Returning from Vancouver, I had to transit in London en route home to Singapore. It was just a day after the announcement of mandatory Stay-Home Notice (SHN) in designated locations for all returning residents. Not knowing what to expect when I landed, I was ushered in the most orderly fashion from disembarkation to boarding designated buses to where I would spend 14 days in isolation.
I think in many ways I was lucky for this opportunity for much yoga and reflection through meditation during these 14 days. The unbelievable peace and tranquility I felt was refreshing. There wasn’t a schedule I had to adhere to, or meetings to attend, or noise and chatter of people talking. I realised that in the stillness one becomes aware of the eternal presence of one’s true self, sometimes neglected and sometimes silent. The realisation that we have to take time to cherish our soul. Taking or making time to be alone, to pray and to meditate because our soul is the source of our whole life.
Here are five personal lessons I learned from being in isolation:
01 | Learning to listen
My first thoughts upon getting to my room were really very simplistic — have I brought enough clothing for 14 days? Not in the sense of being vain, but in the most basic of needs. With nothing much except books in my suitcase, I thought about how we spend so much time gathering possessions: to decorate our bodies with clothing, accessories, makeup and so on. In this accumulation, we usually neglect taking care of something most important — our soul. I thought about how our bodies express themselves by sending us signals (comfort and discomfort) but normally when we are so busy with our lives we ignore or don’t recognise the signs. I suppose when you are confined to a 200 square foot room, you become a lot more self-aware.
Being in self isolation helped me to rethink some of the most basic needs: that we have to care for our body, cherish our friends and family for their love, and care for our soul. Over the next few days, I meditated for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. Subsequently, I began to think about how we can nourish our mind and bodies through food, peaceful environment, meditation, and giving to the community; at the same time being mindful not to contaminate it with toxins (unhealthy food, drink, negative emotions and negative people).
It’s about being kind to ourselves. If we nourish our bodies with optimism, hope, positivity, exercise, and silence, in turn it will help us breathe easier, lighter and deeper.
02 | Living in the present
I spent some time thinking about things past, albeit trying not to dwell on them. I realised that every thought, emotion and perception is just the product of our memory, as is every experience that came and went. Although the experiences are past, they have become so much a part of who we are.
At times, there may be so many things we might wish or hope a situation to be, but it is what it is, no more, no less. As I thought about it, it seemed that maybe we should try accepting what comes totally and completely so that we can appreciate it, learn from it, and then let it go, helping us to keep our minds and hearts open. I read a sign on the door to a restaurant once in New York City, it said: “If we are not open, we are closed”. We can’t change things most of the time, but we can change our perception of how we choose to see them.
Most days, I sat at the edge of my bed looking out the window: watching the flash of lightning in the sky when it rained, other times, reflecting on life and existence as I watched the clouds floating by, and on some days, listening to the birds singing in the morning to one another. On one of the mornings, I looked out the window to see a few butterflies fluttering about amongst the trees. It seemed that in that very precious moment, everything pauses — in life we meet, we encounter, we share, we laugh, we love, we part, but when in stillness and silence we realise that if we share more with others, care for one another, be more kind, take a light-hearted approach to life, love one another, then we are creating so much happiness, joy and peace in the world. And then this, and every moment will be so meaningful and worthwhile.
03 | Patience
On the first day, I kept peering through the peephole to see whether food was placed in front of my door. After a while, I learned to stop checking and to just be patient as it would arrive in due time. It wasn’t that I was hungry, but merely that I have gotten used to a routine over the years when it came to mealtimes. So, it got me thinking about how we are constantly learning to be patient with ourselves, with others or even with life, the experiences that test us are the little bumps on the road along the way. Cultivating and nurturing patience help us to let go of frustration, stress, anxiety and disappointment, realising how to let go of the things we cannot control, be it a delay, change, or an obstacle or unforeseeable circumstance.
Many of us sometimes are in a hurry, or constantly rushing to get things done and in a certain way that if it does not, we get frustrated. The fact is that every situation is different, but how we react to it is everything. At the end of the day, we realise that some things really just don’t matter, and we have to focus on what is happy and positive in our lives and stop wasting time on what is not going right because it is temporary.
I was reading something that resonated with me saying that “time is everything we have, and don’t.”
04 | Goodness
Something my grandfather always told me was to be a good person. Over the many years I have mulled over that and what it meant. My friend tells me that through meditation, we reconnect with our own being. He sent me a text once about my grandfather that I still remember: “His spirit lives on, especially in your heart, and that continues to enrich your very being”. Obviously I cried. After meditating, I found much more clarity, and so as I thought more about what my Grandfather meant, I figured – perhaps to live a meaningful and purposeful life, we should focus less on doing and just being: altruism, self-sacrifice, gratitude, grace, honesty, public service, generosity, faithfulness, loyalty, filial piety and kindness. These, we hold in the highest regards, as the qualities of what it means to be human.
I truly believe that everyone is inherently good and kind. This has been shown by the number of people around the world coming together to help those in need of food, medical equipment and shelter throughout this Covid-19 pandemic. The virus does not differentiate wealth, position, race, gender, education, religion or geography — it really has shaken all of us to understand that if it does not, then why do we?
In this current environment with the global health pandemic and the ever-growing wealth divide, I have realised that we are going to have to care more than we have ever cared. And for some that is going to mean we dig deeper and give more time, money, and knowledge than we have ever given before. What makes us good is our humanity — our love for one another, treating each other as equal. Our ever-changing world and economic process have created the 1% who probably control much of the world’s resources and money, but now we have to take the 1% and the 99% and remember that only together are we 100%.
Deepak Chopra says, “A man’s goodness is truly measured by what he is, not what he does.”
05 | Serve
I speak to my parents every day. Not just when I was in self isolation but throughout the 15 years that I have lived in Singapore. Both of my parents worked in public service — my father retired as High Commissioner of Canada with a distinguished career in the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and my mother worked as portfolio manager for The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and at the Central Bank of Canada. Above anything else, in my family, we always felt that public service is an honour. Some of us may not have had the opportunity to be called to public service, however being of service to others is not limited to the job of the government and institutions. Serving others and giving back to the broader community for the blessings that we have all received in our life truly is the most open secret to lasting happiness in this life.
In the solitude of self-isolation, I have had the opportunity to reflect on and think not just about the value of solitude itself, but on what value do I offer the community. Whether through mentorship, volunteer work, acts of random kindness, reaching out to those in need or even helping to fundraise — helping others makes our community stronger, healthier, united, and resilient.
As I sat in the corner of the room on day 13, I asked myself, “How can I make a difference in changing and improving the lives of others?” I plan to make an actionable “to-do list”, and pledge to complete it in this life. I am so excited!
I urge you to do the same. Positive change starts with the desire to be an instrument of change.
I have faith in humanity and in a better world after the pandemic is over. I also have hope that everyone who has been given this opportunity for self-reflection will realise they each have a different set of lessons that they have learned through it all. The Future is something we all share together. One heart, one spirit.
Sybil Lau is a financial investor actively involved in charitable causes and an avid supporter of the arts. Canadian-born, she resides in Singapore. Lau is on the advisory board of Apical Media and is a contributing writer.