It is possible to go through the various COVID-19 restrictions in an unhealthy survival mode. I, however, would like to recommend another perspective; five of them, to be precise. All tips and solutions listed below were tested on humans, including the author’s loved ones. The results were impressively positive, at least most of the time.
Don’t trust anxiety
It’s my first instinct. Anxiety emerges, and I think: Oh hello there, my old friend, here you are again to spin your yarn. I listen to its scary tales, and I don’t believe or trust it. At all. I treat it just like the news or a fantasy movie. But if it doesn’t work and my fear keeps on taking intimidating poses, I change my strategy. I know very well that when ignored, anxiety likes to jump on your back and dig its claws deep into your forehead. I treat recurring fears just as I would approach a child. With respect, mindfulness, and knowing that there is a lot I can do for this child. I can tell them a soothing story. I can give them a hug. I can tell them a thing or two about reality if the child has no access to verified information (that is, information coming from scientists and doctors, not politicians). I can ask this child how they feel and what they need. I can watch them closely, making this strategy my main source of knowledge. What’s most important (!) is that I never forget this child is not me. And it does not matter at all how close this child is to me. Another living creature is not me. Anxiety is not me, and it isn’t you. Sometimes it demands company; that’s its nature. But the longer you watch it and the less you feed it, the sooner it leaves.
Deepen your breath
I decided to take up Wim Hof’s challenge. Hof, also known as The Iceman, offers a 40-day programme of daily practice. A series of deep breaths followed by a cold shower. Yes, it sounds frightening. But it works miracles. After just a week of regular practice, several seconds under freezing water have stretched into a minute and a half. My lung capacity seems to have increased, too. I’m hardening my body against the elements, with respect to my boundaries and disposition. You don’t have to take ice showers or follow Hof’s method. Find a solution that suits you best, but remember to breathe. Not only because the virus attacks the lungs, which makes taking care of them seem like a reasonable thing to do. Conscious breathing helps to regulate tensions within the body, to work through fear or anger, and even to stimulate the production of hormones, such as adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. This way, you can get as high as a kite for free, in a healthy way, with nothing but your body and oxygen.
Whenever you look in the mirror, you encounter nature. You might feel lost in a vast expanse of boredom, having to commune with just one form of nature all the time – it’s completely natural. The person with whom you share your allotted square metres is also nature, even if it seems unlikely at first sight.
I go to the forest regularly. I go to the forest because it is the healthiest, most peaceful and probably the most beautiful place I know. I go to the forest on my own, away from other people. I go to the forest because it is my home. But it does not matter whether you visit nature in your bathroom or outside. Plant a lemon seed. I did it 11 years ago. Now I keep the tree in my bedroom, and its pot weighs more than a large dog. You might have thought I was joking when I said about looking in the mirror, but I was serious: you are nature. You are part of a nature you must protect, because it’s on the brink of extinction. You are a part of nature no more or less important than a bee, nettle, alder, river, spider or meadow. The experience of those interrelations can be more comfortable than the best psychiatrist’s couch.
Feed your mind
Your mind will eat anything. And I mean anything. It will digest it, dissolve it in thoughts, and spill it all over your body. Urgent information, accidents, YouTube kittens, warnings, images, fears, sentences you have read, memes, overheard phrases. It will process everything it has consumed and spit it back out in your dreams. For this reason, I try to unplug for a while every day, take off my socks, stop my body from moving. Sometimes, I close my eyes and sit on a meditation cushion. At other times, I play loud music, sing and dance. Go ahead, sing and dance – if not daily, then at least each Wednesday. Please, give your brain a good mantra that does not infect your mind with borrowed faith, but brings you peace, freedom or wisdom. I can recommend Ajent Kaur, who is a truly magical being with an extraordinary singing voice. You can find plenty of her music online, for free. She also sings mantras. Another musical wizard is Nahko Bear, a singer and storyteller. In his social media, he asks people all kinds of questions, but mainly sings. And sometimes, his singing is enough to take down walls. Also, please remember to read. But before you let your eyes find the first letters, words, and sentences, make sure you choose your book wisely and consciously, so that it lifts you up instead of cementing deep inside you what you already know. Right now, I can recommend three remarkable books: non-fiction, fiction and a fairy-tale. Ancient Wisdom For A New Era. Conversations with 21st Century Healers and Shamans by Geseko von Lüpke is a collection of interviews. Marlen Haushofer’s novel The Wall is a perfect work of fiction to read during self-isolation. And The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer is a great fairytale, also for grown-ups.
Play with eternity
Let’s dig a little deeper. If you have the privilege of working from home or just staying there, I encourage you to take up an act of rebellion. You are here. There was a time you were not, and there will be a time when you no longer exist. But in the meantime, you are here. Do you know why? Try toying with the simplest and the most complex kōan in the world. It goes like this: Who are you? You will never find the true answer, but with a little bit of luck, you might shed some illusions. This is an extraordinary time, a vast crisis, and an even greater chance to create new conditions and rules of existence that mean interdependence of all living creatures. You are here because you have a job to do. Only you can discover it, understand it, and fulfil it. Go!
Translated from the Polish by Aga Zano