SOUTHSIDE STORIES

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Lockdown Prescriptions: Well-being Perspective and Creativity

by Dakshina Gammanpila

The darling buds of May is something that we always look forward to and celebrate in our family. We have Mothers Day and birthdays, wedding anniversaries and Wesak to commemorate and the Mays throughout my life have been joyful affairs filled with laughter and people and memories. May 2021, on the crest of a second lethal wave in India, has been a mixed month to say the least. A month of personal happiness but great sadness too. It has required us all to dig deep and find fortitude as we frantically search for that glimmer of hope which was heralded by increased vaccine take up throughout the month. 

Having grown-up in the UK, May has always meant Spring time and in my heart it still does, new beginnings and rebirth are very much part of Buddhist teachings. The artist 

Grayson Perry said  ‘I measure my life in Spring’s cycle’.  I know exactly what he means and that viewpoint helps. All beginnings have an end and at the end the cycle begins again. As the numbers come down in Delhi where we have been ravaged by Covid’s grip, hope is on the horizon.

In the week of Wesak, in the final May days,  I have felt my own reserves tapped to their limit or what I thought was my limit. News of the loss of a father in my daughter’s Grade at school desperately tragic; it had been their first year in India. An international family who like many of us had chosen to make their life here, even if for a short while. I had a call from a friend in Berlin an actor/ director with whom I have worked, with whom I am close. She told me that her younger brother had died leaving his 11 year old daughter orphaned (her mother having died 5 years prior). She was distraught. That same evening I heard of yet another passing; this time of a kind, intelligent woman whose gentle grace was the perfect balm and antidote to the sometimes harsh interactions in the nation’s capital. A beautiful soul with a beautiful smile, who will be missed. News from a friend and colleague of the passing of the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indonesian Embassy.  All communities have been hit and hit hard. I don’t often cry but I cried for my friends, for their loss, for hospitalization, for feeling impotent in this situation. 

The end of the school year came as a relief. Much of what makes school pleasurable centres around activities and social interaction which has been in short supply. I have seen my children undergo much change. Their reserves, though also not limitless, astounds me. Teachers wrote of their qualities far beyond what lies on a page, or that which can be measured and calibrated in tests and exams and scores. What a year to survive and thrive in. I am humbled and watch them move through adolescence. My challenge as a mother, that instinct to protect, has never been so important and so hard. I have felt inept and question decisions and judgement as never before. Stepping back is key, take a breath, take a look and push forward. 

In this time of limits we have been forced to reassess, whether to fritter away time or use it to the benefit of ourselves and others, sometimes both. Grayson Perry also said that ‘Restriction is a gift to the creative’. My children along with countless others, have illustrated that for me, those who have used this time to make art, or music or poetry or film. To take up projects both professional and personal, and turn this time into an opportunity of sorts. Whether the intention or by-product was to offer comfort to the masses or the few is immaterial, their effort and contribution has great value. I have felt myself turn to works of literature or art to seek solace, sometimes from the Science. I have so needed to keep myself informed but at times it is all too much. No doubt frontline workers, who deserve a break more than anyone, reach for anything but The Lancet when they need to recharge. That treasured poem, or favourite book, perhaps a guilty pleasure box set. Switching off to switch on.

We hear that the pandemic has adversely affected many creatives and performers. My actor friend has had her performances cancelled or postponed.Whilst this is their livelihood, active performance with a live audience is also what creative people crave and gives their life purpose – performers by their nature must perform. Looking within to outpour their offerings to the world, to bring light, comfort or levity to these dark hours. As I have said darkness to me is not a negative as painted by so many, but a time to gather one’s thoughts and incubate ideas.

Front line workers have been the heroes, operating in the very real and present danger and saving lives in desperate circumstances. As exhausted as they are, and they are on their knees, this role is what they are trained for (although no training could have prepared any health care professional, physician or nurse for what has transpired), they know too that their work, and therefore they, are valued and legitimised. 

In addition to a life being saved by health care workers, those that are creative bring quality to that life. As humans we need to feel that we are alive from cradle to grave as well as know it. Those in the creative sphere: 

musicians, artists, writers, poets, actors all understand the power of art to restore and revive.They communicate to us in a myriad of subtle ways and let us know, through whatever medium they choose to express themselves, that we as a species are connected. 

Connection to and disconnection from the natural world has guided me in the last 15 months. Nature has always been important to me, but many of us have seen and observed nature in a more respectful and loving way, more fully appreciative of its power to make and break. This week’s picture was taken from my rooftop as I looked up a black kite soared high above. From its vast vantage point, gliding effortlessly on the thermals above the frenzy below, it had (naturally) a birds eye view of our city and the ravages that have taken place. An alternative perspective enabling it to see far and wide.

Taking inspiration from Nature’s healing power and flexing her creative muscle, my daughter designed an emblem for an organisation which commemorated its 50th year just as the first lockdown struck. She has always been a reflective observer and drew upon Nature and the memory of her grandfather’s garden and the lily pond replete with koi karp. Such grace and beauty and a massive ghost carp swimming in the shadows. A quintessentially English garden yet there was something about the pond that reminded him of Sri Lanka.

My father, ever the inventor, repurposed a machine that was being discarded from the ICU that he headed up. It was considered by some as outmoded, but to my Dad it was treasure and he fashioned it into a pump for the pond to aerate the water for the eco system there. Wonderful lotus flowers, reeds, fish, amphibians and those that fed them. If he had had a particularly grueling day at work walking down the steps to the lotus pond was his meditation. A moment or two of contemplation feeding the fish, checking that duckweed or algae weren’t threatening to overwhelm the delicate balance. He understood and witnessed that life, all life big or small, hangs by a thread in the balance. 

The lotus is a symbol of hope. Lodged in the mire like the lotus we are trapped and static yet look forward in moving towards the light we can dare to hope of better brighter things to come. The lotus looks fragile but has a strength and an ability to overcome the muddy waters, in fact it thrives in areas others would find iimpossible. This is resilience. The meaning of part of my daughter’s name is lotus (she was a water birth) it is also harvest. Harvesting the resilience of the lotus, the strength to get us through adversity.  She sees the power of Ruskin’s urge ‘it is not the drawing that counts it is the looking’. To have perspective, to step outside ourselves and look.

Dr Asha da Vos, a Sri Lankan marine biologist has said that we have the perfect planet. We humans should be the guardians not the destroyers of that perfection for we are also part of it and a vast wider galaxy, Each of us is made from moon and stardust quite literally those atoms are part of us. Wesak in the last week of May, is dictated not by a set date but by the moon, brought that home to me. As the moon looks down on our planet I wonder what she sees? A billion perfections and imperfections. And amongst that perhaps as we adhere to guidelines and the case count begins to drop, the easing of our minds and in time lockdown restrictions on the last Monday in May, offering  a chance to step back and do better. What a season finale.This week’s Prescription: to seek perspective and find a creative outlet from whatever source.

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