Coping with Self Isolation
By: Cheng Tong - Mar 21, 2020
Recent essay titles published here from my book, “Along The Way To Wudang: An Old Man’s Journey to BaimaShan,” include: “Silence and Stillness,” “Prayer and Stillness,” and “Solitude and Stillness.” If there was ever a time in your life for cultivating stillness, it is now, to be sure. Perhaps a re-read of them is in order.
Those of us who maintain a daily meditation practice already understand the power of silence and stillness, those times every day when we sit still, doing nothing. When we add prayerful intention to our sitting, it becomes the purest form of prayer, cultivating a stillness that spreads beyond our cushions to the world around us.
When we sit, we are sitting for all sentient beings, sharing our stillness and consciously sending that prayerful intent to everyone. Perhaps we enhance that effort by donning our mask and gloves and checking in on an elderly neighbor’s well-being. Perhaps we contribute to the local food pantry or the Red Cross. Or perhaps we simply remain in our homes so as to not risk our health or the health of others.
Some people are more well suited to solitude than others, and this time of sheltering in place will feel familiar, and perhaps even normal. Others may find it uncomfortable and frustrating, and turn to fretting and hand-wringing about the state of the world today.
This is not to say the world isn’t worth fretting over; rather, it is to suggest that fretting serves no useful purpose. That energy can be better spent in other pursuits.
I’ve started another online course in Chinese brush painting, and have pulled out my rice paper, Marie’s paints and my black paint stick and rubbing stone to work on my flowers, birds and landscapes. I also continue with my online class in Mandarin with a teacher in Yantai, Shandong Province, China, which I pay for by enhancing her English writing skills. We use my essays as lesson plans for her, and ancient Chinese poetry for mine.
The vernal equinox was two days ago, and that means it is time to begin feeding my bonsai collection after their winter hibernation, and examining the wiring work I did in the fall. I also continue my study of Chinese medicine and the “Neijing Suwen,” the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine.
When I am not training or teaching out back, or visiting my Hospice patients by phone, these activities fill my day along with my sitting and prayer. I’m not suggesting everyone do the same, though. I only wish to point out the many options for online classes available in virtually any subject you wish to study. This can be a time of great personal growth.
I do have one suggestion for you, though. Take time every day to embrace silence and seek stillness in your heart. Sit in your comfortable chair, feet flat on the floor, hands relaxed in your lap. Close your eyes. Notice your breath. Feel your lungs fill, and then feel them empty. Long, slow, deep breaths. In and out. Just breathe.
Notice the sounds around you. The occasional vehicle that drives by. A bird outside your window. The train. Notice the sun coming into your home.
Five minutes, ten minutes, maybe a little longer. The length of time is not as important as the doing of it. Connect with yourself, bring all of your awareness into yourself, or at least into the room where you are sitting.
If practiced regularly and earnestly, you will feel refreshed, calm and present. Dive into an online class; read that book you never found the time to finish; go for a walk; phone a friend; catch up on your correspondence. Like a good intermezzo, a sherbet to cleanse your soul’s palate, those five or ten minutes will prepare you well for what is to come next in your day.
Don’t waste your time wishing you had your life back. This IS your life now, this moment. Shepherd it well.