We are now entering the 9th month of Covid-19 in the US and the 6th month since California announced a stay at home order. Many people have died and everybody’s life has changed. It seems like our entire world has changed. We can choose a perspective from Martial Arts.
When we look at this year in our own lives especially since we entered quarantine, it seems in some ways like time has stood still. In the dojo we have done our best to continue moving forward and improving technique, but certain things have been nearly impossible. Hands-on partner work can’t happen. We haven’t had a single test during quarantine (though we are about to have our first tests in the park). Perhaps most distressing for me personally has been the cancellation of our retreats here and in Michigan. How do I know another year has gone by without retreat?!
We have a tendency to see the passage of time in relation to large, memorable events. In Hollywood, the absence of big movie releases has almost put the entire city in a kind of stasis. We see the same thing in our personal lives. Several of my friends and family have had to postpone their weddings. We don’t have large group events of any kind. It’s almost like this whole year was just lost.
Perspective from Martial Arts
Yet as I said at the beginning of quarantine, this doesn’t have to be the way it is. Obviously if we want to curb the spread of Covid-19 we need to take the necessary physical measures. But this doesn’t have to be a lost year. As martial artists we focus on the things we can do, take responsibility for the actions and improvements we can make. We can still accomplish much and create many memories to take with us.
This perspective is vital for us not just during these challenging times but throughout life. When we were younger, summer seemed to last forever (Bryan Adams was onto something). All those new experiences created a tapestry of memories that was almost tangible. In comparison, most people’s tapestry for this summer will be more or less blank. What did we do, sit at home and avoid getting sick? We will vaguely remember this time, but without strong experiences it will seem more like a concept than real life.
The sweetest moments
The sad truth is that for most people, their entire adult lives are like some form of a quarantine summer. We may go places and do things, but without the awe and joy of our childhood all our days just seem to run together. Indeed we usually seem to be running towards the end of life without stopping to smell the proverbial roses. The following story from the Buddha deals with this:
A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!
We spend most of our lives racing from place to place, from activity to activity. We are like this man who literally is racing to his death. Yet he, in his final moments, was able to fully experience life. The enlightening sweetness of that strawberry was always there for him and is always there for us. We just have to choose to experience it. Take the perspective from martial arts.
Here’s a simple practice. The next time you find yourself rushing through a chore like cleaning dishes or grocery shopping, ask yourself, where am I rushing to? There may be some other place or activity you’d rather be doing, but if you pay attention you’ll often notice the same kind of rushing once you get there. Chores are life. Sitting in traffic is life. Whenever you realize you are just rushing through life, step into that moment with a deep breath. Enjoy it fully as the sweetest strawberry. Fill your quarantine and the rest of your days with the sweetest moments.