This is the time to be slow
Ami Kui is an Executive Assistant at ANZ in Melbourne. She has been in lockdown for most of 2020, in three different cities. First in Hubei, China, followed by Sydney and now in Melbourne. Following on from her last reflection of her time in Hubei, Ami shares her latest experience.
‘How different is your life from say five months ago while you were in China?’ my friend asked me.
What a question. Since the start of the year I have been locked down in three different cities. It’s been an incredibly special experience. We crave security and stability, yet change is a certainty.
My family is in China and was in Hubei for Chinese New Year when COVID broke out. So like all of Hubei, I was locked down. When restrictions eased, I planned to come back to Melbourne in April but suddenly, in the space of 24 hours, there was a long list of email cancelations: my flight had been cancelled, my accommodation in the transfer city had been deleted, all the planning with everything involved just went - like a light switch had been flicked.
After a lot of calls and emails, I finally made it to Sydney where I went immediately into 14 days of hotel isolation. After what seemed like an eternity, I eventually made my way back home and before long Melbourne landed in stage three lockdown, followed by the harsher stage four restrictions. Since the end of July we have had a curfew, mandatory masks and a 5-kilometre travel limit.
So maybe I am a lockdown specialist? There are two parts of my story, part one when I went through the three month restrictive lockdown next to the very first affected city, Wuhan, ahead of anywhere in the world. Then Wuhan was freed and I went back to my normal life. Now is part two. I am back in lockdown, with a much longer period and no parents or family around me. Do I prepare for it?
No, we think we have control and we don’t. Through the process of change, I know I need to establish attitudes and habits to hold me together when I feel like I will break apart.
For me what was important was to ‘return to what works’. Just the thought makes me stand straighter. Journaling helped me in my last lockdown time. So for 15 minutes a day, I write down my thoughts on a piece of paper. I can see my feelings on the page, I observe and watch my change.
Today I want to share with you some of what I’ve learned this time around, hoping it can bring you some light in what can be a dark time. We are each other’s caretakers, I believe if we can be together to winter this one out, then we can summer everywhere.
Ami makes sure she takes the time to get out for a walk or run on most days.
Be ok with not ok, look after yourself
I have my down days still. I am thinking about being at home, I am going to cook more, workout more, I don’t have to commute, so I can fill all that time to be more productive, being a wonderful friend and starting all these hobbies I always wanted to have, I am even playing piano in my head.
Then the guilt comes, the guilt that I am not doing enough, the guilt that I am not going out for a run today, the guilt I feel for the frontline workers, those heroes standing outside my door to collect my rubbish every Thursday morning at 6am, the guilt that I am not grateful enough. I even feel guilty for feeling exhausted.
It is so easy to be overly hard on ourselves. It is like we are on holiday but that’s not at all what’s going on here. We are in crisis, we are dealing with the emotional stress. That commute time we are saving is going to be extra meetings, we are literally trying to figure out how to do our job remotely. We take time to check in with each other more, and make sure everyone is ok.
If I want to be a better person today and I fail, it isn’t a sign that I won’t get there, it is a sign that this is very hard. Sometimes we need to cry actually. In many ways the under 4-year old kids are wiser than us adults. They know that when it gets too much, what they need to do is to go to bed and spend 10 minutes sobbing. Then the afternoon will be a lot better, crying puts us back to the present moment.
It is ok to be not ok, it is ok if you feel extra tired right now, it is ok to not be the fittest version of yourself, it is ok you just try to go for a half hour walk instead of running three days a week, it is ok to say I am not having a good day today and I need a cry, it is ok if the only thing you are trying to do right now is to get through this period of time, take care of your health and your family’s health – that’s enough.
My yoga teacher once said to me, when you leave your yoga mat out, even if you just lie on it for five minutes, that’s a daily practice. You connect with the ground, you are telling yourself I am prioritising ‘me time’, I am a strong human who is thriving. Looking after yourself is the only way to have the fuel to truly take care of others.
