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Redefining connection in times of COVID-19

Words by Kim Feldmann de Britto
COVID-19 has shaken our connections. Yet this ‘shake’ is not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, physical distancing through self-isolation and travel restrictions has been taking its toll on many people, causing feelings of confusion and disconnection. But it may very well be in this disconnection where our chance to reconnect lies. After all, whether you are a bricklayer in London, a fishmonger in Sri Lanka, a tour guide in Nepal or a secretary in Downtown LA, this current situation has also, at some point and to some degree, made you bring a magnifying glass over your life. It has prompted you to consider what/who you have and re-consider what you need. It has made you think about your habits as much as your dreams; question what you believe in and what you are nurturing; and, possibly, redefine your role as an individual in what has become clear to be an ever-connected, collective organism named Planet Earth. 
“Rushing has become a permanent feature of modern life for almost all of us. So this global quietening to me feels like a recalibration of sorts. Perhaps for those fortunate enough to escape the direct health threats of having the virus itself, this could be nudging us towards a quieter, more considerate, more reflective time centred around home and family?” 
Felippe Dal Piero, Mahalo Surf Experience CEO
In an unavoidable, global standstill, we suddenly gained a lot of time and space to spend in quietude and solitude. Although this physical distancing can lead to social disconnection, it may also be a good opportunity to reconnect with our bodies, our minds, and our natural surroundings. This brings to mind the Japanese concept of ikigai – a philosophy based on finding the source(s) of value in one’s life in order to achieve self-realisation, which is rooted in the idea of reassessing priorities.
Dubbed as “a reason for being”, the word “ikigai” refers to finding what makes you tick, that make your life worthwhile, and then dedicating your days to acting for and around it. Hence, one can feel ikigai when undergoing a particular experience that incites a sense of worth and happiness, realising how much more meaningful one’s life seems because of this experience and acknowledging the elation and fulfilment that take over with this realisation. 
Due to the nature and framework of this philosophy, encouraging people to take a deeper look into their lives and foster that what is most valuable to them, the pursuit of ikigai has been described as an effective way to maintain one’s psychological health, and research has shown that having ikigai correlates with lower stress levels and an overall sense of well-being. 
In the process of finding and/or exercising your ikigai, you may consider:
  1. engaging in experiences that you deem enjoyable, effortful, stimulating, or comforting;
  2. engaging with several distinct values (e.g., comfort and enjoyment) within or across experiences;
  3. balancing opposing values (i.e., enjoyment vs. effort, and stimulation vs comfort);
  4. temporarily disengaging from experiences that have become overwhelming so as to re-engage with them later.
Longboarding Baleal Beach. Image by Mahalo.
For many surfers, both their ikigai and their general sense of connection with themselves and the world is linked to the practice of surfing or what they conceive as a “surfing lifestyle,” i.e., things related to the coastal and marine environment where they spend so much time – their second home. Often it is the case, however, that these fundamental, sea-bound elements expand to involve other land-oriented aspects of what a “surfing lifestyle” entails, such as food, physical health, mental health, etc.
“Here in Peniche, with the lockdown, we are restricted to our home area. We have always had organic vegetables in our garden, but now with time and the need to have fresh food, we dedicate more time for planting, thinking more about the sustainability of our actions and how we can minimize our impact on the planet,” describes Felippe. “We keep a routine of walking with our dogs and stretching exercises. Melli continues to do yoga and also online classes of fitness training. I also like to set aside some time to think about and celebrate some moments we have lived while travelling – in a way, travelling in our memories.”
But one thing is definite: as surfers – and human beings, too – we are wired to have a deep, even if inscrutable attachment to nature. So much so that it is to nature we constantly turn to when faced with questions and problems. As Felippe puts it, “if you believe that Mother Earth is mad at us and purging the human race, the answer is to go outside and listen, build a garden, realign with her. The answer is always nature. Always.”
Although currently, we may not be as free to travel or frequent beaches, even a small degree of connection to the natural world – which as surfers we are so reliant upon – can yield positive effects to our health.
Here are some oft underestimated but highly powerful and simple practices to keep in mind in times when the only surfing we can do is on the internet.
Get a bit of sun
Nothing brings life more than the sun. And while we may take the benefits of this shining star for granted when our lives aren’t restricted to the indoors, in times when going outside has do be done sparingly, every bit of sunshine-induced Vitamin D we can absorb improves our health.
Surround yourself with greenery
The mere thought of going for a short walk in the forest or park sounds peaceful and enticing – especially when there aren’t many other places to catch a fresh breath at the moment. In light of this, another Japanese practice that may be worth taking a closer is the concept of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing.” But you don’t necessarily have to be in a forest to feel the benefits. According to Dr Qing Li, “It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.” While doing so, however, remember to leave your phone at home and really tune in.
Take off your shoes
If, analogizing with trees, our heads are the crown, our arms the branches, our torso and legs the trunk, then our feet are the roots to this world. So what better way to (re)connect than allowing these roots to submerge – even if only for a few minutes while walking around the garden or, as suggested above, in parks and forests. And if the pleasure that comes from having your toes moving freely and your soles massaged by the ground isn’t enough, you may consider implementing barefoot walks (inchmeal!) in your daily routine to get those beneficial electrons from the earth flowing through your body.
Get your hands dirty
Another way to feel more connected in times like these is by physically interacting with nature. Now more than ever, activities such as gardening provide us not only with something to do but also a way of tuning out of negative news – and, if we’re lucky, fresh veggies! Moreover, studies show that the mere act of gardening also has a positive impact on our health.
Spend time watching nature
All the above-mentioned are simple yet active ways of interacting with the natural world as a means to improve well-being and create a sense of connection amidst this social disruption. But even something as passive as birdwatching can help you feel less anxious, as well as deepen your bond with Mother Nature by allowing yourself to perceive details that in our regular day-to-day go unnoticed. And the best part about it is that if you can’t leave your home to do it, you don’t have to.
As the saying goes: “When life gives you lemons, make a lemonade.” Undoubtedly, there are several downsides to this moment we are living as individuals and societies, particularly if you haven’t been fortunate enough to steer clear of the virus’ path. But if our lives as surfers have taught us something is that even in choppy, cold days there are waves to catch and that sooner or later a new swell will bring lines to the horizon. So, in the meantime, it’s our job to keep our minds, hearts, and bodies attune, our health ace, and the stoke alive. 
“I’m seeing the bright side in this for myself and that’s also my hope for the planet. Undoubtedly, the whole world is united in our sympathy for the victims and those suffering. But if the universe is telling us to slow down, then hopefully we take a little quiet time to reflect and to examine our priorities, inquire into our paradigms, assess our meaningful values, and use this time of standstill to bring valuable changes into our own lives,” concludes Felippe. 
“Planting, surfing local waves, fishing and barbecuing with friends. I don’t see better ways to spend our days in the future…”
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