My life Stories – Part 13
Stories from my past memories – childhood, family, friends, growing up, poverty, integrity, dreams come true, finding peace and happiness, Buddhism, Yoga, and now…
We were busy organizing our new life in this rented apartment on Penang Island after we moved in on the 2nd of February. We needed to get the apartment ready to receive Marc’s parents who came to visit us during the 4th week of February. Two weeks after Marc’s parents left, Malaysia and many other countries declared national and international lockdown due to the pandemic in mid-March. We didn’t get to explore much of the island. At least, I knew the way to the supermarket for grocery shopping every ten days or so during the lockdown. Also, my husband got to swim every day in the condominium’s swimming pool from the day we moved in for about six weeks until the lockdown started.
One of the main reasons we decided to leave Langkawi and move to Penang Island renting this particular apartment was because it had the 50 metres lap pool and it’s beside a hiking path. Regular swimming and walking is very important for my husband’s over-all well-being. He has some old and new injuries as well as extreme low blood pressure that restricted him from performing yoga asana practice. I myself prefer doing yoga asana practice at home, and hence, the lockdown didn’t cause me much inconvenience and restriction. It was until the RMCO (Recovery Movement Control Order) started in early July, where the swimming pools in many condominiums remained closed due to the strict S.O.P (Standard Operating Procedure), but the public swimming pool started operating again complying with the S.O.P, my husband got to swim regularly again at the Spice Aquatic Centre for a few months until the pandemic second wave hit Penang and many other states in Malaysia in early November, where swimming activities are not allowed, again.
Even so, my husband and I are very glad that we had left Langkawi and moved into this apartment just before the pandemic lockdown, where we can’t travel or run yoga retreats. We really loved Langkawi, and were thinking of living there for as long as possible because of the nature and slow pace of living that we liked very much, but the human related difficulties that we experienced while living and teaching yoga in Langkawi in the last ten years had encouraged me to suggest to my husband that we should go somewhere else.
Similarly, Marc’s parents had made a very sudden decision to change their travelling dates to travel earlier to Australia than their initial plan, to spend a couple of months with their second daughter and grandchildren and then visit us for one week on the way back to Ireland just before the international lockdown began. Or else, they wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere if they had followed their initial travel plan. When they informed us about they had already bought the flight tickets to Langkawi for February 2020, they didn’t know that we had decided to move to Penang, and they didn’t think of we wouldn’t be living in Langkawi anymore one day. Partially it’s our own fault as we didn’t want to inform anyone about our plan to move away from Langkawi until we had found a secured place to live in Penang. And so, we bought them the flight tickets to Penang and paid for their one night accommodation in Langkawi before their connecting flight between Langkawi – Kuala Lumpur – Dublin. That worked out nicely in the end. We didn’t expect pandemic and international lockdown would be happening in March. It was so lucky that they got to see their children and grandchildren before the pandemic, and nobody knows how long this travel restriction will go on.
Many people, including some yoga practitioners and teachers might understand the importance of it, but they couldn’t observe the practice of social distancing during the pandemic, which is the most important way to stop the spread of the virus from human to human. A few reasons why people can’t practice social distancing or avoid any kinds physical social meet up, gathering and interaction for a prolonged period of time such as the sense of loneliness, meaninglessness and boredom, and anxiety building up towards the pandemic and the side-effects of it; people don’t really understand and don’t want social distancing; as well as many people just can’t live without engaging in physical social/cultural/religious practices, celebrations, ceremonies and events in a group more than one person.
People can’t live without physically meeting, mingling, interacting, communicating and talking with some other human beings from time to time, especially with their family and friends who live physically apart from one another. People can’t live without hugging and touching or ‘kiss kiss’, especially with their family and friends.
People, including some yoga enthusiasts and mental health professionals, would actually believe that people will be sick and die if without physical hugging and touching with other human beings. People can’t just be by themselves or with those within the same household after a certain period of time, but they need to go out and physically mingling with their neighbours, relatives and friends, and family members who are not living under the same household.
