TLDR: Learning to be okay with not feeling okay can help us recover better when an unexpected illness happens
It was during a meal that Celeste, in her 20s, began to feel some slight discomfort. Her throat was dry and her nose was runny after having Tom Yum soup.
At 4 am, Celeste confirmed that her discomfort was not from the Tom Yum but something worse.
Her test result showed she was positive for Covid-19. It was something that she never expected to contract as she had taken many precautions.
Fever and body ache struck her quickly. This shocked her as she assumed that after being fully vaccinated, and keeping a healthy lifestyle, it will pass like a breeze.
That was far from the truth as she entered Day 2 of home recovery.
Rotten food & rotten plans
Celeste felt that being a swim coach, playing tennis & yoga, coupled with healthy eating would provide a strong trampoline for recovery on Day 2. Covid had other plans installed for her. It was not going away.
“I lost my sense of smell. Everything tasted like rotten food”, she recalled.
Fear arose when she Googled and found that some people stopped eating even after recovery as their sense of smell never recovered fully. They had lost interest in eating as it was no longer enjoyable.
The fear then morphed into self-blame for falling sick.
“I didn’t realise it was unkind until the anger and fear clouded my mind. It made me afraid of Dukkha (Suffering)”, she recalled.
Her meditation practise helped make her aware of the unnecessary self-criticism and blame she was laying on herself. However, the fear and anger grew in her mind.
Soothing Fear with Dhamma
As the fear paralysed Celeste, she decided to use piano music to calm herself as she lay in bed. However, the mental proliferations filled with fear did not go away.
She then recalled a playlist of talks recommended by her Dhamma friends from her young working adult Dhamma group (DAYWA). Being new to Buddhism, she was unfamiliar with whether it would help but decided to give the playlist a try.
“Be okay that you are not feeling okay”, Ajahn Brahm, the monk on the playlist, advised. This struck her hard.
She was always trying too hard to be healthy. Covid was something beyond her control. Despite being fully vaccinated, she still fell deeply sick. Acknowledging that it is okay to fall sick was a great relief to her heart and mind.
“90% of my worries never came through. I spent so much time worrying about things that never happen”, recalled Celeste as she was recovering.
After the one hour Dhamma talk, Celeste felt at ease and fell into a deep sleep.
Returning to senses
Celeste, having heard numerous mind-soothing episodes of Dhamma talks, was ready to accept a life of no smell. She reflected that she had taken her 5 senses for granted and realised that they did not belong to ‘us’ strictly as we could not command them as we like.
“We don’t own these senses, senses are merely borrowed. Not Mine, not myself.” she reflected.
Celeste was internalising and seeing first-hand what Buddha talked about non-self. We do not control our body and mind as much we would love to. For if our body was fully ours, it wouldn’t lead to dissatisfaction and we would have full control.
This brought to mind Buddha’s teaching to monks in the following dialogue:
What do you think, monks? Is form (body) permanent or impermanent?”
“But if it’s impermanent, is it suffering or happiness?”
“But if it’s impermanent, suffering, and perishable, is it fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”
As Celeste was coming to peace with her lack of smell senses, it came back to her. She was beginning on her upward path to recovery.
Associating with the kind
As she slowly recovered, she found that body aches and pain remained. However, she avoided the trap of feeling unhappy with her body.
“Wanting things to be perfect feed the monster within you. Pain reminds you that your body is not perfect…and that’s okay”, Celeste shared.
Beyond the Dhamma talks, her loved ones were pivotal in lifting her towards full recovery.
Her in-laws delivered her favourite vegetables that she loved to eat even when the Delta variant was a real threat to their health. Her yoga friends delivered herbal tea and cooked for her.
This difficult period also made her appreciate her husband more (who was also infected and had to be hospitalised). Life and death became very real for her when her husband heart rate dropped drastically which landed him in the hospital as she lay at home infected with Covid.
“These moments made me count my blessings and not take them (loved ones) for granted”, Celeste recalled.
Life lessons from covid
This episode made Celeste rethink the way she was living her life. She decided to cut down on some overindulgence she was partaking in, such as midnight movies and sleeping late. Maintaining health was a crucial component of her life that she wanted to strengthen.
She then aspired to dedicate more time and consistency to her meditation practice which tide her over this tough period. She found herself meditating less when times were going good for her and hence, aspires to build a consistent habit of meditating regardless of the times.
“Be patient and be unafraid” she advised those who may face such an unexpected infection.
“For your friends infected with Covid, ask them how you can help them. Delivering food and checking in on them really lifts their spirits”, she encouraged.
In our darkest and lowest times, recollecting the Dhamma is one way to rest our minds at peace. This allows our body and mind to be okay at being not okay, paving the way for deeper healing.
Create a playlist of your favourite Dhamma talks that you can listen to in times of trouble
Every hardship we face is an opportunity for us to turn towards the truths of life or remain in our perceived truths of life
TLDR: When we are at the height of our career success and plummet into failure overnight, what do we do? Gather our courage to see things from a different perspective.
