From March 2015 until September 2018 I lived in the Himalayan region of Himachal Pradesh in India. I went on a six-month visa to expand my horizons, and hoped to gain perspective and wisdom. The Buddhist towns and villages high up in the Himalayan foothills were a perfect place to remove myself from the demands of living in a capitalist society, and the accompanying thought patterns. The sound of mantras, the smell of incense and the colourful prayer flags imbibed calm on an overworked western mind, allowing a deeper connection to the elusive realm of spirit.
The journey that began as a three to six month sabbatical, ending up as a three-and-a-half year life changing experience. With intermittent return journeys to the UK and Nepal for visas, life in the main was lived simply among the people and creatures of the Himalayas. It was not an easy journey from the outset, my conditioned mind patterns tripped me up at every turn, nagging me about comforts, or lack thereof. The ego doesn’t welcome change unless it’s on terms it understands. Being thrown into a completely different culture with reduced conveniences does not bode well with the ego. The haranguing inner dialogue often kept me awake long into the night demanding to know if I had a death wish, doubly so when I had to side-step a scorpion on the way to the bathroom.
Relationships were also tricky. Trying to interact with Buddhist, Hindu and Sikhs from a western framed mindset leads to more than just a confusion of language, but an emotional frustration when the ego-self is met with a calm shoulder shrug or bemused head wobble. Navigating a relationship with a man brought up in the Tibetan-Buddhist tradition was a real challenge for me but also an immensely rewarding one for the soul, as time and time again, it had to make several leaps forward to overcome the ego’s sabotage of love. Humility alone, was the one saving grace for my fledgling soul as it bowed its head to the long list of wrongdoings levelled against it while under the duress of the ego. Living an authentic life is not for the fainthearted.
Meditation and retreat does not guarantee an immediate blissful transcendence into inner peace and love, true it provides an opening, but for me the journey was both turbulent and humbling as I faced my human flaws in the mirror of self-reflection.
Long periods of self-isolation and reflection in the Himalayas prepared me for my current circumstances during UK lock down. As I sit and reflect on our current situation as a national and global community, I am eternally grateful for the self imposed quarantine of my ego in a Himalayan village. It gave me the tools to face any situation with equanimity. The old ego pattern still has its say, but it fades quickly without the energy of unresolved fear. Lifting the lid on old behaviour patterns revealed childhood fears of lack, abandonment and inadequacy. Facing past pain released me from slavery to an ego formed from circumstance and necessity in order to cope with unresolved emotions. I felt tethered to a role that I was sick of playing, and its continuous rehearsals playing out in my head. Casting aside my role has been the most challenging and liberating experience of my existence.
I hope you use this time of self-isolation to face some of your unwanted behaviour patterns and kick them into touch with the help of humility and kindness.
Collette O’Mahony 13/04/2020
My poetry book ‘The Soul in Words’ is now available in paperback.
I am very excited to tell you that my poetry book ‘THE SOUL IN WORDS’ is now available to purchase in Paperback. It contains 16 full-length poems and 144 verses set against a backdrop of love and loss, light and shade, and the forces of nature. If you’d like a sneak preview, follow the link below. Collette x
This is an invitation to believe in better times.
Believe in crimson sunsets and sparkling azure seas.
Believe in towering trees with leaves unfurling in the spring sunshine.
Believe in walks in the park holding hands with your loved ones.
Believe in the simple pleasure of sipping coffee
on the pavement outside a café.
Most of all, believe that the earth is waiting for you
and longs for the touch of your footsteps once more.
Collette O’Mahony 07/04/2020
There is a parallel rate of infection happening as we move through the global pandemic caused by coronavirus. Moving along one line is the infection rate arising from the virus and also alarmingly, is a shadow line indicating the mental infection in the population from fear and anxiety. The fallout is enormous.
