Hi there! This is a warm hello all the way from sunny, and often rainy, Auckland, New Zealand.
Things are looking alright here. Despite a few recent hiccups, the entire country is now at Level 1 and (almost) back to normal. In fact, I was just at the harbour celebrating Team NZ’s victory in the America’s Cup with 40,000 other people. An incredibly odd sensation, having been stuck indoors and away from humans for a little bit more than a year. It’s a real glimpse of what life will be like post-COVID, with many opting to wear face masks and socially distance, but far more people living life to the full.
Coming into the country, I had a strict two-week hotel quarantine, during which I was given three tests: on Day 0, Day 3, and Day 12. If you’re a New Zealand citizen, coming home for the first time since August 2020, then the $5000 hotel stay is paid for by the government (thanks Grant Robertson). In terms of amenities, hotel workers deliver food at regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner periods, and you could pick which dish you wanted through a Google form, accessed via a QR code printed on a sheet of paper that would be shoved under the door every four days. Props to the chefs: I thoroughly enjoyed the quinoa salad (though the pork belly was a little lacklustre). Exercise opportunities vary from hotel to hotel, but where I was staying we had a decked courtyard, approximately the size of a quarter of Eton’s School Yard, where we could book a timeslot and walk around in a circle for 30-35 minutes. Very samsaric and hamster wheel-esque, but greatly appreciated nonetheless. I took any source of movement and Vitamin D that I could get at that point.
With all this going on, you might think, what’s the state of your education? Thanks for asking, reader. Currently, I’m attending all lessons live and on Zoom. A strange experience, that’s for sure. My regular schedule consists of sleeping at 6-7 AM, waking at 2-3 PM, working until about 7 PM, having “lunch” at 9 PM, and then attending lessons from 10 PM to about 4 AM, after which I’ll continue doing work or have a break. My circadian rhythms and ultradian rhythms must be in righteous conflict with these odd light-dark cycles, but strangely enough, I’m feeling great. I did this for the lockdowns last year as well, so perhaps my brain is simply getting used to it now. Society meetings are a little difficult to attend, which is quite unfortunate, although I suppose I could stay up if I really wanted to! Thankfully the majority of them are recorded now. It has been a real hassle organising the societies and responsibilities that I do have, but a good Doodle poll often does the trick.
For anybody going through a similar experience, I would advise a couple of things. A regular routine is especially helpful for maintaining sanity. Without routine, I’ve found that the days begin to drift by endlessly, so make sure you have a set period in which you’ll go to sleep and a set period by which you’ll wake up. I’ve also found that setting aside an hour or two after you wake up to exercise is vital to getting through the day. I have a 30-minute workout session, followed by a warm-down set, a quick shower, then a 10-minute meditation session. I might then go and read something for an hour or go and have a chat with anyone who happens to still be in the house at the time. You might choose to exercise halfway through your day, or you might prefer to start the day with a meal. That is entirely up to you. However, I would really recommend a proper routine.
Another piece of advice would be to plan out your day in some manner. Whether it’s a to-do list on a pad of paper, or a strict regimented timetable on Google sheets, anything is fine as long as it works for you. You have very few reminders sent to you, and there’s far more onus on you to get things done yourself, even more so than at school. Organisation is a great way to ensure that school stress doesn’t pile up any more than it should. When you live in an odd time zone, you find that you become a little volatile, so minimising mental weight/baggage is necessary!
The last piece of advice, I’d say, is some degree of emotional flexibility. If you’re familiar with Susan Davis’s work, then this might ring a bell. Be aware of any feelings or emotions that you are experiencing and simply accept the fact that they are there. Understand that they have a reason for being there. Rather than wilful ignorance, it is better to define what you are feeling and note that it is something you are feeling. Then try to unwind its thread to the root cause, and reflect upon that. I read a great analogy recently: you are your body’s driver and the thoughts and feelings you experience are merely the noisy and distracting passengers in the back seat. You are heading towards your destination, and your passengers will react to the obstacles in the way. They’ll whine, and they’ll yell, they’ll say all the things to try to pull your eyes away from the road. Make space for them and don’t try to control them. Instead, simply be aware that they are there, but remember why you are driving in the first place and where you are trying to go. That will keep you moving.
In practising what I preach, I think I’ll air some of my own emotional passengers out. I would say that the worst part about living in this nocturnal landscape is the complete disassociation that I have from any real social life. I’m sleeping when New Zealand is waking up, and the UK is finishing work; I’m waking up in the middle of the UK night; I’m doing work while New Zealand is winding down. Even weirder is that, despite being at home with my parents, there is really only about a 2-3 hour period where I get to see them. It’s alright, though. The next marathon marker is set at the Easter holidays when I can live in my actual time zone, so I’m happy to push on until then. I’ve booked up a couple days solely for social events (of course, the majority of the holiday will have to be spent on revision), so If you’re in New Zealand and you wanted to go out for a coffee or for (actual) lunch, then do get in touch. Or, alternatively, we could do it over Zoom if you’re in another country. That’s true dynamic efficiency there.
What I’ve gained over the past few weeks (and really the past year) is a greater sense of appreciation. Working nocturnally has given me an appreciation for night shift workers who sacrifice their time and their own social lives, often for our society’s greater good. Working from afar and in hybrid style has given me an appreciation for the teachers who go out of their way to make sure that I’m still getting a solid education. Time spent in New Zealand has given me an appreciation for a rational, pragmatic, socially-facing government; appreciation for a culture that can band together and work through the toughest of periods; and appreciation for a good old steak and cheese pie.
But there’s one thing that I’ve begun to appreciate recently that is far more important than anything else, and that’s Life. Appreciation for the time that I do get to spend with my friends and family. Appreciation for all the things that I have at the current moment: both the necessities and the luxuries. Appreciation for the ailments and troubles that I don’t have. It’s too easy to forget how comfortable life really is, and it’s difficult to keep the things that we do in the scale with the rest of the world. A role model of mine described his meaning in life as an attempt to bounce as many times as possible between appreciating the sheer beauty of the small things in life, and appreciating the sheer scale of the universe and our place within it. From ogling at the white frothy plum blossoms and the incredible fact that we even exist; to contemplating the notion that we are but one small speck of dust in the cosmic plane of existence itself. I think that’s beautiful. This mindset need not be a sacrifice of ambition. Rather it has allowed me access to the happiness and humility that I certainly wasn’t able to find before.
So, in some ways, thanks, COVID. And thanks to you, reader. For making it through all this and still standing strong.