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In the blink of an eye


Ami Kui is an Executive Assistant at ANZ in Melbourne, who loves nature, cooking, reading, walking and is an avid yogi. She has been in lockdown in Shiyan, a city 400 km from Wuhan, in the Hubei province, since January 2020 when she returned to visit her grandfather. She has shared her reflections on what she has learned about herself and what you can do to help navigate this period.


My grandfather is celebrating his 95th birthday this year, I asked him, does any part of this coronavirus remind him of something, maybe the war? He said not at all. We’ve never experienced anything like this before.


Well, does that mean if we pay attention, we can maybe discover things about ourselves we have never had the opportunity to observe in the past?


I am writing this to you from Hubei, the center of the coronavirus outbreak in China, where restrictions are just being lifted after 76 days lockdown - such exciting news to Wuhan, China and to all of us! I have no doubt the virus will pass, people will come close again, and joy will return.


Wuhan was the first city, anywhere in the world, which went into a massive and restrictive lockdown. If you are in Australia or other countries, I have had the privilege to experience everything two months before you! I want to share what I learnt from my time in isolation, what helped me get through all these months, in the wish I could support you, not only to survive, but thrive in this special period of time. 


I am living in Melbourne, my parents and I travelled to Hubei to visit my grandfather in my holidays. The lockdown announcement was sent one day before the Chinese New Year Eve. A few hours later, transport into and out of the city was closed, all shops and restaurants shut, public transport stopped, we were asked to stay at home, the officials came every day to do health checks, one family could only send one person to buy necessary items every two days.


With no warning at all, my parents and I were stuck in this small, unfamiliar apartment - and we even couldn’t see my grandfather as he was locked in another place.


Our life changed in the blink of an eye.


For the very first week, I remember when I woke up each day, I thought ‘what did I do last Tuesday?’ I was outside walking in a park. I wanted to do the same, but I couldn’t do it. There was a bit of resistance, disbelief in the beginning. It was not comfortable, not normal, things were taken away from me which I wasn’t ready to let go of. When it came to the third week, I came to accept it. What I have learnt in this initial stage is that it’s important we accept it, hard as it is, but the earlier we accept the reality, the sooner we can start to cope – and we can come up with a plan. If you don’t do it, you are just going to drive yourself down, which won’t be really productive in this situation.


Controlling what you can control – keep daily routine


As I was still on holidays, I could quite easily stay in bed all day, hide in my pajamas, watch news, and get more and more negative. I could choose to numb myself with movies and snacks. But was there another choice? I realised even though I was in a situation I could perceive as a ‘waste of time’, I don’t want to waste that time, I want to make the most of it. I made the decision I would try to stay active. The only thing I can control is my mind and physical well-being - not my environment.


So I chose exercise to feel alive, and I chose books to educate myself. I would wake up at 6am, have a routine exercise (I follow an online video class), set up a good mind space and read in the afternoon. There were times I made up excuses and didn’t want to exercise but I always remembered how good the feeling was after my body was moving, and I never regretted that, so I cheered myself up to keep going.


It is the routine that has helped me survive this period of time, I keep my life structured as much as I possibly can, wake up the same time, brush my teeth, have a shower, eat breakfast…do all these things I normally do in my daily habit.


When you do these things every day, you are telling yourself - I am in control, I have enough self-respect to do my things.


TIP: First and foremost, remember this period of isolation is not going to last forever. Stay present in the moment, keep a routine, wake up at the same time (don’t go to bed three hours later than you normally do), follow a structure everyday with physical activities, and use this time to be as productive as you can.

Getting ready to head out with my mother (post lockdown).


The only way out is through


When I was in the second month of the quarantine, I felt this experience of what’s happening to us more deeply. I didn’t know when we were going to get through it or what was going to be expected of us. There was no place we can go, there was no country we can run to. The only thing we could anticipate was uncertainty and unpredictability. The anxiety was rising.


‘The only way out is through’. I read this from my book the other day, which taught me an important lesson - the only way for us to get out of anxiety is actually through it.


The isolation is a great time for us to learn to be with ourselves, one rare opportunity as we have no other choices. What’s it like to be with ourselves? Curiosity is a good helper, let’s be curious about our reactions first. I try not to distract myself with social media, pay attention and sit with my own feelings, unpack the moment to moment anxiety: it feels like heat, tightness, heart raising. Can I be with it? Turn towards it. ‘Through’ is turning towards rather than avoiding. If we can’t get through it, we will repeat again and again.


