isabelle thye

What does living a good life means during a pandemic movement control?

It is an interesting time to be a witness of history, to observe how a virus outbreak that happened thousands of miles away erupted into a global pandemic, and to feel the weight of shock when it burned my neighbourhood.

From reading news on the sideline, suddenly, I became an active participant in the arena of a pandemic when the Movement Restriction Control Order (MCO) was enforced in Malaysia to ‘flatten the curve’.

When I came across the question ‘how do you define living a good life’ in a popular online course ‘The Science of Wellbeing’, I paused and sank into thoughts.

How has life been within the confinement of home and limited human interaction, coupled with uncertainty of what lies ahead?

Living in stillness

Prior to MCO, I struggled internally to slow down in all aspects of my life when I embarked on my pregnancy journey. Once the restriction started, it felt as though the playing ground was levelled — my norm of being homebound became everyone’s norm.

Somehow, my intuition guided me to spend time in quiet reflection.

Every morning, sitting at the verandah with my morning pages journal, I saw the blue sky with patches of white cloud, felt the breeze and warmth of sunshine on my skin, heard the birds chirping, being surrounded by greens; I felt safe and protected in the perfection of nature.

It was hard to fathom that this same world is going through a pandemic. Why is this contrast? There’s a lot about the world that I don’t understand.

When my social media was flooded with people on FB live, Zoom gathering, webinar, advocate for learning a new skill, staying productive, creating a new business, building a brand, and so on, more than once, I questioned my lifestyle choice that fell on the opposite of the continuum.

A part of me was filled with ‘FOMO’, a bigger part of me was contented with ‘nothingness’. It was an interesting time to be able to observe my emotion towards different stimuli and not respond to anything.

It gave me space which was similar to a Vipassana course, where the goal is to be grounded in the present moment and not to be ‘productive’.

Every day is a practice to find what feels good (and do it) and feel peace from within, no matter what’s happening out there physically and virtually.

Inequality and privilege

During the MCO, I remembered staring long and hard at a picture on FB that says ‘staying home is not the same for everyone’, depicting a well-to-do family taking a group selfie in contrast to a poor family who is counting coins.

The truth of inequality is more unavoidable than ever in the middle of a pandemic. Every day, I read about people losing their jobs or not being able to put food on the table, and I came across numerous grass-root charitable initiatives that flooded various WhatsApp groups.

What can I do? What’s my role in this society? How do I relate to the world around me?

The heroic instinct kicked in — I felt that I am responsible to do something, partly driven by the guilt I felt in my privilege.

When I read Yuval Noah Harari’s ’21 Lessons for the 21st Century’, I found relief in the author’s explanation that wealth inequality is related to more than a hundred years of industrial revolution and capitalism.

I still couldn’t wrap my head around the unfairness of life, but I do believe that kindness and generosity in an individual can make a little difference that spreads across the cosmos.

Choose my life and live fully

“Human happiness depends less on objective conditions and more on our own expectations.” — Yuval Noah Harari

Even though I lost the freedom to get out and about during the MCO, I embraced the freedom to live fully by connecting with my body, my thoughts, my surrounding, and my family.

It is during this period I realised that living a ‘good life’ is not static. There were times when I worked really hard to achieve a goal and now, I value peace and clarity. Both are equally fulfilling in their own pursuit.

While it is easy to lose sight of ‘what I am’ at a time when the social media is noisier than ever, it is important to remember that life is not the same for everyone, we are all on a different learning curve.

As I witnessed as much ignorance as courage during the pandemic, feeling a range of emotions from grief to outrage to hope; I say, let nature do its work.

It is perhaps a reminder that no amount of money, power or science is greater than the law of nature.

Being a tiny participant of the world, I am responsible to safeguard the temple within me.

At least, this much of life is within my control.

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