The art of cultivating detachment to dance with disruption
How changing your routine during COVID is an effective personal strategy
COVID-19 has changed life as we know it, and we are all still adjusting to an uncertain time. One of the best ways of gaining fluidity in the chaos is by changing our routine during COVID, a strategy that I have personally found very effective.
Here in Singapore, the government has announced its strategy for slowly reopening the economy and activities. It’s a conservative, measured and thorough approach. The island of Singapore is small but densely populated. It is surrounded by other countries that are just a stone’s throw away, and are also working hard to minimise their spread rates. In fact, you could say we are a ‘high contact’ country. Yet whilst the ‘circuit breaker’ measures have clearly flattened the curve on local spread, our migrant worker population, largely contained within quarantined dormitories, continue to skew the stats.
With such high levels of infection, albeit quarantined and well treated, and with an excellent recovery rate, the risk of a flare-up remains. The government has managed this by maintaining most of the current circuit breaker measures with some services reopening (thankfully hair salons being one of them!). But the limited activities and travel range, compulsory masks, no beaches, no gatherings or public groups etc…remain for the next month at least. It’s an understandable and admirable plan.
However, it was the highly emotive response to the recent announcement which was fascinating to witness. Despite the sense of it all, there was a collective howl from parts of the community. You could hear words like ‘devastated’, ‘I can’t go on like this’, ‘when will this end?’, ‘I’m trapped’, ‘this is unfair…’
What seems to be the case for many is that people became highly attached to the date of June 1st, the touted end of the strict circuit-breaker measures. They had, despite seeing the larger picture, become massively emotionally vested in the idea that everything would be back to ‘normal’ at the flick of the switch.
My response, however, was different. It seemed apparent to me. I didn’t have a huge emotional back-lash to the news. I welcomed it.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have had to forgo a lot of very exciting activities; ones that I have a great affection for. My Women’s Circles, the New Moon Lodges in Singapore have been suspended and will continue to remain suspended. I also had a spectacular line-up of Lodge speakers ready to roll. My Creative Spirit Retreat to Java with my business partner Anna, planned for May, was fully booked. It is now postponed to September (maybe). Two exciting collaborations with Chinese partners were developing beautifully, and these have been suspended too, just to name a few.
But, I feel good. I feel positive. Why? Because over the last six weeks I have been deliberately and consciously cultivating ‘detachment’ by mindfully changing my routine during COVID.
There is some spectacular commentary online around ways to cope with the COVID disruption. However, to be honest, I just wasn’t vibing with a lot of it, like the idea of recognising that we are experiencing grief as the world we knew and loved, has gone. And also this attempt to define the ‘new normal’. I’m not vibing with these ideas because I believe they’re missing the bigger invitation here. If we’re grieving what we no longer have, we’re attached to it. If we’re searching for a new idea of ‘normal’ to attach to…we’re attaching! The grand invitation for all of us here is to look at our habit of attachment itself and the illusory nature of what we’re attached to.
I read a fantastic quote on social media recently and my apologies to the author – I can’t remember your name. So, if you’re reading this, please get in touch because I love the way you think. It said:
“COVID-19 is retraining the world from its attachment to the illusion of certainty.”
Boom! It’s not the uncertainty that’s the issue here, because that is the truth. Nothing is certain. Everything is always shifting and moving. You could die today. I could die today. A grim prospect for some, I know, but that’s the reality. The issue is that we have bought into the illusion of certainty and have become very averse to, and fearful of the truth – that nothing is certain. And if you think about it, our worst behaviours as a species are born from this. The idea that we’ll always have a tomorrow has seen us delaying the serious choices that need to be made for environmental recovery. Our blind reach for a certain future has us over-consuming and hoarding rather than giving and sharing. I could go on…but you get my drift.
So I decided in my own ‘spirit science lab’, to embark on a different approach. I decided to very deliberately view disruption as a personal invitation to cultivate detachment.
Perhaps the most recognisable spiritual reference to ‘attachment’ is from Buddha:
“Attachment is the source of all suffering.”
And certainly, the last few weeks in Singapore have shown this more than ever. However, references to the slippery-slope of attachment can be found almost everywhere in various iterations through time.
The Christian tradition teaches the merits of breaking the habit of worrying and putting faith in positive outcomes and the grander plan of God. The beautiful Vedic practice of Brahmavihara cultivation specifically references ‘freedom from attachment and aversion’ as the key state for embodying compassion. The Bhagavad Gita teaches non-attachment as a primary path and requirement of spiritual growth. And our modern secular focus on establishing mindfulness is all about using meditative and introspection techniques to establish a witnessing state of awareness. To dwell in present awareness and engage with our experiences from a place of non-judgment.
It’s all about loosening the tether between our identity and happiness towards ideas of ‘what should be’ or ‘what could be’, and simply and fluidly roll with ‘what is’. And what I am learning through my spiritual experiment in ‘detachment’ is that it can be cultivated, on the ground, day-to-day. This is how I’m doing it.
I started by scanning the areas where I have been personally disrupted by COVID that were eliciting the strongest emotional resistance. For me – and they will be different for everyone – three big ones were, my attachment to sleep and eating patterns, my attachment to a set exercise routine, and my attachment to tech-phobia. There were others too, but I’m picking these three to expand on the massive benefits of actively ‘detaching’.
With some clarity around these, I then set about very deliberately detaching myself from the idea of how they should be, or the previous comfort they had given me. Rather than mourning their loss, I purposefully experimented with alternative patterns around them. What I have found from that ‘on the ground’ focus, is that I have loosened my propensity for attachment generally.
Detachment from sleep and eating patterns
With two teenagers being home-schooled and my husband, who has spent the majority of our married life travelling for work, now home, we are experiencing a concentration of agendas, diary management and timetables. And they don’t all match. The romantic idea that we’d all dine together three times a day during the lockdown, and have early bedtimes after a family game of poker each night, flew out the window in three seconds. And I let it go.
