Lockdown Resilience—Eastern Hemisphere Style
“Why can’t we just use all the money to fix shit?!” Jon Stewart
Total lockdown has returned to India, Nepal, and much of the world. I wonder if lockdown in Pokhara will be much different than lockdown in Kathmandu.
We are obviously living in a troubled world but trouble can bring resilience, resilience can sponsor a strong resourcefulness, resourcefulness facilitates our survival, surviving hard times inspires confidence, that confidence can be the birthplace of success, success can give rise to gratitude, gratitude can feed emotional abundance, and emotional abundance fosters happiness. I’m no Pollyanna. We have a row to hoe that’s even longer than that previous sentence but humanity has survived and at times even artistically responded to murderous tyrants, fires/floods and all sorts of other natural disasters, slavery, famines, petroleum products in our food, televangelists, and wine in a can. We will also survive this nasty virus and the mentally ill people that are using it to increase their personal power and material gain.
There are many things happening in Asia right now that resemble the America of sixty years ago. Many folks here are more innocent and naïve than Americans have been for decades. They are more trusting of their government, news media, and popular institutions. They are more likely to believe and hope than they are to think critically or doubt. This is a very sweet way to live. There are good reasons why the phrase “ignorance is bliss” became such a very popular expression during the past century. But folks throughout the world, not just in Asia, are rapidly discovering that some types of bliss can be more dangerously delusional than blissful.
Blissfully accepting that there is a “buddy” God on your side that will slay your enemies for you can make life very comfortable for a while. So can a blind belief that politicians work for the benefit of all the people, all police protect and serve the public, all doctors have the improvement of your health as their main motivation, parents always know what is best for their children, news media reports the unbiased truth, schools teach you what you really need to know, legitimate businesses are all actually legitimate, banks exist in order to protect your money, governments always protect and facilitate the public’s best interests, churches protect and mediate our relationship with Creation, and advertising always gives an honest representation of the product it is trying to sell. As comfortable as these illusions can make us feel, they aren’t sustainable. Like any house built on a foundation of bullshit, a collapse is imminent.
The formerly comfortable Nepali naiveté is now on a horrific blind date with temporal reality.
A collapse seems to be in progress throughout the world right now. Institutions, economies, and personal belief systems alike are all facing the guillotine. Many of us are rightfully troubled. We are readjusting to all the new circumstances by attempting to release life-long conditioned ways of thinking, living, and believing. It is not easy. We often simultaneously, habitually, and at times defensively grasp on to the very same things we are trying to release. We are stepping on the gas and brake at the same time. Our human engines are quite understandably smoking and malfunctioning. Some are melting under the strain.
It is a strange world we live in. It gets stranger every day, but most of us are adjusting and adapting to the changes. Yes, some folks are reacting to their fears in more bizarre ways than they usually do but for the most part, humans are still as loving and trustworthy as we ever were.
In contrast to the human community that they are supposedly designed to inform, most global information systems have become a cruel and manipulative joke. Bullshit has become a prevalent norm, truth is rare, and everyone has suddenly become an expert on subjects they know nothing about. Many of the small fractions of truth presented to us warp badly under the strain of their division from the whole picture. Exaggerated fears that often cross the line between constructive caution and flagrant intimidation are beaten into us by media and other institutions. Some of us unconsciously couple that programming with an unrealistic type of wishful thinking, then blend all these psychological ingredients into unfounded subjective beliefs and allow them to masquerade as facts. These artificial facts often inspire people to panic themselves into irrationality.
Latest reports say India is now getting hit as hard by the virus this year as the Western world was last year. It is often true that as goes India, so goes Nepal. The deaths and many other sad results are due at least in part to the actual plague and in just as great a part to the mind-bending results of how the Corona situation at large has been steered. There is a one-plus-one-equals- three looping effect that intensifies danger.
Media dramatizations foster great fear while the government mismanagement and manipulation foster a loss of the control and direction we used to have over our own lives. These factors produce stress in individual human systems as well as in social systems at large. That stress lowers the ability of immune systems to fight off illness. Weakened immune systems increase the spread and potency of disease, further increasing the initial problems and their accompanying stress. The strained elements within this perfect storm continue to feed each other in an endless loop.
That being said, a couple of very simple and basic understandings have kept life fun and productive for many Nepalis, and myself, in spite of the dire global and personal circumstances.
