Letting go without losing control

What with being fairly recently retired (though I like to call it repurposement not retirement), living off-grid on a woodland property, always hands-on tasks to be done… plus being an introverty kinda guy anyhow… my daughter jokes that life since mid-March hasn’t looked all that different from normal for me.

It’s not that I’m oblivious to what’s going on. While I do attempt to limit my news intake (not always successfully), pretty much every day I consume news from the radio or the internet—though going direct to major news sites rather than relying on feeds. And my good friend works as a PSW in a Long-Term Care home. So we’re pretty tuned in locally and beyond.

Grateful as I am for the life I’m able to lead amidst the pandemic and all the restrictions thereof, I can’t help feeling down about not being able to visit my daughter out in Halifax, or have her come here. And I also sometimes find myself lamenting the experiences I used to enjoy that will be either unavailable or significantly altered for the foreseeable future: I enjoy travel—not just the destinations but the journey itself—especially by train, but this and air travel will be a very different and highly impersonal experience. I appreciate all the creative efforts made shifting activities online, but for me staring at a screen is not much of a substitute for attending a live concert, or a yoga training, or singing in a choir, or hanging out in a coffee house. And shopping, perhaps never the most appealing activity at the best of times, has become a multi-step transactional process with all the charisma of going through customs & immigration at the airport.

It can feel like the everyday life is becoming an impersonal, soulless and disconnected experience, this despite all the technical connection we have, experienced as a peculiar blend of Toffler’s Future Shock, Orwellian vision, and The Jetsons. (I’m dating myself by mentioning that last one, a popular animated cartoon decades ago which imagined daily life in the future, Millennials may need to Google it.)

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which date back much further (circa 400 CE) the Yamas & Niyamas are said to be ways of skillful living. One of the Yamas, aparigraha, challenges us not to grasp or attempt to hold on to things, to experiences, to sensations, or even to people. Aparigraha has a cousin in the Niyamas known as santosha, which counsels us to be content with what is, rather than having desires or expectations which may serve only to cultivate unhappiness.

I’ve been trying (though, like limiting news intake, not entirely successfully) to keep these useful nuggets of advice at the forefront because they are particularly prescient at this time as we remind ourselves that life always moves forward. By its nature, it can’t move backward, nor can it stand still.

There’s no “back to normal”. Not in this pandemic, nor in anything else. There’s never a back to anything. Only forward to something. Our challenge in this COVID era is that, on the surface, it may seem that what lies ahead will be no improvement on the past, and this order of things is contrary to what we are used to. Not only that, but what’s ahead is also far from clear either in its detail or its certainty of occurrence. But letting go, doesn’t mean giving up all control. No sailor can control the wind or the currents, but a skillful sailor will operate the rudder and adjust the sails to take best advantage of them.

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