I now sleep when I’m tired and eat when I’m hungry. Simple, I know. But I had no idea how removed from my natural rhythms I had become by my attachment to set meal times and sleep times. I have always been an early riser, but have found during this circuit-breaker that I am waking very early, around 4 am. Now, normally, I would regard this as just a bit too early. I would have counted my hours of sleep. I might have done some breathwork to induce a sleepy state and roll back over. Not anymore! Instead, I am donning my running shoes and heading out on some beautiful explorations. In the dark, while the island sleeps, I participate in every dawn with energy work and meditation.
I’m not tired. I feel vital and well. During the day, if my body signals a need to rest, I respond. With the mental tizz of ‘not having enough sleep’ now removed, I have realised that it’s the tizz and not the sleep which was potentially the issue. My body knows what it needs and I simply oblige. Given that I run my own business, I’m aware I have more flexibility than some to do this, but with the circuit-breaker happening and work hours being disrupted, I highly recommend you try it. We have a new natural honour system in our shared space. If anyone is snoozing on the couch, we let them be.
I now eat when I’m hungry, rather than during the set meal times, and I eat what my body calls for. Sometimes it’s a fresh orange. Sometimes it’s a huge bowl of steamed vegetables. Sometimes it’s dark chocolate. I have lost my tethers to what I ‘should be eating and when’ and I have found that I have lost some weight. I feel lighter and well. People in my zoom classes are commenting on my skin and my hair has grown and returned to full curls. My body knows what it needs and I simply oblige. And if agendas coincide, I am totally delighted to be asked to dinner by someone in the house. Unexpectedly, one-to-one meaningful conversations are back.
Detachment from a set exercise routine
Pre-COVID, every morning before work, I would ride my bike westward to the Singapore Botanic Gardens and run for about 6km. I love the gardens and I love running. When the government here announced the first wave of restrictions, it was as if every person who hadn’t exercised in the last ten years bought running shoes and raided the gardens. I felt affronted. This was my quiet green space that I had enjoyed in the company of the crowing roosters, tiny bats and rising sun, along with quiet groups of energy workers and poets. It was my aversion to the noise and busyness that first led me to disrupt this tried and true pattern, but wow, has it yielded!
One morning, as I set out on my bike, I had the strongest impulse to head east instead, in the exact opposite direction to where I’d normally ride. It was actually on this occasion that the experiments in detachment came to my mind. I had a very beautiful experience, riding along the river, heading directly for the rising sun. Since then, I have ventured further into the unknown. I set out with no direction at all in mind, and simply followed the tracks my intuition lead me on. Oh my goodness, what divine discoveries I have made: patches of undiscovered jungle, new wildlife encounters, fantastic traditional Singaporean streets and architecture, and a deeper connection with this beautiful city and its hidden gems. Now, on occasion when I head back to the Botanic Gardens, it’s like reuniting with an old friend. My detachment from my daily visits has allowed me to see its beauty anew and feel so much gratitude to have it as my backyard. I didn’t realise I was capable of loving these gardens any more than I did.
Detachment from tech-phobia
Like most of us, my business model was also massively challenged by COVID-19. I had been planning for some time to move content into online offerings. However, I definitely held an attachment to in-person group work and private sessions, live talks, travelling to teach and heal to my communities outside of Singapore and the experience of the retreats. I had been convinced that online offerings could not be as effective nor transformative. Of course, this wasn’t based on anything really; it was more my love for in-person contact and the dynamics of groups.
COVID challenged those attachments point-blank. After about a week of paralysis with planning, I started to realise that the feelings I was experiencing around my business were not so much based on what I could no longer do, but rather, on the fear of ‘how’ to do the alternative. I was harbouring a hidden and quite powerful tech-phobia.
And so in the spirit of my detachment experiment, I dove into the world of tech head-on. I emailed the tech-savvy journalists and next-gens in my student communities and got the smarts. I ordered a cost-effective minimal kit. I played with it. And to my delight, I found that for reasons of emotional attachment to an illusion of ‘difficulty’, I had been delaying stepping into what is now a highly creative and collaborative mode of operating.
My weekly drop-ins and mentoring sessions are via Zoom, with the added bonus of recording the instruction and discussions. And, they are no less transformative. I have a ‘recording studio’ set up in the corner of the spare room. This involves a stack of board games as the platform for the kit and a simple free program to edit my audio lessons and voice-overs for guided meditation tracks. These are, surprisingly, being received enthusiastically and supporting deep transformation in the online courses.
All-in-all, I have become free in how I work and generate content, and as a result, have become far more productive in a much more playful way. Moreover, I have found confidence in the fact that if I don’t know how to do something, I just have to ask.
Detaching from tech-phobia has also meant that I have stopped balking at tech-heavy opportunities. This has seen an increase in collaborations and some really fun and popular projects like webinars, online live interviews and podcasts.
These simple conscious experiments have yielded such dazzling new fields of choice and experience that it has become a general exercise for me now.
With spiritual sight, disruption is an invitation to detachment.
It illuminates what has been draining our life force and whether that is based on fear or illusion. It brings us back to ‘what is’, rather than the illusory ‘what should or could be’. It eases emotional reactiveness and brings fluidity and a mental and emotional suppleness to our being. And this more expansive state leads us back into our power, creativity and choice.
The future in these current times is by no means certain. It never is. But the flip-side of ‘everything is uncertain’ is that ‘anything is possible’. And the only way to access possibility is to be free, fluid, and to dance!
Learning meditation cultivates a greater capacity to mindfully work with your attachments, as you change your routine during COVID. You can explore our Introduction to Meditation course. You can also
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