A new beginning

Many of us would agree the pandemic proved a blessing in disguise on many levels. It reduced the options available to us and motivated everyone to prioritise, declutter and rediscover what truly matters in every aspect of our lives.

Our values and beliefs tend to be influenced by the media, society, our family and peers. Inevitably, part of us is always unconsciously conforming and living other people’s truths. Yet during the lockdown, many of these influences diminished. When looking at the four walls around me, or the sky outside, I couldn’t help but contemplate what freedom means to me. 

The identity I dedicated so much of my time, energy and resources to constructing suddenly seemed futile and felt as though it was disintegrating. Without context and supporting characters, the ‘roles’ we play in each other’s dramas seem to lose their purpose. When I flipped through magazines, depicting the lifestyles of yesterday, I noticed the values and realities they represented seem so foreign today. It was almost as if I was awakened from a dream. 

It reminded me of a famous Taoist story: “Zhuang Zhou’s butterfly dream”. In it, Zhuang Zhou, a leading Taoist figure, had a very vivid dream. In his dream, he became a butterfly and thought to himself: “how happy and comfortable it is to be a butterfly”. But suddenly he woke up in a panic and realised that he was still Zhuang Zhou, not a butterfly. 

Did Zhuang Zhou become a butterfly in his dream, or did he become Zhuang Zhou in the butterfly’s dream?

I asked myself the same questions: what’s my reality? 

The gift of time
During Covid-19 the celebrated author and mental health advocate Matt Haig underwent a ‘life edit’. Matt suffers from bouts of depression and anxiety, and is always travelling and giving talks about wellbeing. His usual life – working hard, getting on planes, going on book tours – came to an abrupt halt during lockdown.

One day, instead of fighting the fact that his life was suddenly empty, he saw how full it was. The difference was that he now had the opportunity to appreciate it. He spent more time with his young family. He noticed that the stars were brighter. He nurtured his relationships, even if he was doing so on the phone or over the internet.

Matt says the losses of lockdown have focused our minds on how much we do have.

He says: “If there is a chess board, you are more likely to play. When things are taken from us, what remains has more value. It rises not only in visibility but also intensity. What we lose in breadth we gain in depth.”

Valuing nature
The wise naturalist Sir David Attenborough has said he hopes we have used the gift of extra time during lockdown to appreciate the world around us.

He says: “I think people are discovering that they need the natural world for their very sanity. People who have never listened to a bird song are suddenly thrilled, excited, supported, inspired by the natural world. And they realise they’re not apart from it. They’re part of it.”

Creating a new beginning 
The pandemic has wreaked a great deal of suffering on the world. Yet it has also inspired us to discover new personal meaning and purpose in our lives, as well as relate to the world in a different way.

We are experiencing systemic changes in business, politics, the economy, society and our relationships. What’s next? Will we focus less on material success and exploitation of the environment, and instead more on inner harmony, social change, support of community and respect for the environment? 

While our lives seem to be going back tentatively to the “new normal”, I feel as if I am just awakening from hibernation and slowly opening my eyes, stretching out my limbs to feel the pulse of the new rhythm of the world. Something in me – and in all of us – has changed fundamentally. I can’t quite formulate it clearly yet but I do know it’s a new beginning. 

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation