Falling in Love During Lockdown - part 2
Updated: Jan 23
One shared ritual of life in lockdown is the now sanctified, officially sanctioned ‘daily walk’. During the Spring, in the corner of South West London where I grew up and first fell in love during lockdown, I took my daily dose of outdoors on the planes of Clapham Common (its usual role as a giant green roundabout temporarily suspended), in the meadows and walled garden of Brockwell Park, or the maze of Myatt’s Fields... occasionally venturing further afield to the distant terrains of Battersea park or grandeur of St. James’s.
When we attempted to return to 'normal’, I returned to the opposite corner of the city, moving back into the house I’d been sharing before lockdown. To get a hit of the heady summer air, I'd pop into the picturesque William Morris Garden, wade through the long grass of the Marshes, or follow the canal East into a post-industrial wilderness. If I really wanted to get lost, the flats of Wanstead awaited, leading into the endless escape of Epping Forest.
I loved my lone ventures before Covid too, stealing a day, weekend, or however many months I could muster. But really I'd rarely leave my own little world; the destination was just somewhere to more easily immerse myself in it. I'd stand in front of a phenomenal view and barely see it. Long train journeys were my favourite - hours to viably spend staring out of the window at the contents of my mind as they sped past.
I interpreted ‘mindfulness’ as an attempt to wield some kind of superior authority over the mind, like that of an oppressive dictator over unruly peasantry and wilderpeople. Not usually one to embrace authority, the harder I’d try to stop the free movement of my mind, the harder it would rebel - perhaps even relishing in the trespass it found itself being forced to commit.
When I was 20, I went travelling in South India with my boyfriend at the time. Starting the trip in Tamil Nadu, we visited the temple town, Tiruvannamalai - home of the Arunachala hill, where many saints, sages and disciples have pilgrimaged to spend a long, self-imposed lockdown. Enlightened tourists (like us) can visit a cave where the guru Ramana Maharshi spent most of his life in a state of such transcendence that his feet were nibbled at by ants.
Following my companion into the cave, I saw him immediately assume an immaculate meditation stance. I, on the other hand, couldn't get comfy. I needed to blow my nose. It was cold and musty smelling. My feet needed a scratch, so, I moved them. Out on the hillside, I watched the trees and monkeys swing from their branches. I felt the sun on my face. I decided that I had no intention to devote myself to the rejection all earthly pleasures. In fact, I was going to devote my life to them.
Maybe I missed the point, but I definitely didn’t fancy being on a spiritual tourism trip. I couldn’t walk the walk or talk the talk. But there were many other ways in which India enlightened me; with the stench of its shit-filled waterways and enchanting incense and spices, the sights of its forest floors covered in rubbish, carved temples, gridlocked tuk-tuks skirting around cows, and the use of turmeric to cure anything… all things living and dying.
Yet, despite setting my intention on Arunachala to devote myself to all earthly pleasures, as often as I’ve stopped to appreciate them, I’ve more often not. I was somewhere else, lost in a possibility, a plan, an idea. Rather than seeing what was in front me, I saw what wasn’t. Call it day-dreaming or what you will, but ‘dreams have only one owner at a time, and that is why dreamers are lonely’ (Erma Bombeck).
Lockdown forced me to notice the world around me. There was no other option. During my daily walks, I realised that it's the attention you give to what is there that distracts the mind from thoughts of what isn’t (seems obvious right, much too simple, but we humans have a tendency to over-complicate things).
Taking centre stage, the new leaves dazzled green as they danced all over the bright blue sky and flowers donned their best frocks, refusing to be ignored. The more I looked, the more I could see. The more I saw, the less I wanted to miss. Then I started seeing myself as part of it all, so the more sense I started to make, as just another living, breathing, growing, dying being. And that sense of belonging made it less tempting to retreat.
The challenge wasn’t to wrestle my mind into tranquillity or travel further away to escape it. It was as simple as stepping outside and looking up: 'instead of seeking new landscapes, see with new eyes', said Marcel Proust.
Yes, it’s colder and darker outside. I’m as alone as I’ve ever been, but the least lonely. I'd often find myself feeling isolated in a crowd, because I wasn’t truly there with everyone else. I could hold conversations without really talking, look at someone but not see them. But I can’t do that now, not since all this space appeared between us. Now I’m not lonely or crowded. Now I find company in the sky, in the trees and on the water. Now I see you, and I see me too.