24 Jun 2020

Re-Opening: but are our souls ready?

I guess we are all trying to find our way and make it out alive.

Missy Fant | Unsplash

We are re-opening.

Here in Singapore, we are doing it in Phases, hoping to avoid a dreaded second-wave of infection.

And we are going about this at surface level. This is the level of "how" - and we are incredibly good at it. There is a rumour that Singaporeans are renowned for our "gunghow". The joke goes that when the Singapore delegation enters an international pow-wow meeting, everyone cheers because now finally things are going to happen.

I love the rumour but also not.

We all know the "how" of things while important can in fact be the enemy of the "why". When things run efficiently, we reach a state of satisfaction that lulls us into thinking all is well. It works, doesn't it?

The "it works" argument is in fact a very weak one. We can make many things work. But to what ends?

Because we did not have the painful conversations in the past, we had a massive crisis recently with the migrant workers. We were not wise or mature enough to dig into the "why", and settled for the "how" by building these large dormitories which on hindsight, were easy to abuse and open to degradation.

A good number of us actually feel ambivalent about the end of our circuit breaker. But I am guessing, we have not had the time to access our deep emotions and convictions about it. 

With everyone so excited about re-opening, and having missed our previous habits, the much needed exercise in asking "why" may once again be the one we tossed in the KIV bin.

But friends, we have just gone through months of:

watching our organised-just-so world unravel, each day bringing new information about a tremendous losses and looming uncertainty

fears, falsehoods and frenzied efforts pile and tumble as we try to explain and expunge disease and death

finding ourselves stuck with the same landscape and experiencing life as ‘zoombies’

Our souls are struggling to breathe as its roots reach for water where the regular streams of religious habits have run dry, its petals curling and drying out as fatigue overcomes us and emotions choke the xylem and phloem of things-once-managed just so.

My body has had to stay home, but my soul reached and strained — for comfort, for truth, for love.

When I read the rare piece of good news, of neighbourliness and a decline in infections, when I could treat myself to world class ballet for free online, when funny memes and so many gratuitous videos put out distracted me, my soul felt consoled.

But swiftly, came the bad news, and too often. The finger-pointing and the fire-fighting at every corner… my soul convulsed.

What have you noticed about your soul?

It is all well and good should we resume our activities and restore our economy.

But surely you admit that the real currency of life is love, and that all our tactics to restore normalcy faces the formidable enemy of division should our souls pull away from each other in fear, suspicion and strife?

So how are our souls re-opening?

This Pandemic revealed for me a privilege I did not enjoy deeply before.

Like most, my work and income was impacted and life changed as we all worked from home. But my family life is largely peaceable even though my Enneagram Four self will always be a little edgy. I have savings and my children do not have expensive consumer habits. I live in a nation where our government can draw down reserves to help us. Finally, I have a contemplative side that makes me able to delight in my living space and not struggle with boredom or cabin fever.

So unlike many, staying home has not at all been a strain for me. The only sign that this isn’t completely normal for me is how my extroverted self behaved in a recent time when I left the house to do an on-site recording, where I talked to every human in sight!

In fact, the re-opening troubles me a little.

This Pandemic Pause has created a unique time in our history to reconsider many things, indeed life itself. I worry that this important work has only barely begun.

It is like when you go on a vacation, and find that it takes some time to leave it all behind, for your body to relax, for your emotions to calm and for your soul to begin to feel free to explore. In fact, many of us don’t know what it means to reach this point of rest and being present, which explains why we return from vacations feeling like we need a break to recover from the break!

Like most every one else, I am not sure where everything is headed.

But I noticed that my soul felt safe, stable and generative in certain moments. Those moments yielded a calm, courage and creativity that I needed to love, pray and work. It gave me a sense of certitude despite the looming reality of uncertainty.

As I recount those times, I realised that my soul sought Solitude, Solace and Solidarity.


In modern life, most of us dread being by ourselves. The Pandemic enforced solitude on many of us. But in truth, solitude needs to be chosen. To fail to choose it is to default to what seems a similar state, but is vastly different: aloneness.

Aloneness churns a sense of loneliness and with it, many doubts and fears.

But solitude is a state of desiring and delighting in one’s own company.

It is soul-space. It is where we can become curious about our complex selves. It is where we can challenge our complacent selves. It is where we can comfort our contentious selves.


What we find out about ourselves don’t always feel positive. What we discover about our journeys don’t always feel productive.

We have this self-sabotaging habit called ‘exceptionalism’, where we believe that no one in the wide world understands or has experienced what we are undergoing.

There is a kernel of truth in this in that we are each truly unique beings. Yet this habit has led many to a degree of isolation that is psychically risky.

The soul needs solace.

To be comforted by another that is Stronger and more stable.

Many during this Pandemic have noticed the needs of the poor and at risk. But most of us have not considered that our very own souls need care too.


Since my late teens, more than two decades ago, I have dreamt of a peace-loving community that would serve society. It was at best a vague notion, and I sounded like an existentially-angst teen seeking utopia.

But this Pandemic has revealed how our systems are overwrought and encumbered, narrow and near-sighted.

With industry halted, the fresh air becomes a metaphor for what our souls want: to breathe well so as to thrive.

There is no way we can reinvent, renew and restore our world unless we find creative and generative ways to collaborate, redesign and work out new ways to produce, consumer, shape and steer.

Family, education, politics, economy, industry, and art — every arena can be re-imagined, if we dare to.

You and I have to find our way and make it out alive.

I recommend your tools include: solitude, solace and solidarity.

See you on the other side.