I woke up on Friday morning feeling a sharp pain in my heart. My initial thought was – oh no my lungs are hurting, this can’t be good – then my next thought was that this was an emotional pain. It took a while for me to recognise what it might be. Then the thought struck – I am feeling lonely. I haven’t felt lonely since I was in my second year at university in London – and that was a very long time ago.
As many of you may know, I began living on my own at the end of January after 24 years of living as a couple and bringing up a daughter. I self-isolated for a couple of weeks at the start of this month because I wasn’t well and now we are all social distancing. So while I have seen a lot of people online I have not seen so many people in person.
The lonely thought struck as a concept and I bought into it. Looking ahead to the next three or four months as an alone human being felt terribly daunting. In particular, I will miss seeing my daughter and this made me feel sad. I looked at it from various perspectives. My teacher had advised me to be self-reliant – what better opportunity than this? I reminded myself that humans are evolved to live in groups and so it was perfectly natural to feel this way – it wasn’t my fault. Again, what a great opportunity to face and refrain from my evolutionary conditioning.
Then on top of this is the fear of what might happen, all the people who may fall ill and die – some that I know and some that I don’t. All those who’s lives will be changed in unimagined ways, with a loss of work and income.
I notice a lot of my habitual patterns returning – I am compulsively listening to radio 4 news having downloaded the BBC sounds app on my phone. I am compulsively checking the Guardian news app which I have also downloaded on my phone. I notice I am hoovering up information as a way to find some kind of resolution, some control, some idea of what is going to happen.
Then, as I go about my daily tasks, listening to other voices on the radio helps me feel less alone. But does it need to be the news?
I was fortunate to be in the Samye Ling temple on Monday when Lama Yeshe Rinpoche came out of retreat and gave a talk to the residents. His main point was to stay present. And I have noticed that in the moment I feel fine. I enjoy the daily tasks in my routine. I enjoy my daily practice. I enjoy my daily walk with the dogs, especially with the improving weather and the springing of spring. I enjoy connecting with friends and family over the phone and internet.
As many of you know I am a great fan of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ books by JRR Tolkein (and the films, the audio books and the BBC radio adaptation) and my friend Jan shared a quote from this book earlier this week. It is one of my favourite quotes from the whole book. It goes like this:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
A great reflection for us all.
If I live my life moment by moment, it is generally calm, quiet and joyful. If I live my life day by day, it is generally engaging and meaningful. If I reflect on the challenges facing many others around me I am very grateful for my life, which contains so much to appreciate. If I look forward to the next four months I am daunted.
I also know – through bitter experience – that when I think about myself and my problems and worries it makes me miserable. What cheers me up is thinking about others. In particular, thinking about ways to support them and help them to be happier. My plan is to be a bit of a kindness ninja and send nice things out to people, especially if they are a bit down, through the internet and through the post.
So it is clear to me, in these times, what to do with the time that is given to me. Be present, practice appreciation and gratitude for daily life things, be a kindness ninja and help others where I can and refrain from imagining the future.
Doing RAIN practice this morning, the pain in my heart was replaced by some openness and peace. Today I am grateful to be alive.