“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself” -Rumi, the 13th century Sufi poet, storyteller and mystic had a way of articulating human thought in a simple yet profound manner. I therefore seek refuge in his words that transcend time and space to depict my own learning process as I along with billions all over the world witness mind boggling changes in the wake of COVID-19. As the pandemic triggered by a virus whose origins and characteristics are being endlessly debated and efforts for containment are a major preoccupation takes centre stage, the world will never be the same again. A new normal is set to redefine our understanding of the world and perhaps our own inner world. Our pretentious masks of power and control are off and we are keenly aware that there are things clearly beyond the realm of human control. It is this humbling feeling that is the biggest learning. Striking unawares at a time when most of us were pre-occupied with activities planned in advance, we were made to realise that we are not the centre of the universe or powerful solitary units responsible for all that happens to us. We are indeed a small part of a larger ecosystem where the well being of the entire universe impacts our every step. No wonder prayers in our country always end with chanting for the well being of the entire universe. “Lokah Samastha Sukhinobhavanthu”, (May the entire world be happy) is an important chant that reverberates in Indian households deeply rooted in the concept of “Vasudaiva Kutumbam” or “one world family”.  Accordingly an individual’s failure and success are viewed not in isolation but as a part of the whole, an important bit in the great jigsaw puzzle of the world.  A disaster of alarming proportions then brings home a truth known all along but experienced with great clarity during an unprecedented lockdown that had us restricted to our own homes.

The total lockdown that stretched over several phases, deserted roads and news carrying grave details of positive cases and deaths meant that human life with all its drama and emotion was suddenly reduced to cold numbers and the only action we saw was firefighting. Policemen pleading and using force when necessary to request people to stay in their own homes, which surprisingly was much like a prison term made us aware of the freedom we enjoyed prior to the pandemic. Why did we experience a roller coaster of emotions, why did we crib and curse when things went wrong, why did we remain impassive to the fact that there was a whole team of people working each day to make our life comfortable and whose services we never acknowledged?. The endless questions that cropped up during isolation definitely brought an “Attitude of Gratitude” as we only realise the value of all that we enjoy when we lose them. Hopefully this new attitude will prevail when things become normal and we regain the stride in our step.

We just have to delve into the past to see instances where human survival was paramount through testing times like wars, natural calamities, diseases and economic slowdown. The excesses that define our life in terms of food, clothing and material possessions become glaringly apparent when we do that as they do in the wake of the present pandemic. With nowhere to go, no one to visit us, no dining out or grand celebrations austerity has set in effortlessly. Hopefully excesses pertaining to food, clothing, celebration and all aspects of life will be a thing of the past. The only excess we need is joy and enthusiasm and although these words seem like those of spiritual gurus of all hues who have become all pervading, these are just emotions that ordinary mortals can experience with or without spiritual guidance.

Another change that I feel is particularly relevant is that of compassion and reaching out to the less privileged. The philanthropy of institutions and individuals from all strata of society on full display during the pandemic shows how fragile the lives of daily wage earners is and how deep the divide between the haves and have not’s.

The situation prevailing in the world today is bound to change sooner than later but the inner change has to happen since it is now or never. As we come out of this unprecedented crisis I am sure that we will have changed inwardly to match the many changes around us. Online meetings, learning, art and culture, social gatherings and every facet of life is going to change in the near future and my focus is on gearing up for change rather than speculate or analyze changes in each sector. Going back to where we began, we cannot change a situation. We need to change  our outlook to deal with change.