The Highs Could Only Go Higher Right?
2019 was an amazing year for my career. I achieved the coveted promotion by securing large revenues for my company, the bosses had only praise for my hard work, and I earned nearly 1-year worth of bonus.
Times were good, and when January of 2020 approached, I had only big plans for the year. This was going to be the zenith, I knew that I would achieve my second promotion, earn even more money and shine ever bigger.
In a natural turn of events, I knew nothing.
The moment COVID began impacting Malaysia, my career nosedived in a single day. All the deals I had lined up were halted, and the tumultuous journey began.
Long were the days of tough talk with the bosses; it felt almost like a consistent interrogation revolving around my presence in the company despite my lack of revenue. It was apparent how the company now saw me as a burden.
The Crash Of Change
I was entangled in a mass and mess of emotions; my mind alike to the sea that I so love, unpredictable. Fury, jealousy, melancholy, had a wonderful time consuming my waking thoughts.
Thoughts of “Why can’t they understand my difficult situation?” and “Why are they making things difficult for me?” only oiled further anger within.
To soothe this heat, I began plotting to create reputation damage to the company. Sharing this with a good friend, he merely asked “What is the point of harming others and oneself?”
Building Courage Again
That phrase gave my mind a sudden epiphany. For years I have heard the phrase ‘embrace change’, but now I am behaving like a temperamental child robbed of desires.
It is odd how I welcome change with a big hug only if it is in my favour yet loathe the tide’s natural turn when my desires are unmet. What I needed, was quite simply courage.
Courage to admit that success and failure are betrothed, there is nothing shameful about failing. Courage to refrain from blaming an external party for the source of my negative emotions, and instead to realise that I am still a lot of work in progress. Courage to embrace change, both positive and negative with grace.
I found the Dhamma quote on being unshakeable when the winds of life blow inspiring:
TLDR: When faced with unexpected financial hardship… see things as they truly are, ask yourself ‘so what’, and live within your means.
‘At least you still have a job okay.’
The usual reply I received when speaking of pay cuts. Though the replies have compassionate intentions, it often falls short of comfort. In the loud narrative of ‘up skill, up skill, up skill’, these are 3 ways of how I stayed Zen in the face of pay cuts.
See things as they truly are
When I first received news of the pay cut, it caught me off guard. I thought that business was going well. I felt that it was ‘unnecessary’ to do so and that I and my peers were ‘victims’. To us, our pay was already low, hence getting pay cuts was a crazy possibility. The gap between perception and reality is where suffering arose.
Seeing these thoughts in my head, I recalled the term ‘Seeing things as they truly are’. This meant reframing the way we look at reality. This shifts our perspective away from ourselves and to the bigger picture.
We distance ourselves from the negativity by removing the ‘I’ & ‘my’ & ‘me’. This prevents us from cycling around the stories born of our perception. Through this thought exercise, we find our calm and have a clearer view of reality.
Asking ‘so what’ rather than ‘why me’?
It takes great effort to remove the ‘I’ & ‘my’ & ‘me’ from your thoughts. Hence, this step is another useful tool for staying Zen. As my mind played out many crazy scenarios of the pay cut, a thought bubbled up…’so what?’.
That cut through all the self-victimization. It made me pause to count my blessings. Asking ‘so what’ places you mind to see the possibilities that one can undertake, it widens your mind. Counting blessings and seeing possibilities is one crucial way to uplift your spirits. This redirects your emotions into creating something new.
My inspiring friends who had a job and pay cuts took the path of ‘so what’. They started selling masks and even durian to generate a new income source. By directing energy away from ‘why me’, they found possibilities to not only remain Zen but also thrive.
Finding the essential
“But I am super not creative or enterprising” could be a reply to talk of entrepreneurship. If you feel now is not the right time to increase income, that’s fine. This last tip helps you remain calm by finding the essential in your sea of expenses.
Having pay cuts challenges you to live and be content with less. Being a finance nerd, I started to look at all my expenses after my pay cut. Asking myself, what is essential to my welfare and happiness?
Asking these questions in front of your spreadsheet may seem mad, but this is crucial to reaching essentialism. Through this expense cutting, I realised I could do away with certain expenses I used to deem as essential. Essentialism by Greg Mckeown talks about changing the mental statements you make to arrive at what is essential.
By directing your energy towards finding the essential, you avoid spiraling into monetary stress. You also find that you can live on less. This slowly builds you up to pursue a life of essentialism and keeps your precious Zen-ness (calm).
These are little tools I found useful in my journey, I hope you find them useful in these difficult times.
A key takeaway is that when negative thoughts do arise, don’t just indulge them or push them away. Rather than blindly being led by them, question them. Ask yourself why you feel shame or self-doubt. Learn from it. Use your emotions to your benefit.
Stay calm. Stay zen!
When faced with unexpected financial difficulties, ask yourself “So What?”, this brings about new perspectives
Find an open window of time to cut down on spending that no longer serves you beneficially. Reset & Rethink!