It’s COVID-19 in Peru Day 9.

4:30 a.m. Up again. Yep. It’s a thing.

I meditate, which includes sitting, chanting, reading, sitting some more, for close to an hour. In other words….

My Meditation Practice

I began going to the Ann Arbor Zen Buddhist Temple close to a year ago, and since Steve and I have been gone a lot, and since the service gives me peace, I do what I can to duplicate it on my own. I try to do this most days, though for the last couple I’ve been grumpy and didn’t Feel Like It.

Here’s what I do:

  • Sit with a straight back, usually on the floor in a half-lotus—I’m one of the bizarre people who actually find a half-lotus comfortable—focus the eyes on a fixed point, and pretty much just breathe for 25 minutes. I don’t try to control my thoughts, as if I could. I do work to observe them, where they go, my physical reactions to them. I nearly always notice how much of my life is lived planning my future, as opposed to right in the moment, actually paying attention to what’s going on.
  • After this, I do a little stretching. Then I sing-chant the Yebul, a brief song, for lack of a better term, in Sino-Korean. I then recite an equivalent English version of the chant. And I remember, in this moment, there is no lack, there is nothing to fear, and there is much to grateful for.
  • Next, I read a couple of pages from one of 2 books I like: Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck, and The Lost Art of Compassion by Lorne Ladner. Then I write a little bit about what came up in meditation and in the reading. And then I start the day in a more grounded, chilled out manner.

Now today, for the first time, before reading, I decide to add on an extra 10 minutes of sitting. For one thing, we do it that way at the Temple. For another, I have been scattered and cranky to the point that it’s starting to anoy me. Extra sitting, just forcing the brain to respond to the simple act of breathing, strikes me as a good and necessary thing to do.

I grew up praying, but the kind of praying I learned was more like a monologue. Meditation, sitting in silence, is how I pray now. It’s not an argument. It’s listening.

Whaddaya Mean, It’s Not All About Me?

Today’s reading, from The Lost Art of Compassion, talks about how all of us are driven by an inherent narcissism. Of course, this isn’t pleasant to process. Narcissists are people I don’t like! They’re not me, they’re not the people closest to me. Now that big fat so-and-so sitting you-know-where: HE’s Exhibit A in the Narcissist Hall of Fame. Those folks refusing to self-quarantine and crowding beaches because spring break is so important—look, it’s not difficult to find people who are Definitely Behaving Way Worse Than Virtuous Me and are therefore Bigger Dicks and deserving of my self-righteous ire.

But as I read, and as I’ve studied over the past year—because this is not the first time this has come up—I realize that yes, humans in general and certainly myself and most of the people I know, have a habit of thinking everyone and everything is really all about them. And that’s narcissism.

There’s a great saying in a Zen Buddhist story: Some super important guy, a king or a warrior, has the revelation that “Once I realized how unimportant I was, I could do the work I needed to do.” From my comfortable confinement in Peru—and I am fully aware that I am insanely better off than many, many people—I am seeing people do the work they need to do. They are not acting as if they are important. Instead, realizing that helping each other IS supremely important, they do their work.

My primary job right now is to take care of myself so I can support everyone I come in contact with, keep a record, and learn. What I feel like or don’t feel like doesn’t matter. I gotta just do my work.

That Was Nice While It Lasted.

I open my accounts to see what’s going on. Calm = shattered. Social media exists to react. It’s pretty much all talk, not a whole lot of listening, little thought, and connection that barely penetrates beyond the very top level of surface.

I am sick of reaction. I crave response, people saying things worth listening to. This whole time—and it’s now been a full week since the Lima lockdown began—what’s lifted me more than anything are emails. Long, or at least longer-form communications that people have actually sat down, thought through, and taken the time to write.

I haven’t had many, but I treasure each one, far and above the short bursts in texts and messages. In fact, I’m starting to find those annoying at best, even a little discouraging. I realize many people consider them to be helpful in maintaining sanity. For me, they’re starting to have the opposite effect.

