s discharge, his roommate, the “professor,” was in the lobby again, sitting in his wheelchair, touching his temple, and waiting.
These are stories in our lives.
Whether controllable or not, we are on the journeys of our lives. Life brings us all the unknown at each moment. Some events are beyond our control, even if we wish them not to be. They swallow us straight into the heart of problems, and at times we don’t know how long those problems will last or how we can maintain ourselves in them. Whether or not we like it, the tsunamis can wash up on our shores, and the storms can smash the land around us at times.
I’ve pondered many “what if” possibilities in my own life. But I am not afraid of life. I love life, whatever it brings. I am an advocate for living a life with more curiosity, love, and courage. To sail the oceans of the unknown, we need to know our vessels, prepare for the journeys ahead of us, and enjoy them wholeheartedly. The openness to potential is the base and drive for learning from anything new and unknown.
Join me this place, where you can keep a window open to your Self by a small yet sincere act of tidying up. It will allow you to own your life in the middle of storms. Freedom, love, and potential can emerge from the place within.