What I learned from being in quarantine

Having postponed my trip for over seven months, I was recently able to travel from Seattle, in the United States, to Sarah College located near Dharamsala, India. After two layovers, long flights, a Covid-19 test at the airport in Delhi and while wearing a mask all the time, I finally arrived at Kangra airport. A taxi driver picked me up to take me directly to Sarah College. 

Once at Sarah, they sanitized our car, the gates opened, and I was directly guided to my room on the top floor of the first building which was designated as the quarantine area. There, I was required to stay isolated for at least fourteen more days. If an additional Covid-19 test would return ‘non-detected’ or ‘negative’, I would be allowed to move into ‘my’ ‘own’ room, continue my Tibetan language program in-person instead of online and actively engage with others at Sarah. Though first, I had to remain in quarantine. 

Being in quarantine has been an especially insightful time. Although certain thought and contemplations were not new to me, their understanding became more deeply rooted in my experience. I am going to mention three things that particularly stood out for me. 

First, the amazing kindness of our healthcare workers. The one person I met with daily was the nurse of Sarah College. While masked and keeping a safe distance, she brought me food and engaged in brief conversation with me, three times each day. Tirelessly she took care of me and others in quarantine, knowing all the while that we were a greater health risk to her than she was to us. Working not just for the well-being of those in quarantine, but for everyone in her direct surrounding and ultimately for the whole world. 

I felt and continue to feel a deep gratitude for healthcare workers, especially during a pandemic like this, and for all who make even the tiniest contribution towards my well-being. Things we often take for granted, like clean water and electricity, arrive with great effort to Sarah College. Which leads to my second point. 

After five days, we were taken to an improvised clinic to take the additional Covid-19 test. During my quarantine, I contemplated the far-reaching efforts of others institutions and the factors that needed to be in place for this test to be even possible for us. Including the healthcare workers making the test possible, the governments, companies and other institutions that contribute to the development of the tests, all the people and infrastructure involved in the distribution of the tests. A similar effort is how I and others have access to clean water, electricity, and wireless internet here at Sarah College. 

No matter where we other in the world, even in a remote place as Sarah Village in India, it is evident that the well-being of everyone is entirely interdependent. Me taking that test is not only needed to establish a safe environment at Sarah and its direct surroundings, it is one of the many steps we can all take to help a pandemic like this to subside for the benefit of all. This brings me to my third and last point. 

As with many lockdowns and restrictions all over the world, being isolated from others and limited in our movement clearly disrupts the usual rhythm of our lives and activities. To me, this was okay. Though I clearly felt the wish to start studying in-person and engage with the people at Sarah, I did not really mind being on my own and could still do my studies, work for Nalandabodhi and do my meditation practice. Besides, my quarantine period had a relatively short time frame and known end date. 

For others, that period might have been or continues to be much longer. Many feel life, as they knew it, has been taken away. Including both not being able to about about their normal day doing what they wish. Consequently, emotions like anxiety, anger and loneliness can arise and cause unskillful actions. Some of my family and friends informed me about violent protests and the political chaos in my country of citizenship, the Netherlands – a clear example that this pandemic confronts us with serious challenges. 

One day, during my quarantine, I was walking back and forth on the balcony of the fourth floor. Suddenly I felt like a lion, tiger or elephant at a zoo. Being deprived from their natural habitat and confined to a very limited space, not being able to be active in ways natural to them, they often just repeatedly pace back and forth. And we know that animals in zoos often experience depression, loneliness and can become aggressive. This is a logical response, which also shows the deep desire of all beings to roam free through the world to flourish. 

At the same time, we can only roam free and flourish together. If we focus on ourselves and the short term, we might cause direct suffering to countless others. On an even larger scale, we are contribution to the spread of Covid-19 thereby causing suffering and deaths all over the world. All the while, refusing to look at our own mind. What really causes our emotions? How can we free ourselves from mental afflictions? What is truly meaningful in life? In what ways do our actions relate and contribute to the suffering or, alternatively, to the well-being of others?

These are all critical questions, I feel, we need to ask ourselves. Being in quarantine, a lockdown, restricted in our movement, and others experiences of this pandemic, can all be taken as an opportunity to learn more about who we are, what it means to be human and how we can all help each other through challenging times. 

We are currently not allowed to leave Sarah College unless there is a real urgent reason i.e. to withdraw money from the bank or needing to resolve vise issues. Though it is no longer an official restriction, most of us continue to wear a mask. The usual communal morning meditation has been suspended till further notice. And if someone like me arrives, he or she or they will go into quarantine first. All students shows their concern for the well-being of those in quarantine in many ways. With these collective measures, we do our best to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak at Sarah College and we also contribute to the pandemic subsiding in the world. 

It is not always easy. For sure. Likewise, obtaining true freedom, wisdom, joy and living with kindness is not easy. Yet both are possible. Knowing that, we need to make a real effort for the well-being of ourselves and others. Besides direct care for those in need and considering our interdependence, this requires us to train our mind. With a trained mind, we can face all kinds of hardships. Including a pandemic. Since the pandemic confronts us with our mind and forces us to contemplate life, we can also think of such experiences as previous gifts and an opportunity. 

May the pandemic subside. 

Even more so, may we always act together for the benefit of all! 

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