Our new columnist Sasha Elizabeth Parker is wending her way towards Valencia via an unexpected five-year sojourn in Poland (don’t ask). Sasha plans to write about self-love, mindfulness and self-care; mind your head could be her motto
We’re all in this together
You might have heard this expression once or twice in the recent months but it is true to say that right now we are indeed facing unprecedented times. For me, the realisation came last year when I noticed the announcement of university and school closures. At this point, I knew something world-changing was up.
Previously, I had actively chosen to distance myself from the topic of coronavirus. Of course, I had heard from my friends about the devastating picture unfolding in China but when living in Poland one cannot help but feel literally a million miles away from the problem that was then gripping China.
My nearest and dearest would label me as the ultimate optimist. In the past, I can even recall being called childlike and naive. I have always held that as a compliment, even though I am not sure it was intended to be. So, before the severity of the situation became crystal-clear to me, I must admit, I had hoped that the situation would simply run its course and quickly become yesterday’s news. Optimistic or naive? I think both adjectives can be applied here.
Although, being the ultimate optimist, I did at times find myself feeling blue in my new normal. If I had to describe my feelings in more depth, I would use the analogy of a wave. Back then, I felt very much as if I was riding a wave. At times I felt high and empowered and at times I felt low and somewhat daunted but more often than not, I found myself atop of the wave rather than beneath it.
Now, I would like to share with you some of my tried and tested techniques to not only stay afloat but to be able to ride the wave like a pro-surfer.
I am lucky enough to be in a very fortunate position. I have adapted well, as most of you have, to teleworking and working from the comfort of my home. In this case, I cannot stress the word comfort enough. My situation is very comfortable. I am now a full-time online English teacher and I cannot thank my students enough for continuing to support me during this difficult time. I am also incredibly lucky to be able to connect with so many people on a day-to-day basis using a variety of platforms.
My line of work allows me the privilege to speak with individuals from different walks of life and of different ages ranging from the tender age of eight to the impressive age of 84. Although I am the teacher, I am also very much a student and, I kid you not, I learn something new from every single student in every single lesson. I would like to share with you now what I have learnt.
“We do not need a holiday.’’ As most of you, I have had to put my holiday plans on hold for the time being. I had been looking forward to venturing to Bali in May to embark on a once in a lifetime yoga experience. But as one of my students quite rightly pointed out, we do not need a holiday right now, we have been given the perfect opportunity to rest at home and enjoy the slow-life approach rather than the usual nine-to-five rat race. Frankly, I couldn’t agree more.
I have never felt more at peace than I do right now and what is more, I do not suffer from that dreaded acronym which is often thrown around: FOMO. Yes, that’s right; I no longer have the Fear Of Missing Out. In fact, I can revel in that new trendy acronym which seems to be growing in popularity by the minute: JOMO. Yes, exactly; I can revel in the Joy Of Missing Out and as my good friend put it so aptly last week: I can be lazy and not feel guilty about it because the whole world has been fast asleep.
So, there is no need to fear; there is nothing to miss out on. You have an incredibly rare opportunity to sit back and relax. To take your foot off the pedal and take a moment to rest a little. I am finding that more and more people around me are using this time for personal reflection, to figure out what they like about their life and what they do not.
You have a precious moment to see everything from a completely new perspective, to work out what it is that you truly want to do and who you truly want to be. You have been given time, precious time to redesign your life if you so wish. For those of you who are lucky enough to say that you already have the perfect life, well then, you can use this time to count your blessings and be thankful for all that you have.
I have been inspired by so many of my students to do all those things I’ve been meaning to do: pick up the book from my shelf which had been collecting dust, dust off the keys to my piano and find escapism in tickling the old ivories and to finally fall in love with cooking (which for me is a small miracle). My students have thrown themselves into personal development. Some have chosen to focus on learning a foreign language, others have decided to enrol on a brand-new course. I have been pointed in the direction of a plethora of free online courses and tell me, what is more enriching than personal development, especially at this given time?
“We are not at war.’’ My dear friend and student who is the impressive age of 84 but physically more like 64 and mentally more like 24 said this to me just the other day and her words have resonated with me everyday since. As you can imagine this lady finds joy in remaining active and mobile, she enjoys being busy and socialising with her friends and family. She must take special care now to self-isolate. Instead of being bored she chooses to stay connected virtually and to busy herself making face-masks for her friends and her community. She can still recall the difficult times her parents faced during the war and she tells me that in comparison to that the situation we find ourselves in now is in fact very comfortable. Appreciate and enjoy what and who you have around you.
“It will bring out the good and the bad in people.’’ One of my students echoed also the words of my mum last week. I have been blessed to have been inundated with offers of help and I have also been blessed to have been given the opportunity to help. Each time I have felt a feeling of warmth deep down, a feeling which money can’t buy. I advise you not to shy away from helping others. As another student reminded me, “by helping others you help yourself’’. One good deed encourages another and as we all know, you reap what you sow.
“How can you possibly be bored?’’ It brought a smile to my face to see how flabbergasted one student of mine was at the idea of someone being bored at this time and it reminded me of a quote I once encountered : “the internet makes smart people smarter and stupid people stupider”. When you are connected to the web, use it to your advantage. Use it to stay connected with others. Use it to educate yourself. Use it for self-development. I would advise not to follow the news every second of every day, it could be detrimental to your mental health if you are reading article after article on the topic of coronavirus. Of course, remember to step away from the screen at the end of the day and pick up a book, paint a picture, cook something tasty or simply embrace the Netflix and chill approach.
“It puts things into perspective.’’ I hope that in the months to come when everything is finally under control and when it is safe to start going outdoors and socialising face-to-face again we will realise what is important in this life. I have been trying to practice minimalism for sometime now, ever since uprooting my life and moving to another country. Decluttering my surroundings, I find, helps to declutter my mind. This situation reminds me that material things are not important. Food, shelter and companionship are what matters. Use this as an opportunity to take stock of what really matters to you.
It is important to note that not only do I feel more connected with others right now but I also feel more connected with myself. One of the best coping mechanisms I have found is to turn inward rather than outward. For me, meditation and yoga allow me to catch my breath and calm my mind especially when I feel overwhelmed with all that is going on. Even now as I type, I can hear a police car patrolling the streets and announcing that in this state of epidemic we must remain inside to protect ourselves and others. Instead of filling me with fear or panic I choose to listen and agree; the best thing we can do right now is to stay inside, stay safe, protect ourselves and protect others.
So, it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, it can be used as a great opportunity. A great opportunity to find, educate and develop oneself and to encourage those around you to do the same.
What have you learnt from your new normal?
Sasha Elizabeth Parker is from York, England and is slowly working her way to Valencia, Spain — via a five-year sojourn in prickly picturesque Poland. No, not a Ryanair cock-up — as John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens… when you’re busy making other plans”. On the plus side, along the way she’s won the hearts of Poles and developed a penchant for pierogi