Social distancing isn’t just about maintaining at least two metres distance of physical distancing, on top of frequent hand-washing and wearing face mask like what most people would prefer it to be, where people need to go out to work to maintain livelihood and get daily needs, but it’s the restriction of all kinds of physical social/cultural/religious activity, gathering, meet up, interaction, communication, celebration, ceremony and event that gather two or more people to be in a particular space, which involves verbal interaction or talking among people, that serves an upmost important role to minimize the spread of the highly contagious virus. Because most people just forget about maintaining physical distance and can’t avoid verbal/physical communication/interaction when there are two people or more being together in the same space.
There’s nothing wrong with people being sociable and talkative and carrying out their all-time social/cultural/religious practices even in the midst of pandemic. Life has to go on. Just that this pandemic won’t end anytime soon, but will keep growing under the ongoing physical social meet up, gathering, mingling, interaction and talking face to face among human beings. People’s lives, movements and livelihoods that depend on the global economy will always be restricted and affected, unless the vaccine is found and accessible/affordable to everyone.
Because the pandemic is still continuing and even worsening throughout Malaysia and in many other countries, we won’t be running yoga retreats anytime soon. We still receive some retreat requests from time to time, but we reject all of them, as we know it’s not suitable to have such activities during the pandemic. And recently, during the second wave lockdown in Malaysia, all kinds of retreat activities are not allowed, which we agree with.
We had been living on Marc’s saving for the last many months, and lately, his writing, editing and proofreading career has started to take off. He got some international writing, editing and proofreading work that brings in some income for our living, even though the amount is not much and isn't enough to cover monthly basic living expenses. Just like many other people who have to work from home, his work depends very much on the internet connectivity. It would be difficult for him if we had stayed in Langkawi, because the internet speed that we had in that house was very slow and we experienced no internet connectivity for a few days from time to time. We also wouldn’t be able to run yoga retreats in Langkawi during the pandemic if we had stayed there. Here in Penang, we can have a high speed internet connection at a lower price than what we had paid in Langkawi.
Just like everything in this world, this apartment is not perfect. It also has some defects. We are not looking for perfection, but appreciating all the good points while accommodating the not so good points. The living condition, the surrounding environment, the natural air flow and the lighting in this apartment are significantly better than the previous house in Langkawi. This is especially important for my husband, as he needs a healthy environment and comfortable space for his writing that requires a lot of concentration and creativity. Proper lighting is a must because he reads a lot throughout the day and night. Our monthly electric bill now is about 70% less than what we had while living in Langkawi.
Even though people’s everyday lives with certain familiar routine and many physical activities or travelling are under restriction at this time being for the sake of flattening the curve of the pandemic, and many people’s livelihood are more or less being affected by it especially if this will go on for a longer period of time, we are grateful with how and where we are.
The pandemic might restrict us from running yoga retreats, but it doesn’t restrict me from performing yoga practice and writing about yoga in my blogs once in a while. There’s a shift in the world of yoga in a good way being benefited from the pandemic lockdown. It’s not so much about appreciating the good things that we already have in life. The pandemic lockdown is creating a great opportunity, time and space to the yoga enthusiasts to develop self-practice, self-reliance, self-discipline and self-inquiry, inquiring the truth of impermanence and selflessness in all the names and forms, and experience the practice of solitude, seclusion and silence, if they want, under the movement restriction. Though not many people would be interested in the practice of solitude, seclusion and silence, as they prefer to continue keeping busy with their social life and activities mentally and emotionally through the social media platforms during the lockdown or the two weeks mandatory self-quarantine.
Some people’s existing livelihood might be affected by the pandemic lockdown and need to find some other way of making a living to support oneself and/or other people under one’s care, and hence, they won’t be thinking of the practice of silence at this time, which is nothing wrong. Just by maintaining equanimous under any condition and situation without being determined by the impermanent changes and challenges in life, while doing one’s best to look after oneself and one’s life is already a great practice. One can also ask for help from some others if needed, without feeling bad about oneself and one’s difficulty, and without expecting sympathetic reaction or treatment from others thinking that other people should provide help to oneself, but allowing voluntary help from others is available, or not.
