Living in Crisis in China

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Have you wondered: what would you do if you were quarantined in your home?

For the past six years, I have traveled repeatedly to mainland China and Taiwan, offering in-depth workshops in Eurythmy and Anthroposophy.

This year, we are compelled to call off our spring workshops, due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) that is affecting every aspect of life in China. Today’s news said that as many as 760 MILLION people are quarantined in their homes. This accounts from more than half of the citizens of mainland China.

Of course I feel tremendous compassion for the pain and suffering of individuals who have contracted the disease themselves or have seen their loved ones suffer. When the disease becomes acute in a person, it attacks first the lungs and then can lead to pneumonia. In severe cases, it continues to create massive organ failure and possibly death.

How is it then for the millions of people who are quarantined in their homes, unable to socialize, unable to reach out beyond their own four walls except possibly through the internet? And so, as much as I regret the interruption in our work, and even as care deeply for those who are afflicted, I have also been so curious about those others whose lives have been curtailed so radically.

To find out more, I called some people last week to hear their stories.

As far as I could tell, all—or nearly all—the major cities in China are shut down. Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease, has been described as a “ghost town.” The streets are empty: the only vehicles one might see are the patrolling military, the ubiquitous delivery trucks, and the medical cars. The silence is stunning: only the occasional barking of a dog or the wail of a distant ambulance punctuate it.

Even in other cities, in which the virus is perceived more as a distant threat, the streets are largely empty. The majority of businesses are still closed: people work from home when possible. A family I know of there that owns a restaurant has no idea when it might be allowed to open again. Schools are shuttered: it is likely that when they are allowed to reopen, summer vacations will be cancelled to resume teaching as vigorously as possible.

Those who are quarantined are virtually confined to their homes. If they want to go out, they have to have a permit. Even then, they know that when they walk on the streets they will be subjected to frequent stops by security forces who are mandated to check everyone’s temperature.

I confess that all this sounds very difficult.

And then, as always, I look deeper. I wonder: is there anywhere some redemption, some blessing in all of this?

Yesterday I called two of my friends who live in two different cities to ask them how they are doing. And both of them, independently of one another,  aid “I actually think that this will be good for our country.”

“Please,” I urged, “tell me what you are seeing.”

“This can bring us back to our roots. Here in China, we are living such a crazily busy lifestyle. We are always rushing, buying, desiring things. We are so restless. We have lost our center. We have lost our way. Now we are forced to become quiet. We have to find a new way of being.”

One friend, a master teacher of NVC (non-violent conversation) imagines how people have received the challenge and the gift of having to look for new depths of connection and relationship with the people they live with. How easy it is, she said, for us to live a distracted life! How easy to turn our attention away from our families or those with whom we live, and lose ourselves in the drive and stimulation of daily urban life. How different it is in these days, when people must sit together, must re-learn and re-discover how to share life.

My friend in Shanghai told me of another woman, a spiritual teacher there, who, focusing on the nature of the disease which aggressively attacks the lungs, proposed this picture. She says that in the chaos of life, the Chinese people have lost their center, their middle, their breath. They need to learn to breathe again. To that end, she proposes that people should cultivate practices of quiet breathing during the day. They should strengthen their heart, their lungs, their sense of rhythm.

This is a reality that is also at the heart of anthroposophical medicine, which affirms that “all true healing comes from the balancing of the Rhythmic system, the heart-lung center.”

I have heard that many people in their homes are turning to Art. Those who have studied to become Waldorf teachers have been instructed in many practices of painting and music-making. Now, in these long hours of confinement, they finally are finding the time to turn to their inner journeys of self-transformation and renewal through the arts. In that way, the hours and days and weeks of confinement can lead to a new-found sense of the meaning of life.

And those who have worked with me are telling me that they now know in a new way how to turn to eurythmy. Now they can understand on new levels how to practice it, so it can bring them into contact with the true sources of their humanity.

It heartens me to hear this news. I understand well, how easy it is to forget. Now they now, vividly, how much health and well-being, so much spiritual reality flows to us through the personal practice of eurythmy.

And so I invite us all to ask ourselves: what would I do, if I were confined to the small world of my house and home? In all earnestness, I know I would take up my study of spirituality, of anthroposophy, of meditation, and of eurythmy. That is where we can find true healing. That is where we can find our true selves, born out of the love of the creator and learning, slowly but surely, to become truly Human.

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