I have vivid memories of the day I decided to let go of my four differently sized, hard-bound diaries that were fully scribbled through. After all, my high-school self was too sure that it didn’t do a thing for me and only made my thoughts and feelings accessible to others. It is 2020 and I have rediscovered diary writing. What you will read next are some of the reflections that emerged from the endless scribbling through the odd hours in the lockdown.
I wonder what the world will look like after the pandemic. What does ‘after the pandemic’ even mean? What is the exit plan? How long is it going to take? Is physical distancing here to stay? Will I be able to pick up my bag and take a bus to the hills again? Will I be able to run to my loved ones and hug them without worrying about catching the virus, or worse, giving it to them?
Lockdown as a response to the pandemic has been a period full of revelations for me. On the one hand, it has let nature revive for a brief period, and on the other, thousands of people have lost their livelihood. The system was never perfect, to begin with, but people were able to get by. The hurried implementation of lockdown further aggravated the faults in the system and forced many lives to fall through the cracks.
So many who are on the margins like the daily wage workers, domestic workers, women in families with unequal responsibilities and abusive members and children in vulnerable situations, have been neglected in the response strategies to a large extent. The needs of the front line health and sanitation workers have also not been entirely met.
This has lifted the garb of progress from the ailing system and amplified it for all of us to see in the broad daylight. It has compelled me to stop distracting myself from the root cause, let the reality sink in and let it bother me. Because how else would we be able to imagine a new normal if we do not let the realities of the present sink in?
I think a lot about what I as an individual can do to navigate this situation better. A part of me longs to go back to the world before the pandemic but the other also recognises the problems with that. When realities seem too large and beyond my control, I turn within to look for answers. I try to notice how I am feeling and identify the reasons behind it. Whether the system changes for the better or not, I have already started changing my ways.
At the beginning of the lockdown, I pushed myself to perform and keep up with my pre-pandemic definition of productivity and the newer emerging definitions of having to come out of this phase with new skills and talents. It didn’t last long for me. As a youth worker with experience of supporting other young people, I realised what I was doing. I was throwing myself at tasks to avoid attending to my emotions.
All the endless conversations I had with others, came rushing back to question me as to whether I really practised what I preached. I have gradually allowed myself to feel fully—my fears, grief, anxiety and guilt, without judgment and share it with people I trust.
The beauty in the process of reaching out is that one ends up creating a sharing space for others too. The connection has allowed me a safe space to fall back upon and get out of my head. It was only when I began emptying myself that I created space for more.
I have realised that I could deny this phase of collective grief, but I could not detach myself from it. What I do about it has now become an everyday decision for me.
The inner quest of finding answers pushed by the uncertainties of the outer world resulted in many other realisations for me. One of the greatest shifts I have experienced during this phase has been to move from the mindset of scarcity to the mindset of abundance.
In the past, I have often felt strained with my financial realities to support others in that capacity. The pandemic, however, has helped me recognise all the resources that I have and be grateful for them. This new found gratitude enabled me to extend my privilege and support for the relief work. Since this perspective shift, I have been able to initiate action to raise funds for the relief work in more collaborative ways.
I have supported the relief work with all the skills and resources I have rather than focusing on how I am not in the position to do so because of what I lack. I look more at my life now from what I have than what I lack and that has made all the difference.
Another experience of lockdown has been living minimally. I have been experimenting with it for a while now. Going out only once a week to buy essentials, not browsing through online shopping platforms because anything besides essentials would not be delivered, having the time to really pay attention to what I already have and what more I want, has enabled me to see how little I actually need to live comfortably.
We are all made to chase things to feel joy but the list is unending. So we keep moving from one thing to another without pausing and addressing our fears and feelings on a deeper level. That is how the system fuels and feeds on our insecurities and practically thrives on it. I knew this before too and practised it to some extent but being able to do so fully without being questioned for my choices only reinforced my belief in living minimally. This allowed me to create space for other things.
Other things… like being able to truly empathise; first, with myself, and then with others. My conversations with colleagues moved from performance to wellbeing, conversations with family and friends moved from sharing just the good parts to also sharing my struggles. The more I was able to empathise with myself, reflect on my worldview, redo my definitions and share openly, the more deeply I felt connected with others.
The underlying sense of solidarity, both in feeling and creating it, is what allowed me to choose action on many days. Somedays I take a break. On others, I put my energies towards individual and collective action for what needs to be done.
Amidst all the confusion and uncertainty about our future, I feel more and more certain that we all need to realign our own perspectives and values and participate actively in reimagining and redesigning the world.
That is our strongest bet for a better future. So the guiding question for me remains – whether the system changes for better or swings right back into its pre-pandemic shape, what role would I like to play in where we individually and collectively head from here.