Several years ago, when I was going through a crisis, someone dear to me gave me a printout with the following Chinese characters and wording:
The Chinese word for crisis consists of two characters. The first character may be translated as “danger,” the second as “opportunity.” The facing of fundamental questions about our current lifestyle, the realization of the ways in which we have been conditioned and socialized, a feeling of loss of traditional support systems, and the confusion over what comes next may be a frightening experience, a time literally filled with mental and emotional “danger.”
However, a crisis may also be a time of hope, for we have an opportunity to take responsibility for our lives, to evaluate how we have been conditioned, and how we would like to live. We also have the opportunity to develop a new awareness, and to chose and affirm a way of creating ourselves anew.
I still have a copy of this printout pinned to my office wall and soft copies saved in various places (because one can never be too careful!). These words really stuck with me, and I carry them with me.
At the time, in the midst of my crisis, it was hard to see the second part of hope and opportunity. However, once the crisis passed (as it always does), I could look back and truly appreciate how much growth had happened during that time and the opportunities that had opened up to me.
Since then, I am more deliberate about trying to identify the opportunity, blessing, or hope in every crisis or challenging situation that I face.
Which brings me to the current crisis—the COVID-19 crisis.
2020 has been a difficult year for most. The extent and degree of difficulty has varied depending on one’s personal circumstance. For some, like me, it has simply been “mildly inconveniencing.”
For others, it has meant job loss, salary cuts, being kicked out of their homes (or loneliness and isolation while at home), juggling incredible pressures of domestic and work responsibilities, and generally, just struggling to survive and keep it together.
Yet, for others, it has meant the ultimate sacrifice. The loss of life. Loved ones gone—never to return—leaving families devastated.
I’d like to pause here and acknowledge two things:
Firstly, the reason that I can find the opportunity in COVID-19 is because I am privileged. At no point have I needed to worry about where my next meal will come from, whether I will be able to pay rent or not, whether I can access and afford quality medical care should I fall sick, etcetera. All my basic needs are covered. And that is why I have the luxury, and the mental and emotional space, to reflect on the “blessing” in COVID-19.
Secondly, there are certain crises or experiences that one goes through in life, where it is near-impossible to find the blessing or opportunity. Some years ago, on Boxing Day, we lost my adopted sister who had been unwell for some time. She was only 32 years old when she passed on, one year older than me. It was a difficult time for our family and for me personally.
I remember feeling deeply affected when I celebrated my birthday the following year and turned 32. I kept thinking, “How can someone possibly exit the world now, at this age? There’s still so much life left to live!”
But, it taught me a valuable lesson. It taught me to deeply value and be grateful for every year that I see, every birthday that I celebrate. I have never been one of those people who moan about getting older, the contrary: every birthday that I celebrate, I say a silent thank you and blessing to my sister Muni, who left us way too soon but who taught me to love and appreciate life even in the darkest of moments—for she never got to celebrate anything beyond her 32nd birthday.
So, even in the darkest of experiences, a lesson can be learnt.
Now back to COVID-19, for me, personally, this year has been one that has been full of good. Not because of anything major that has happened—it’s been in the little things.
It has been the year when I have truly strengthened my practice of gratitude. I have always been a grounded and grateful person. However, this year, looking at everything others have been going through (even middle-class professionals like myself), has really brought home to me just how lucky and privileged I am. There is nothing that I take for granted now—not even breath.
Even when I feel overwhelmed by something, like the demands of work, I acknowledge the feeling, but I am mostly grateful that I still have my job and at full pay. And while we’re on the topic of work, working from home has been, for me, pure bliss! I recognize that this has not been the case for everyone for many reasons. However, for me, this is the best-case scenario where I am literally forced to work from home.
I have always enjoyed my own company the most and typically prefer quiet and solitude over being around others. Even before COVID-19, I always did my best work from home. (Here I’ll remind the readers that I have no little ones or family responsibilities to distract me.) I recently had to “babysit” my 10-year old nephew for a week, whilst he was in the middle of his end-of-term online exams. I honestly don’t know how mums/parents manage to get any work done. Maximum respect to you all who are juggling childcare, other family and domestic responsibilities, and still managing to have a decent level of work productivity. You all deserve medals!
This year has also allowed me to return to the things that I love and value but could never quite find the time to do consistently amid work travel and other work-related demands. I am immensely grateful for the opportunities that my work has given me to travel to many places, so I am not at all complaining. But it’s amazing how much time and energy is taken up by travel and related preparations.
This year, I have managed to set aside time to write (one of my loves), to read more, to meditate on a near-daily basis, and to practice yoga much more regularly; all of which had fallen by the wayside in recent years.
The reduced travel also makes me feel so much better about my carbon footprint. I am glad that I, and all other frequent travelers, can allow the earth to breathe a little better even if just for a period. Moving forward, I will purpose to be more thoughtful about my travel.
I have also finally gotten around to buying those indoor plants that I’ve been wanting to get for a long time. For now, I’m sticking to low-maintenance cacti and succulents because there’s better chance of me keeping them alive. If I pass the test, I shall progress to other plants, and who knows, soon I might have a replica mini-Amazon in my house (my dreams are valid).
So all in all, 2020 has been a good (in fact great) year for me.
Yes, I haven’t been able to go out to my favorite restaurants, go to the movies, meet up with friends as much as I’d like, see my parents as often and visit my three-week-old niece as much as I would have wanted. But, I have gained so much more in terms of personal growth and grounding.
So, for me, that has been the opportunity in this crisis: a year of pure self-love, growth, and creating myself anew.
What has been the opportunity for you during this year of the COVID-19 crisis? Because, as per the Chinese characters, a crisis may also be a time of hope.
May you, who is reading this, find the silver lining in this “dark cloud.”