I’ve lost track of how long we have participated in the New York State executive order to stay at home. It feels like a month. Many of us do not go out, except to occasionally grocery shop, one day runs into the other with little distinction. Once we started staying at home our expectations of simple things like going to a restaurant, visiting a friend, or attending a religious service ceased to be a demarcation in our lives. This latter feature is probably most relevant to me, since I retired from teaching, I spend most my time in my study at the temple.
We do see people, Tamami goes to work in the morning she comes home in the late afternoon, we commune with each other during our teleconferencing sessions for Wednesday night, or classes. On several occasions people have come to the temple and I’ve spoken with them at an appropriate distance.
At the end of a weekend retreat or the Gyo (training period), I caution people to be careful because they have been sequestered in living a kind of altered reality for the period of retreat or training. Many years ago when I did training on Hiei-zan, outside of Kyoto, Japan, I trained with about 40 other people during a very intensive month. Originally, I had intended to visit a number of friends in Tokyo over about a week before returning to the states. After riding on the Shinkansen (high-speed train) back to Tokyo, I spent an interesting evening with Tamami’s family who welcomed me and wanted to celebrate my completing the gyo. I was appreciative and responded appropriately. The next day I didn’t want to see anyone, certainly did not want to go and eat and drink beer and sake in my favorite izakayas (Japanese tapas bars) in downtown Tokyo. I contacted the airline, paid the extra fee and took the first flight back to the States.
We don’t know when we are going to be able to return to semi normal, go out to restaurants or public events? When will we be able to sit shoulder to shoulder during discussions, or within a few feet in the Hondo? This may be what has been referred to as a rolling return. We start by maintaining social distance and then slowly over time regain close to normal social situations.
Several days ago I was thinking about my reaction to being in public after isolation. Is it going to be similar to my experience after I had left training on Hiei-zan? Will we feel displaced, out of sorts? Will we need a readjustment period?
What will that be like?
All of us are wondering when we are going to be able to go to school or work or have an otherwise ordinary life again. Epidemiologically this is a relative unknown. As I wrote in the last Journal. This is a novel, or unknown, virus about which little can be stated definitively. Certainly, testing will need to be done. Whether this is on the population as a whole, if we can do that, on a sample of the population, on those who are most susceptible, on those returning to work, on and on. What criteria will we use?
There are so many factors that need to be considered as to when we ‘Restart America.’ Rather than write about this in detail, there was an informative article in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine section. The title is ‘Restarting America Means People Will Die. So When Do We Do It? Five thinkers weigh moral choices in a crisis.’ The five people include a Protestant minister (the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II), an economist (Dr. Anne Case), a bioethicist and physician (Dr. Zeke Emanuel), a civil rights attorney (Vanita Gupta), and a bioethics professor (Dr. Peter Singer). It is certainly a necessary read. Don’t worry about a pay wall. Anything that is on the New York Times that is Covid-19 related is free.
The link to this is: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/10/magazine/coronavirus-economy-debate.html?searchResultPosition=1
In the States I think our realization regarding the severity of the corona pandemic came about when the various sports leagues cancelled and postponed their seasons. This was quickly followed by orchestras, theatrical troupes, religious services; any enterprise that required large gatherings canceling their seasons.
Shortly after we became sequestered it seemed everyday there was another well-known musician who was reported to have died from COVID-19, Bill Withers, Ellis Marsalis, John Prine, Adam Schlesinger, Wallace Roney, Kenny Rodgers, Manu Dibango, and others. In Japan a famous comedian, Ken Shimura, died from corona virus about two weeks ago and it is reported in the Japanese press that his death was the wake-up call to Japan. We are saddened and shocked by these deaths.
Perhaps we should add to the vulnerabilities, preexisting health conditions, age over 65 years, and respiratory conditions, we might include those susceptible to COVID-19 mortality musicians and other entertainers.
Our sadness is compounded by nervousness that if such well-known, and presumably well cared for persons, like Ellis Marsalis or Ken Shimura, succumb to this horrible plague, what about me?
In a very real way anxiety is comorbid with both the covid infection and with isolation resulting from the covid pandemic.
Various publications and podcasts have articles and installments that provide instruction on how to cope with the stress this pandemic has provoked. Some measures may work for some people and other measures work for others. There is no single best way to deal with it.
It should be recognized that anxiety is a normal outcome in this situation. Therefore, if you are feeling frightened, you should know that that is a normal response.
It helps to think outside of yourself, don’t concentrate on your feelings of helplessness and vulnerability. Think of those who are overcoming their own fears to assist you and others. It is natural to immediately think about the first responders such as emergency medical people, police, fire people, and healthcare workers.
Some of the people who are most at risk are those who are essential workers and at the same time the least remunerated and relatively low on the socio/economic scale. The healthcare aids in nursing homes, cashiers in markets, custodians in any establishment that is open, service station attendants, agricultural workers, the list of those who are considered essential, poorly paid and often without health insurance, is long. Many of these people are undocumented immigrants. Many of these people are minorities who are at greater risk for coronavirus than the majority population.
We need to keep these people in our thoughts as we honor the heroes on the front line. When you feel worried for yourself, and perhaps a little sorry for yourself that you have to stay at home without being engaged, consider those who do not have the luxuries of being able to stay at home, whether working, or unengaged.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused me to rethink the privilege that many of us experience. This in turn causes me to feel a sense of gratitude and humility. In so doing, my anxiety is relaxed and I feel a greater sense of solidarity with all sentient beings.
Each day, take a period of time to do five Healing Breathes (Breath in for the count of four, hold it for the count of seven, breathe out for the count of eight) visualize those people performing heroic, mundane, and necessary tasks, that assist in keeping you alive and well. Express to them your gratitude. Feel a sense of humility that we are all, each and every one, part of this universe, infinite and pure.
When anxiety begins to swell within, see outside yourself. Be part of humankind, part of all sentient beings, part of the universe, one and the same without distinction. Breathe in the universe, hold it within you, breathe out your anxiety.
You are blessed. All things are pure by nature and you too are pure by nature.
With lovingkindness, Gassho . . . Monshin