Being denied basic rights such as freedom of movement and a job to earn a living causes a restless and potentially eruptive energy in the general population. Lock downs around the world are in place because there is no known way to immunise or treat covid-19. However, there have been several warnings, since the SARS virus in 2002, of a serious threat to the global community should another coronavirus make the leap from animals to humans.
According to the World Health Organisation, one person dies every 40 seconds from suicide. Several governments across the world say they are committed to improving mental health and reducing the number of deaths from suicide. Yet, these are the countries who ignored the World Health Organisation’s warning about another coronavirus pandemic, failing to put in place a contingency plan. When the prediction finally materialised as covid-19, their only response, given the lack of planning, was to enforce national lock downs. While this is proving to slow the rate of viral infection, it adds to the anxiety and stress of the population, particularly the most vulnerable. Even the mentally robust individual is wilting under the hot house of social distancing and being shut off from their loved ones living in other households.
The tide of coronavirus came like a massive tsunami across the world making it too late to run for cover. The measures being taken to stop the spread of the virus are having severe impacts on the most vulnerable sections of society, the elderly and those with mental health issues. So while we receive death tolls as graphs on a page, each life that adds to that line is someone’s wife, father, mother, son.
The invisible line that shadows the death from covid-19 is the rate of deaths from suicide. The child who can’t take another moment of being cooped up with his abusive parent, the young girl who is continually sexually abused by the man who is meant to protect her. The husband who slips further into despair as his wife hurls verbal abuse at his inadequacies, or the woman who uses make-up to hide her black eye from her children.
There are many questions to be asked about the inadequate preparation for a global pandemic, but more importantly we have a question to ask ourselves, individually and nationally; Can we continue to ignore our mental health and well being? We must invest, not just money, but time and effort into mindfulness, inner peace and meditation. Spend a few moments on conscious breathing. The more we watch our breathing, the deeper it becomes. Feel gratitude for this simple process that keeps us alive. Our immune system depends on it. Our well being depends upon it. We never know how much we depend on something until it is taken away, in some cases we find new ways to adapt. But that is not the case with breathing. There is no substitute for it, if we stop breathing we die.
Stay at home. Save lives.
Have you a safe home?
What about the woman
who fell onto a closed fist?
What about the boy
who cries himself to sleep as
his parents hurl wine soaked abuse?
Staying in saves lives.
Have you someone to talk to?
We need to listen to unsaid words –
Long silences before ‘I’m fine.’
As much as we need to isolate
We also need to reach out
By phone, by text, by gut feeling.
Stay at home. Save lives.
But also stay awake. Stay open-hearted.
Your heartbeat is the sound of a million
loved ones gasping for air, and a million
silent screams waiting to exhale.
Collette O’Mahony April 2020
As days of social distancing turn into weeks, and perhaps months, we wonder will life ever return to normal. What is normal? For the first time in years we have an opportunity to step off the global thread mill of capitalism, consumerism and competition. One of the first things resulting from the announcement of lock downs, were the lines at check-outs, as consumers loaded up on essential items. This had an adverse effect on vulnerable members of our community when they found entire shelves emptied as a result of panic buying.
Our conditioned minds are consistent with a global economy that elevates capitalism and disregards poverty. Our current global crisis is symptomatic of a post war attitude of accumulating assets and wealth. This is not a judgement but merely a wake-up call. It is time to take a long hard look at ourselves, our society and our attitude toward our environment. If reports are to be believed, this coronavirus may be with us in some form or other for several months, or even years. As a global society we need to adapt our mental attitudes towards our health, our aspirations and our fellow humans. Justifiably, everyone is hailing health professionals and key workers as true heroes. Just as in a time of war, we praise front-line soldiers, and in times of civil unrest we praise our police force and fire service. But how soon will their efforts be forgotten? When we realise there isn’t an imminent threat to our health? As soon as the danger passes, we return to our normal behaviour patterns conditioned by the ego. Ego patterns follow the national and global trend. When the economy is buoyant and food is plentiful, we feel comfortable and perhaps complacent about our situation. Alternatively, when fear arises in the world due to a pandemic and its catastrophic effects on the economy, we follow that trend becoming hyper vigilant and remaining shut off from our community.