What we need now more than ever is kindness. And I would add - kindness to ourselves.
Perspective is everything
I am locked down by myself, it’s obviously a new ‘scary’ experience. I could have many excuses to feel sad and I do miss my family dearly. Today, I heard someone on video saying ‘you can be in lockdown on your own but you can still be a connected human’. He just spoke directly to me.
Connection operates across different categories of friendships. You can be connected to an animal, you can be connected to a book, you can be connected to a piece of history, you can be connected to somebody you just met across the street. So I am staying at home by myself but I am connecting with my family, my friends, a bird, a flower and a lot of things all over the world, if I chose to think this way.
Perspective is everything, it is all about how you think about it. It looks like I am not being given a choice to go into lockdown again and again but actually I am given two choices: one is to feel sorry for myself, the world will still not change and I stay in darkness. The other option is to do something about it, let the light in.
I have a very simple exercise: for every negative thought, I ask myself to bring in a positive one about the same situation. One by one, I exchange anger, stress and disappointment with grace, joy and happiness. The optimism is not just to make me feel better, the positivity can change my world.
I started my conversation with:
‘I don’t know when this is going to end.’ But – ‘We have scientists around the world working day and night to find how this works, everything is just a phase we are going through, when was the last time in history anything actually took forever?’
‘I don’t want to cook.’ But – ‘Well, it’s a good time to improve your diet with a balanced nutrition plan, try it and cooking is fun!’
‘I feel sad today.’ But – ‘Great you notice your emotions, this is a good start for self-awareness. What can you do for yourself? A bath or a hot lemon ginger tea?’
‘I miss my family, I wish I still stayed with them.’ But – ‘Call them right now, tell them your feelings and wish them well, I am so grateful for the time we spent in the past few months, full of joy.’
I choose to shift to light every moment I can and make myself feel it. It’s not easy and not a one-time thing. Just like a workout, it’s a daily practice. Let ‘shift’ be my action. I started to enjoy my cooking and I wanted to be able to smell the food and taste it, look at it, touch it, even listen to it. I am learning to shift the chore into my daily joy.
Imagining you are in a dark room and it is bright outside. Your only job is to go to the window, pull out the rag and start to clean, just clean, sooner or later, the light will enter naturally, it takes the darkness away.
Paying attention to the details.
One day at a time
My grandfather has trouble walking and he told me he wouldn’t think years ahead. He just took one step at a time, one day at a time. I think there is a piece of wisdom in there. A lot of uncertainties are outside but I am going to take it one day at a time.
It is spring now in Melbourne and flowers are starting to come out. I never knew the park was that beautiful although I have been living next to it for the past five years. ‘Isn’t it wonderful?’ I ask myself. I looked at a flower, very close up, for a minute and put my attention to every little detail, the fresh smell, the red colour, the tender texture. As my grandfather told me last time, by his age of 95, a lot has gone wrong and a lot more will go wrong. But he was delighted by the little, small, vulnerable manifestations of this beautiful nature, he knows how important these things are.
I am feeling the same right now. I can’t see the big picture, but I can see there is a bird singing outside my window which is extremely pretty, and the flower is even more beautiful because the rest of the world is difficult.
If we look for it, there is always small happiness in small things. There are moments when all the finest cuisines in the world are nothing next to the uplifting comfort of a small square of over 70% cocoa chocolate in my mouth.
As the poem from John O’Donohue says: ‘This is the time to be slow, if you remain generous, time will come good, and you will find your feet, again on fresh pastures of promise, where the air will be kind, and blushed with beginning.’
Take it one day at a time, we will find our feet again.
Until we can hug each other, please look after yourself, I am sending my best wishes to all of you there, your support and help have given my day a profound shape and texture and I want to thank you all so much for that gift.
Once again, I have no doubt the virus will pass, people will come close again, and joy will return.
Stay safe and stay happy,
Defying the odds