Quiet moments of wisdom found during self isolation 

This morning, as I awoke to our surreal reality that is March 2020,  I found myself gasping in awe as I witnessed the red-burnt sun beaming over the edge of the Earth through my tiny bathroom window. I’m not sure I would have noticed it three weeks ago. But everything has changed.

It’s Day 12 of self-isolation and there’s a shift within me—I’m seeing life differently. Without the hustle of my usual daily grind, I’m observing life around me with a newfound perspective. For me, that’s a deeper appreciation for natural beauty— ever reminding me that I’m a mere speck on this planet, quietly peering from a bathroom window.

In this gentle moment, alone with the sun, early in the morning, I stop to listen to it, feel its glow. It reminds me that I do not have control. It tells me to surrender, and to accept that we are exactly where we are meant to be. Here. In this mess.  Alone, together. 

But like many of us, as the day unfolds, I tend to not stay in that moment of insight. I find myself questioning an unknown future with nothing to hold onto: what is going to happen? How will we survive? Are we able to listen to one another from behind closed doors? Sitting with my first cup of coffee, at my desk, ready for my day I find my mind scattered. I begin reading the news, skimming the updates on the current numbers of the virus, scrolling through social media all while trying to scribble down a feasible to-do list to accomplish for the day and try to resurrect my losses. As an artist and educator I have lost work and like many others I’ve been broken off from the theatres and communities that nurture me.

So much has collapsed within two weeks. Local businesses are in trouble; freelancers, gig-workers, artists and so many professionals are pacing their living rooms wondering how this is going to all play out and how they will resurrect their losses.  Children are getting cabin fever, while young people are facing the rest of the school year potentially online. People are unsure of how to pay rent, or how to afford groceries. 

The fear is real.  

It’s my sister’s birthday today,  and I am at home, waiting like the rest of us.  I leave my sister’s present, something I bought before March 12th, and so, before everything changed.  Pearl-coloured earrings, soap she loves and the hand-made body butter from the local shop up the street called Uppdoo; a local shop that has been on my mind, how will it manage its losses?  I leave the little package on my porch and look out at the world.  Outside my door, is a contagion.  The fear exists in the atmosphere.  I notice a woman pushing a stroller wearing a blue mask, a young man walking at a slower pace looking upwards and a couple walking briskly across the street with their heads down.

The fear is real.

I tell myself not to panic. To be calm. To carry on.  But then I realize none of this advice is helping, what I actually need to do is listen. Listen gently to the wisdom of the moment.   

In Pema Chödrön’s book When Things Fall Apart she speaks about how when things collapse and break down, it is a spiritual test and it is in these sharp and uncomfortable places where healing happens. Fragility is at the heart of the human experience, and this crisis is forcing us all to examine what that truly means, carefully considering how every move we make has a cause and affect. Of course, we know this, but a highly contagious virus definitely reminds us how true this is—how we’re all interconnected. 

Reckoning with this fragility is scary, as we realize that we must trust and rely on others, as well as ourselves, to pull through. Change is not possible without considerable effort. The disease won’t magically disappear, we all play a role in its life and death. When we accept this moment for what it is, space opens up for limitless possibilities—the possibility of a new way of being.  

Beyond literature, I find myself turning to Buddhist wisdom during these difficult days as a way to ground myself. It is in the discomfort that change is possible, it is in the confusion where the insight lies and it is when we are faced with the unknown and groundlessness that we are truly awake.

So, here we are, alone—but together. Isolated and yet similarly all staring out our small windows at this moment, where the March rain leaves puddles reflecting a cloud-filled sky and the delicate finger-like branches of trees stretch upwards, reaching for spring, yearning to be reborn. And so we wait, staring out, doing our part to slow down a virus, while readying ourselves for a rebirth.  We do it alone, but we do it together. For me, there is much solace in that.

Coleen Shirin MacPherson is a theatre creator, playwright and founder of Toronto’s Open Heart Surgery Theatre. Follow her on IG: @coleenshirin

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