There is a pattern emerging here. We are micro-chips supporting a global stream of thought. Individually, we need to take responsibility for our contribution to the current world order. Our ego will deny its contribution to a failing world system. It is our inner reality that decides how we experience the world. The more entrenched we are in ego and its conditioned adoration of consumerism, the more we are a slave to competition and market trends. As that commercial world crumbles under the inevitable economic fallout, we will suffer with it because that is where the ego’s allegiance lies. However, if we align with the inner truth at the core of our being, we will emerge as a new world consciousness. Stable, connected and united.
We may for a time withstand the waves of world uncertainty washing over us, but eventually as the shore of old routines recede further and further, we must trust our ability to float to the surface, buoyed by the current of absolute reality.
One thing that will come out of global self-isolation is a deeper appreciation of our natural surroundings. As soon as lock downs were announced around the world people flocked to national parks and green spaces, many for the first time in several weeks, even months.
In the rising age of technology we are spending more and more time on our phones and laptops. Our entertainment comes from streaming programs and movies. Essentially, we live in a Wi-Fi world. Nature is something remote, removed from our daily experience. Perhaps the current crisis will lead us to find more balance between insular online activity and outdoor exercise. There is nothing like something being prohibited to cause a longing for it. Driving through open spaces, no matter how scenic, is still a step removed from the immersive experience that comes from walking, jogging and cycling, among other outdoor pursuits, while filling our lungs with clean air.
Maybe we are nature’s virus and it has sent us to our rooms, flats and houses to wallow in the comfort we so desire, while it recovers and regenerates. Everything in the universe is replication; the micro reflects the macro. The micro organism (covid-19) that is attacking human airways is a replication of the human attacking the atmosphere. While scientists work tirelessly to find a cure for the virus, the earth has found a cure – confining humanity within four walls until we learn to appreciate our natural environment and treat it with utmost respect.
When we finally emerge from our cocoons, I hope we have a deeper appreciation of the natural world and our responsibility to give it equal respect as if it were our own body.
What can get us through this time of fear and isolation?
It is true that worry never amounted to a solution, and fear never nourished a single heart. There is a lesson to be learned in our current situation as we wall ourselves off in our homes for fear of catching the virus, or to save others as we wait for our immune system to fight off an infection.
How can we access our eternal being when the mind is crowded by fearful thoughts as ego struggles to make sense of its crumbling world?
It is important to remain informed of new developments in our nation and globally but avoid being saturated by it. Take in the essential information and leave the rest. The ego thrives on fear just as the virus thrives on human contact. Ego and self are comparable terms in spiritual texts. Self isolation (ego isolation) can lead us to a deeper understanding of our eternal being if we take the time to tune into our ever present, underlying peace. This inner peace is generally obscured by mental noise caused by anxiety and stress, never more so than in the current financial and global uncertainty. Yet, when you can take a few moments to check in with your feeling body and allow emotions to pass like waves across deeper still waters, a space opens up where everything is calm. Sure, the waves of uncertainty continue to crash upon the surface but this is not who you are, it is merely a current created by the fearful ego.
We all play a part in the unfolding universe. Mental well being is crucial to our experience in an ever changing world. Clinging to foundations built in sand leads to drowning. Our seemingly solid world, our expectations, hopes and dreams all seem to crash against these fragile foundations creating more fear and anxiety. If your house was about to be flooded, you would evacuate. The ego is the house with shaky foundations, we are being asked to evacuate, to move to safer ground. Thankfully, this safe place is not outside of us, it is within. Go deeper into your inner space, let that safe place envelop you and reassure you that all is well. Flow with the universe, let it lead you to safety, trusting that everything is unfolding perfectly.