Life has a way of pulling the rug from under your feet unexpectedly. In Vipassana, we are repeatedly taught the word ‘annicca’ or impermanence. But no one could have prepared us for the way the rug was pulled out from under our collective feet with the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Impermanence or uncertainty was a lesson that came home more powerfully than any Vipassana course I have attended.
The things that one took for granted were suddenly out of bounds. The promenade where everyone went for a morning walk. The building compound. The neighbourhood store. Pizza delivery. Family and friends. Neighbours .
I live alone but being isolated in this way was intense. My cat would be mortally offended if he realised I had said I live alone—he is an integral part of my life. I am not sure how other pet owners feel but having my grumpy cat by my side was one of the saving graces of being in lockdown and gave me enough moments to smile about.
In the surreal surround of the early months, my friend, actor and wellness teacher Nandinii Sen, started a 21-day Om chanting session. The sound vibrations of Om are supposed to be healing. No words, no visuals—21 days, 21 chants at the same time each day. Six pm everyday became a cantering spot. The sense of connection, even though I didn’t see or exchange messages with anyone else, may have helped regulate some of the virus-induced tachycardia that many of us were experiencing.
Almost as this one ended, my friend Kumkum announced she would be leading a 21-day Deepak Chopra session for a closed group. We signed up. We journalled, we listened to audio talks, we meditated, we got mantras to chant. I assure you Sat Chit Ananda and Aham Brahmasmi take on a new meaning when you are in lockdown. There were no discussions and chats, just self-work. Yet it reinforced the Buddhist teaching that the sangha or community is one of the triple jewels of spiritual progress. Journaling, an old practise I had forgotten, came back and like muscle memory, I found myself being able to use it as an effective coping tool.
Intermittent fasting (IF) became a thing—it didn’t begin as part of a wellness journey but more as a way of reducing washing-up and cooking. I was also working on a book on IF, so I was doing a lot of reading around it. The book fell away but IF stayed on. Thanks to the lack of social events, I could actually eat my dinner at 7 pm and stay with 16:8 effortlessly. It would never have been possible in my old life. I want to definitely stay with this one.
Cooking and meal posts deserve an entire book as they became both therapy and coping strategy for my entire social network. We all had a lot going on in our professional lives and somehow the kitchen became a safe space. My cooking skills could do with some help still, but I am more self-sufficient in the kitchen than I have ever been in my life and I intend to keep that going.
I de-cluttered like a driven person until I realised I had nowhere to send the clutter to until the lockdown lifted.
Humour kept us going. With no household help permitted in buildings, my friend Rashna joked that we were all part of the BJP brigade (Bartan Jhadoo Pocha). Sweeping and mopping made me discover muscles I didn’t know existed and I worked up a sweat faster than on any treadmill I had been on. I was a bundle of screaming aches and pains. But on the plus side my muscles got toned and the challenged thighs that had always refused to respond to weights or trainers or Pilates suddenly got new shape (I am not sticking with this good practise though).
In the shadow pandemics that are a fallout of the forced new normal, I knew some physical movement was going to be essential to keeping mental balance. Knowing my Netflix bingeing and couch potato tendencies, I hedged my bets with a library of ‘staying fit’ links.
Leslie Samsone’s Walk Strong 3-mile walk from home became my go-to favourite. So did Kassandra’s vinayasa flow and the Santa Cruz Yoga Institute’s one-hour pranayama and asana workout. I knew that given my vata-dosha skew any high intensity exercise was not for me.
We now know much more about covid-19 than we did nine months ago and even though a B188.8.131.52 mutation is lurking around the corner, things are much easier. I met my 91-year-old uncle who lives 5 km away after nine months last week. There was a feeling of spontaneous gratitude that both he and I had come through and could meet again.
The vaccine may change everything and being human, we will probably go back to life as we knew it. But gratitude and an abiding sense of the here and now are lessons well-learned. A sense of wonder, too, at human perserverence and courage—a vaccine in record time, tens of thousands of frontline workers unflinchingly reporting to work, essential services running because someone was willing to be out there manning them.
I started the year with a talk on the Wheel of Life by the Buddhist nun Jentsunma Tenzin Palmo. It was before we knew of covid and what it would bring in its wake. I am ending it with Turn Your world Around, a course by the American Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron.
It is almost as if a year of my life has been bookended between these two. I can see how much I have changed. Or the pandemic has changed me.
Geeta Rao is a Mumbai-based writer and former beauty editor of Vogue India