Day 81 and resuming after a break of four days I find myself casting about wondering how to begin again. In her journal, 'Still Life with Teapot: On Zen, Writing and Creativity' (2016), New Zealand born writer Brigid Lowry dealt with a gap like this, ‘… Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Forgot to write anything.’ The Friday entry that followed was sharp, pungent, joyful.
Prayer. Listening tonight to my car radio as I drove home into a billowing sunset, the sky and sea lit with a radiant pinky tawny light, I chanced upon a BBC programme, 'Heart and Soul: Personal approaches to spirituality from around the world’. The topic was prayer in the time of coronavirus and it crossed many religions: a Buddhist man in Sri Lanka, an Anglican nun in the north of England, who has lived as a hermit for two decades, a Muslim woman lecturer from Sudan, a Tanzanian writer, a Scottish monk in Santiago, Chile... The themes were the same. They spoke of the value of simplicity in a time of confusion and fear, of the importance of creating regular routines to provide structure to days thrown off schedule. Time for meditation and prayer came through as did stopping to see the beauty in the ordinary.
The nun had made a path around her small garden and created twelve stations where she would stop to pray for people’s spirits to be released from stresses. She spoke of other ways of calming the mind, ‘play a piece of piano music, something simple, not too difficult, the same one, over and over.’ She said some people found the act of knitting a comfort in challenging times — its repetitive action, the soothing rhythm.
Up came a memory of a dear friend, a teacher, wife, mother and grandmother, a craftswoman, who through the earthquakes in Christchurch and then through her own dying process knitted, all kinds of light and feathery and intricately patterned ethereal shawls, the wool so fine, they were more ornate cobweb than woollen garment for babies, for friends. Very near the end I visited her in hospital. Her pain by now was severe. Her face shone with moisture, she pressed her lips together and sometimes paused to breathe, but still she asked how my shawl was coming along for the new baby. This had been her initiative. She’d taken me to the wool shop in Devonport and helped me choose the gossamer skeins and set me up with circular needles. I had the shawl in my back pack and pulled it out. ‘I’ve come to a halt,’ I said lamely. I’d dropped a stitch and didn’t have the skills to fix it. She took the needles then and working slowly, digging down the rows she rescued the fallen stitch and cleverly and with dexterity knitted it back up. I watched incredulous as this dear person, in the midst of extreme pain, resolved my problem.
The Buddhist speaker reminded me of the inevitability of death and how becoming ill and declining is a natural process and part of being human. The challenge, he said, and the others talked of this too, is finding the courage not to resist. Instead when we accept this absolute truth it can help us to live more fully and deeply in the present moment.