Not many people are suitable for the practice of solitude, seclusion and silence. Most people need to keep their minds busy engaging in social connection and interaction with their family and friends physically, mentally and emotionally in order to maintain sanity and counter the sense of loneliness, meaninglessness and boredom, to be caring for one another amidst the pandemic. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s better for people to maintain certain degrees of sanity than losing their minds while trying to perform the practice of silence to quiet the restless mind, if they aren’t ready for it, particularly in this time being. Those who don’t have enough understanding towards the teachings and practice of yoga would be disturbed by the sense of guilt, if they think they are not being there physically, mentally and emotionally for other people, especially their close family and friends. People also have fear towards being criticized by other people for trying to practice silence.
Some people have responsibility towards looking after their old parents, or young children, or physical dependent family members, and hence, aren't able to observe the practice of silence, and it's fine. They just need to know how to look after their own well-being, and aren't being frustrated about unable to do something they would like to do while had to be looking after some other people in their lives. That is also part of our yoga practice, if all those worldly responsibilities are being performed selflessly without attachment, identification and expectation towards the action and the fruit of action.
There’s nothing wrong either for those who make use of this time being to go into solitude and seclusion to practice silence even just for a few weeks being completely cut off from all kinds of social connection, communication, interaction and activity physically, mentally and emotionally, if they are ready, being equipped with Viveka, Vairagya, Shatsampat and Mumukshutva. Those who haven’t experience the practice of silence before should start with one week of silence first, and then gradually increase the length of the duration while having a short break in between, to allow the mind gradually gets use to it and realizes the effect of the practice.
Those who weren’t affected financially by the pandemic lockdown and who have developed certain degrees of self-reliance and correct understanding about the teachings and practice of yoga, and who have determination to free the mind from ignorance, restlessness, disturbs and impurities are suitable and ready for the practice of complete silence for a short or prolonged period of time. Those who are suffering from chronic depression and those who are physically, mentally and emotionally dependent on other people in everyday life are not suitable to practice complete silence. Though there’s no harm and it’s beneficial for them or anyone to be practicing some light yoga asana and breathing exercises regularly at home, especially if many outdoor and group activities are not allowed in the midst of the pandemic.
If the mind still hasn’t developed the basic foundation of non-attachment, non-identification, non-craving, non-aversion and non-expectation, and doesn’t have the basic understanding towards the modification of the mind and the purification process of the mind, even if oneself has been practicing yoga for a long time and is interested to try the practice of silence, then it’s being advised that the practice of silence should only be done under the supervision from some others who had a higher understanding about the modification of the mind and the mind purification process.
Some people might misunderstand that just by staying at home not going out for many days restricting many physical social and leisure activities during the lockdown is not different from the practice of silence. It’s about cutting off all kinds of familiar worldly habits of the mind, including self-pampering with pleasurable enjoyment of the senses, and mental and emotional connections, communications, interactions and activities with other beings, refraining the mind from the habit of going out chasing after the objects of senses to be entertained and stimulated.
The observation of silence is bringing the mind to the present to be focusing within on the internalizing yoga and meditation practice, for quieting the mind and turning the mind inwards for self-introspection, being the witness of the modification of the mind and contemplation towards the truth of names and forms or “I”, while looking after the basic daily needs of maintaining the well-being of the physical body. It’s an intense mind purification process that might generate great discomfort physically, mentally and emotionally. That’s why it’s not suitable for those who are not mentally and emotionally independent. Also, one must be able to take responsibility towards one’s action and the consequences of one’s action. Those who like to blame others for all their unhappiness, pain and discomfort are not suitable for this practice either.
Just by restricting the familiar physical social and leisure activities or not moving the body, but without restricting the mental and emotional craving and longing towards entertainment, stimulation and social connection, communication, interaction and activity, even if being physically isolated by oneself for a prolonged period of time, it won’t work.
While some yoga practitioners might feel that life existence is too precious to be wasting in mind disciplining practice under the threat of the pandemic, and hence, forgoing the yoga practice of disciplining and silencing the mind but indulging in worldly enjoyments of the senses as much as possible. That’s their freedom and there’s nothing wrong.
All is impermanent.