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Mara and my Marbles: Reflections on life in the time of COVID-19

by Em Renfrey

If only isolation meant real isolation. Sometime between demand on my time, having to be everywhere but able to be nowhere all at once, I have lost my marbles a few times. I have been working 4 days from home in healthcare with two children with high emotional needs. The eldest in Year 12, and the youngest at nine who will one day make a wonderful politician – as she can turn my slightest request at some compliance with schoolwork into seeming like I have asked her to engage in the most dramatic Shakespearean monologue of her life.

While I have friends who have taken up crafts, and have heard wonderful insights from Sangha about how this time has helped them reflect, I have taken up the art of drinking gin before dinner and cycling through my day and night pyjamas.

Initially when Covid spread into our lives, the notion of interconnectedness was prevalent in my mind and the fragility of life so obvious. There was a beauty in people seeing the need to stay home for others. As time went on, the mental anguish and stress that isolation was causing my family was all encompassing.

Constantly we’d move from hour to hour. I’m just trying to finish that deadline, arguing about why we need to do long division and can’t watch pokemon all at once. I’m trying to conduct telehealth consultations with my patients and maintain some sense of professionalism, when the cats are dressed up in dolls clothes and put in front of the webcam, in all claws and confusion. I try to notice it as it rises, that frustration and irritation. I spend all day noticing the levels rise up like a thermometer, until I can’t notice any longer and I snap at the kids because my reflection was actually suppression. Back to the drawing board.

After my anger eases and I give myself space to sink into my emotions and the grief of change and I know that things will ease, ebb, and flow. I constantly try to remind myself of impermanence and concentrate on the suffering of others, rather than my self-cherishing ego which causes me to feel irritable with my children when they are struggling just like me, monologues and all.

I know that I will find my marbles under my zafu. I know this. But still I find myself resistant to looking where I know I will find more space for reflection. Grasping at the unjust nature of invisible germs and the chaos they have created. I know I will again feel irritated when I am interrupted for the millionth time when I dare try to take some time to myself to meditate. Instead I placate myself ‘you’re doing your best and you will get there when you can’ – knowing that this is all just a story I tell myself to avoid it. I am the master procrastinator, and equally a master of self-criticism. However, I also know it’s time to face myself and reluctantly sit when my patient, very well meaning and very atheist partner suggests I “go and do some Buddhist stuff”.

So, I find myself sitting on my zafu, (even if at first a little indignantly) trying to block out the outrage from my youngest that I dared to sit behind a closed door, I try to block the squeals of my oldest playing online video games when they are supposed to be studying -and try to tune in. I listen to the bell ring on my shrine, and the smell of the incense that quells the chaos, sinking into the rhythm of my breath… and even if only for a few moments- I start to feel my lost marbles under the cushion.