The first is that human beings have, from first breath to last, the obligation to work for positive change within our own minds as well as within our culture. If the inside of a mind isn’t well, everything outside of that mind that comes into contact with it suffers. If you don’t believe me, go ask any member of any family whether life is more fun for them when dad is in a self-centered bad mood than it is when dad is feeling kindness and considering family happiness as well as his own. Ask a neighbor if the neighborhood will benefit or suffer when a fellow resident throws trash, be it actual garbage or mental/emotional trash, into the streets.
Another thing that keeps me from occasionally wanting to bite on a blasting cap or just walk around all day with my head buried deeply in my own little bullshit is remembering that in the long run, there may be more silver lining to this cloud than we can see right now. Precursors of better days are obvious in the few visible lighter, more hopeful, encouraging, and even amusing sides to the horrid world situation. I see them every day during this current lockdown. Resiliency; the human ability to adapt and survive in any situation no matter how difficult, is astonishing!
Food stores and other essential services are only legally open from 5 to 9 a.m. but a Speakeasy, Roaring Twenties style culture has been spawned by creative shop owners and patrons. This being a tourist town and not a monastery enclave, the Speakeasy system is a lot more widespread and sophisticated here in Pokhara than it was in Boudha last year.
It is now noon. I knock on a sheet metal gate and wait behind a nearby brick wall as a shop owner behind that gate prepares my carrot juice. Keeping a mindset of invisibility that I used during trips through Spanish Harlem to buy heroin from Mr. Lopez in the 1960s, I slide back around the wall long enough to pay for the juice through a small opening in the sheet metal, then slide back behind the wall to drink it. While all this goes on, I notice a few other people in the street on the way to their Speakeasies.
We respect the understaffed police force and the job they are trying to do. Everyone tries to stay out of their range and not force any situations that the police would have to respond to. Situations that police have to respond to are uncomfortable for everyone. It seems that these police respect and understand public needs, especially those of the foreigners trapped in hotel rooms without kitchens. They occasionally hassle locals but I have never seen the police hassle tourists.
After juice, I head from my south side ‘hood to the north side of the lake. My friend Sjoerd lives there. Mister Sjoerd is a sixty-seven-year-old gentleman from Holland. He is a walking smile. I guess I would be too if I had a nineteen-year-old lover. But Sjoerd isn’t being his blessed self because he is having so much fun. He is having so much fun because he is being his blessed self. That self pumps out so much positive energy and good intention that no matter where Sjoerd goes, the people there hope for his speedy return. Zak and I have both referred to Sjoerd as “Almost Jesus.”
He is also a good artist.
Here are some of Sjoerd’s drawings. (link in AWE book)
I want to say hi, make sure Sjoerd is well, and buy bread from the Speakeasy cafe/bakery he frequents. Police are blocking the main street. They do not want citizens to wander any further than is necessary to get essentials so they have set up a blockade to cut the Lakeside area in half at its center point. I slide around the blockade through a back street with the stealth of a smuggler, then head up a side alley. I meet Sjoerd in the alley. We enter the cafe’s back door and have breakfast behind its closed sheet metal front door. After breakfast, I buy a loaf of bread and leave through the cafe’s back door. That exit feeds back into the alley and I retrace my steps home.
Dinner comes from a restaurant close to my hotel that has a similar arrangement. Whenever I knock on the window, the manager slides it open. He takes my order and the window closes. I move away to a nearby stairway while the cooking happens. I am sheltered from street view by a giant tree. When dinner is cooked and bagged, I slide money through the re-opened window, grab the bag, and hide it in my little backpack. Myself and the waiter both smile, nod, and say thank you. I head home. No one has been put at risk. I get to eat dinner. The employees that work at the restaurant and their families get to eat too.
No one knows just what the tricky future holds for humanity. Our history wobbles between cold-blooded murder and divine benevolence. Extreme participants have ranged all the way from Stalin, Cheney, and Pol Pot to Mother Teresa, Gandhi, and Jesus. But I have to think that if confused residents and business folk that are technically under house arrest in a small tourist city without tourist traffic, in what is one of the world’s poorest countries even under the best of circumstances, under what are possibly the most totally debilitating conditions that this planet as a unit has ever seen, can figure out ways to keep most of the population fed and at least part of it employed while not doing any harm, then there is hope that we can fix what is broken.