So it all comes back to awareness, if we can pay attention to our physical sensations when we are anxious, see and learn from it instead of ignoring it, we can then channel the anxiety into something more productive.


TIP: Allow yourself to have upset emotions and give yourself some space without taking your emotions out on the people close to you. Try to sit in silence a little bit more, to really understand and get in touch with what you’re feeling in your body right now.



When I saw my emotions, I took a breath, grounded myself through my feet, sometimes I took off my slippers so I could touch the floor directly, I asked myself which leg was feeling warmer, left or right, no judgement, just feel it. The sense of calm brought my mind back online.


Breaking down is an option, so is breaking through, breaking through what would previously break us down. When the external options are gone, the internal resource is all we have to rely on.


What’s really important in our lives


‘I miss the coffee smell, I miss the hug from my friends, I miss the yoga class’, every day I started to write down the little thoughts I took for granted before, so when this is over I can go back and reflect, sit with myself and not forget them. We think those things are forever, until one day we lose them without any preparations.


The modern world system tells us we have to have more options to feel great, new clothes, a new watch, new phone, new car, but actually with less options these days, I feel more grounded and much lighter. I realised I was in a very fortunate position, I was not under a health threat, I had a place to live, I was dealing with the same kind of stuff everyone was dealing with, I was living with my family, I was lucky. I could concentrate on what I have.


How much we thought was essential seems not true anymore compared with how we feel about ourselves, how we treat others, how much love and compassion we can experience for ourselves and others. Aren’t they just as important?


I think that is the big question the virus is trying to ask us: If we could live a much simpler life, what are we willing to let go of? And more importantly, are we going to remember this when the virus is gone?


Now I read my notes, I remind myself every single day, I feel grateful for the blue sky, I have wonderful conversations with my friends about their lives, I cook with my parents every day, I spend time with my grandfather. This is probably the last decade of his life, I am with him every week now, it is very precious, this gives me time to ask him about things I want to remember for the rest of my life.


TIP: A daily journaling practice to write down your thoughts, what you are grateful for and what is the most important thing in your life so you can read them when we are out of this.


With my grandfather and uncle, visiting last week once the lockdown was lifted in Hubei.

Kindness is contagious too


During the isolation, as one family could just send one person to go grocery shopping, I heard our next-door neighbour, who was elderly and stayed by herself, so I reached out to her and checked if she was ok. Was there anything I could bring for her from the supermarket?


Back where I live, I had never shopped for my neighbour before. Why haven’t I? Why haven’t I in years asked ‘hey I am going to the supermarket, do you need something?’ We are too busy rushing, planning ahead, scheduling for diaries, we haven’t looked outside our own home in that simple connective way at all.


When I passed the shopping bag to my neighbor and she appreciated what I was doing for her, I felt so good as I made her feel a little bit special at that moment. I do believe we have the privilege and resources to be able to give, this is the opportunity for us to do that, we can be of service to other people who are less fortunate than us.


What we need now more than ever is kindness.


As research by Dr. David Hamilton found, if you do one act of kindness for another individual, over the course of one day, that kindness can spread very quickly to 125 people or more. While the virus is contagious, kindness is contagious too. It doesn’t matter how small it is, it makes us feel better.


TIP: When you help your neighbour pick up their groceries, send a note in an envelope ‘this is my phone number, if you need to speak or talk, I am here for you’. I guarantee you’ll receive a happy smiley face :)



We are all in this together


2020 is the Year of Rat. The rat is the first of all zodiac animals. In Chinese culture, rats are clever, collaborative, content with living a quiet and peaceful life, what a great wish we can give to this special year! Can we make sense of what we went through, understand the meaning of this experience and turn it into something we can all learn from?


I invite you to think of our current situation as an amazing opportunity to re-evaluate our lives and explore new things with the new found extra time – this could be your moment of growth. You could use this time doing the things you always want to do, play guitar or speak another language, you have time now to do that and invest in yourself.


It is very much like the music that was playing when your life was paused. When the play button gets pressed again, in the next week or month or whenever it is, you can move forward from this situation and become a much better person!


We are fully in this experience together, with greater compassion, kindness, generosity and deeper friendship, together we are stronger!


Stay home, stay safe, stay well!




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