I adopt limits on the social sites as well as the news sites, and even on email. I will check at a maximum once an hour, and give myself a maximum of 5 minutes. If an urgent response is needed, I’ll take the time I need to take. But…well, so far, that’s not been the case.

Round and Round the Rooftop

Around 8 a.m.—I’ve been up for a while—I head up to our rooftop. No one there, deliciously breezy and cool. I walk around inside the plexiglass enclosed portion of the patio, a rectangle about 15 x 10 feet. It’s plenty. I don’t try the doors to the outside track because why touch a doorknob? I wash and wash and gel when I get in anyway, but it’s one less risk.

I talk to myself while I saunter about, something I typically do when driving or walking, something I’ve done for years. My mom was a big advocate. “I like an intelligent audience,” she would say.

Last night, my Republican rep whose office got back to me so quickly, started bitching on Twitter about the Democrats, how it was all their fault that the American people were not getting the aid they need. When I see this stuff, I normally just get mad and shut down. What’s the point of arguing? But, because of this situation and because my district is small, I may actually have a chance to meet this guy. I have to do something I’m normally not willing to do: Really read what he’s saying, do my research, and then, possibly have a chance to speak with him intelligently and not yelling, about why I disagree. Maybe we’ll actually listen to each other. So as I walk, I work through what it is that made me so angry in the rep’s reaction, and how I could calmly express what I’ve learned from a very unique perspective.

It’s a long shot, I know. But a fair amount less long than before this all happened.

A New Week Begins

I work out, and am drenched in sweat before long. Of course I don’t feel like working out, but….etc. You get the day’s theme. Kendall asks us for a Solid Gold pose. I do my best, telling her that sadly, I watched Solid Gold. She writes back, “I know. Where have all the good shows gone?” I heart her.

covid-19 in peru day 9 solid gold

I put on a dress after I get cleaned up and I feel less hopeless. I’ve been wearing my baggy butt boxers and, well, you can imagine what seeing oneself in baggy butt boxers does for morale every time one passes a mirror.

Steve and I resolve that, if we haven’t heard from the Embassy by noon about a flight, he will go shopping. They’re in touch by 10. Nothing today. Wine tonight!! I go with him downstairs so I can buzz the door so he can get out; the doorman normally does it, but No Hay Personal. He’s quite color coordinated, wearing the hat they gave me for being on Jeopardy, a T-shirt from an organization we support, and a pale blue mask.

In the foyer, a woman is cleaning. Building residents have signed up as volunteers in the absence of staff. We would do this, but the slots are pretty much taken. Once again, the Peruvians show us how to do this. Work, order, a clean environment: Important. Whining about the lack of staff: Not on the table.

Steve picks up more greens (hours of cleaning, good meditative work)…..

covid-19 in peru day 9 fresh greens

….and lucuma ice cream!! Claudia introduced me to lucuma a million years ago. It’s not just the powder like you can buy in the US for a ton of money, it’s the actual fruit, and it’s amazing. It taste sort of malty, not too sweet. It rocks.

I read Rory Stewart’s book, The Places in Between, where he decides to walk across a big chunk of Asia, including from Herat to Kabul in Afghanistan. I’ve been fascinated by Afghanistan for years, when, back in the 70s, I read about hippies going there and smoking kif and sleeping in parks. You know, when you’re in high school in Idaho after being uprooted from the suburbs of San Jose, getting high and wearing love beads in Kabul sounds like about the coolest thing in the world. These little reminders of how radically and quickly the world changes are everywhere.

My kids and others have told us we may not want to come back. My son tells me he feels safe and he feels better about me knowing I’m here; cases are very high in Michigan and keep climbing. I ask Steve if we should just wait for our flight on April 4th after all, but he says, well, we can’t know what’ll be going on then. We have to take the charter if it comes. It’s a 180; up til now, I’ve been the one saying we have to get home. And it’s a relief. In a situation like this, choices can feel hellish. This is not something I have to stew about.

We’ve got our wine, I’m wearing a skirt. Time for a toast. We’re fine. And very very fortunate.

covid-19 in peru day 9  toasting