How do you feel in Lockdown? Life of Pi

When we check in with each other at the start of Zoom calls, there’s a standard question: How do you feel? I wondered, how do I feel? So I have been internally scrolling through the emotions that the Pandemic has brought up in me and others, looking for ways to convey how these last couple of months have felt. It’s like a film rather than life. Ang Lee’s 2012 film Life of Pi comes to mind, rather than some end of the world epic.

If you have seen it, you will remember it has a peculiar story. A ship goes down and the only two survivors are a boy called Pi and a Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker, travelling together on a tiny boat, in a vast ocean, with no particular direction. In our reality, our homes are our boats. We are cast off from our social groups, each other, isolated by social distancing. We are individuals or small families in our own space, with the wide world outside, but one that seems strange and inhospitable to us now.

Some of us have supplies in the boat and some of us don’t. There are people who were very fearful, hording food and toilet rolls. They felt a need to prepare for the coming unknown. By buying lots of resources they were controlling what they could, in a world that felt out of their control. These unique times are triggering our fears at many levels. Showing us our subconscious thought programmes. We choose whether to act on them, go out and panic buy or manage our fears and reassure ourselves there will be plenty for everyone if we share. Every day we can make a new choice.

For some, it may not be possible to go out and get food. Some people’s sense of self is being challenged, something that challenges our very foundations. A friend, who never thought of herself as vulnerable and old, has had to grapple with this label, this identity that was imposed on her a few weeks ago. She was categorised in a way she would never label herself. To be labelled as old and an unwelcome drain on NHS resources, is brutal, when you see yourself as vibrant, creative and productive. These labels are being given to many, it’s not only about age. To be out mixing with people who may or may not be carrying the virus, for those with medical conditions, is putting themselves at risk. We are in lockdown to stop a surge of cases that the NHS can’t manage. We are staying home by choice to save lives. How do people who can’t be independent any more feel about the supplies dwindling in their boat? Do they feel more isolated, more fear? Do they feel powerless? Do they feel a burden on society? Are they grappling with their mortality?

In the film, Pi is on his own, in a small space, a boat, in an inhospitable environment trying to survive and share the space with something unpredictable, something that could easily kill him. Around us, Covid-19 is invisible. The fact that we can’t see this threat makes it more menacing in some ways as it could be anywhere. This results in people feeling very stressed, there’s a collective fear around the world. The mind repeats “there’s a threat!” all the time, “watch out it could be anywhere, be vigilant, be very vigilant.” Being full of fear for our own safety all the time is exhausting. We just can’t sustain it. The stress affects us negatively and results in our immune system becoming compromised.

The awareness of death portrayed in Life of Pi gave it an emotional depth, a tense quality. A sense of Pi wrestling with his views of God. Which god and what form did god take? How could God allow him to be on his own in such a harsh environment? Why was God testing him? In the film, Pi shows his ingenuity, he overcomes problems and grows in confidence and knowledge. At some points in the film he’s enjoying life and thriving, he’s adapted to the new life.

There are moments of extraordinary spellbinding beauty within the film. Nature is magnificent, fascinating and humbling. The light of the sunset on the water made me cry it was so beautiful. I see more people out walking, noticing spring, day by day as the leaves on the trees develop. People are slowing down and noticing, sensing and feeling the world around them. They are excited to see a butterfly or bumblebee. The notice the beautiful flowers, and they sense something has changed in them, they’re noticing the colours are more vividly. We are now in the moment, appreciating what we see and sense. We feel life, we are realising what’s important as the distractions are stripped away. We are really living life, not rushing past it.

Pi has to find a way to live with the tiger until they get to land. We too have to find a way to live with Covid-19. Being in constant fear will harm our health. We need to find a way to coexist on the planet. The virus like the tiger is part of nature. We need to treat it with respect and look after our own health and not get depleted by being constantly fearful. The lesson is do not live in fear,  live the best life you can. Each day has 24 hours, you can spend them feeling sad or happy, you choose.

My question to you is, how are you feeling? If you are uncertain, fearful, how will you manage your fears so you can live with the tiger and enjoy your beautiful life? If you or someone you know wants support with this transition, join me on Navigating Change and Strengthening Resilience. Friday 8th May 1pm register here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/102840903912

Sarah Nicholson

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