Reviewing 30 Days of Covid-19 Lockdown

covid lockdown

Today is my 30th day of lockdown here in Malaysia, alone unless I’m counting the cat! It’s a surreal experience in many ways – one that I know I’ll never forget. I live in an apartment some way out from the centre of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The first two weeks of MCO (Movement Control Order) started on 18th March, but were then extended to 14th April. Then it was extended again to 28th April. We wait to hear any day whether there will be further extension,  but maybe with slightly relaxed rules (the fasting month of Ramadan will start on Friday).

The rules are pretty clear. Only 10 types of business/ essential services are allowed to operate and people are only permitted to make reasonable steps out of their home for groceries and pharmacy. If you are caught out otherwise, the punishments can be very severe. But, beyond that, I firmly believe in our duties to each other in this and the necessity to ‘flatten the curve (I’m writing a separate post on this).

In my own case, there’s an additional factor, one that feels frustrating and unfair (but I have accepted – it is what it is). I gave up smoking around 17 years ago. At that time I suffered a lung collapse and a serious situation that could have killed me. I lost a business I had set up with all the money I had at the time, but eventually was glad that I still had my life to live. That left me with COPD, and my left lung after surgery was very prone to infections. Over subsequent years I’ve had pneumonia quite a few times. However, in recent years with attention to my health, a good doctor and good medication it’s been so under control that I’ve really had very little issue for the last 2 years. All this means that I’m in the high risk category if I catch the corona virus and therefore the implications for me could be simply life threatening. ‘Flattening the curve’ won’t be the end of risk time for me and I may only really be safe once there’s a vaccine.

Many who know me know that just over two years ago I lost my son (who lived with me) tragically and suddenly. He would have been 18 now, on the verge of completing A levels before thinking about heading off to university. I know he would have struggled to cope with the uncertainty of what we’re going through now. For me, those two years have not just been about the grief of losing Thomas, but also a complete restructuring of my own life, including my job. That was hard as someone for whom my work had always been important and with a sense that in my role here in Malaysia I had barely had time to achieve what was possible. But it was gone, Thomas was gone and I had no choice but to put in the hard and lonely work of figuring out what my life is for, what is to be my contribution in my remaining years and how I would ensure I leave a legacy that somehow makes the world even a little better. As an expat in this part of the world it’s near impossible to access professional counselling, support or psychological guidance. So, in dealing with this I’ve been on my own, needing to dig deep to draw on my own resources, even at times when the well may have felt completely dry. There were very hard and painful times, but by putting in that hard work they’ve been less and less frequent. As a result, my level of confidence to really shift in to fully positive mode for shaping my life going forward has been stronger and stronger.

In the down times over these thirty plus days I’ve felt the sickening dread of knowing just how easily I can slip in to anger against the world. I had battled up from the floor over these two years, suddenly for life, the universe and everything to seem to conspire to thwart me.

When I find myself thinking like this I can’t like the me I see in the mirror too much. Selfish and self-indulgent aren’t personality traits I’ve ever liked in anyone, least of all myself. Each time it’s happened my response has been to give myself the biggest of metaphorical kicks up the backside and a firm order to get on with it and stop sulking. The fact is that I still have a life that millions in the world would envy.  If I live my life positively and with conviction I can contribute to making a better world. In those circumstances there is little justification for wallowing in what might have been, fantasies and wishful thinking. My duty is to dust myself down, pick myself up and get on with things with 100% energy and focus.

A few things have helped:


I started gratitude journaling around a year ago, after seeing it recommended in a few books and podcasts. I use a form of journaling based loosely on one known as the five minute journaling method. It literally only takes that much time out of my day first thing in the morning, and last thing at night before I go to bed.

In the first days of lockdown everything felt disturbed and i stopped journaling. I quickly realised that it was now more important than ever. It starts in the morning with writing down three things for which I’m grateful. These can be simple or complex, but it’s important to push through with three even if I’m starting the day in a less than positive frame of mind. For me, it can be something as simple as my gratitude for the air in my lungs.

Then, I write down three things that, if they happen/ I do them/ make them happen will make the day great. This forces me to focus on priorities in the day, but also to cut myself some slack. If I’m not in a positive frame of mind I might look for small victories, little achievements that still remind me that I matter and I make a difference and have agency – little things that move me forward positively. Finally, in the morning, I add a single daily affirmation – something that feels significant to me and sets the context of that day in to the longer stretch of my life.

The evening session consists of writing down three amazing things that happened in the day. To me, the impact of this is the knowledge in the back of my mind throughout the day that i’m going to be asking this question of myself come the end of the day. i admit sometimes ‘amazing’ feels a bit of a stretch, but it forces me to think about the outstanding positives, even in a day that was grey and listless. Finally, I acknowledge one way in which I could have made the day better. This is not an excuse to beat up on myself. I approach it with self-compassion, but still treat it as an opportunity to hold myself accountable. One of the things that dawned on me was that I might have a “poor me” story for myself and a belief that the world has thwarted me after I had worked so hard, but so does almost everybody. We all have some form of this story and some sense that goals we were pursuing, things we aspired for, have now suddenly been blocked. I cannot assume that my story is any more significant for me than anyone else’s story is for them.

I’ll be honest. When I first started this journaling I was a bit doubtful about it. As a result, my activity was a bit sporadic and there were times when I dropped off. However, i was willing to believe that there was enough in it, on the basis of recommendations from a number of writers I respected. So, I stuck at it. Thankfully, now it’s as regular as clockwork and two little bits of my day that I really look forward to. I focus on gratitude that isn’t comparative, but simpler. What in my life, right now, is a cause for me to feel gratitude? On darker, harder days I may have to search my mind a bit, but I can always find something.

Meditation/ Mindfulness

I hesitate a little to mention this, as there’s some degree of cynicism around in some quarters these days. However, I can say without any hesitation that it’s been a critical part of my climb out of the dark ditch over the last two years. I had a meditation habit before I lost Thomas, but it wasn’t always regular and I occasionally drifted away.

I realised that it’s not the easiest habit to build. We tend to think that success at meditating defines as calming the mind. However, especially when I started, far from feeling that my mind was being mastered and calmed, there was the realisation of just how busy and uncalm it was.As a result, I didn’t feel very successful, even after a few months of trying hard to stick at it. Things got better once I eased off on the ‘success’ ideas and accepted that an objective of just watching and being aware in the moment of my busy mind – without judgement – was enough.

Over the years I’ve explored different methods and vehicles. These days I’m probably most comfortable with the ‘Calm’ app.  Incidentally, as a paid subscriber I have the right to give out five guest passes for people who want to try out Calm for a while. If you would like one of these passes, please send me a message and I’ll get you fixed up.


On this, I have some good news and some bad news – a boast I’m proud of and a confession of a task not yet mastered.

Confession time first – with access to the gym denied for the last month, I promised myself that i would have a strenuous exercise session of the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) variety on at least 4 days each week. It’s only a time commitment of around 20 minutes, but I have to admit the reality so far has been only about one session each week, instead of the intended four.

So, that’s a task that is a work in progress.

On the plus side, even though I’ve only stepped out of my apartment three times to go to the supermarket (which is just a few minutes walk from home and permitted under the lockdown rules here), I’ve kept up a strong commitment to moving through walking each day.  There’s a regularly recommended piece of advice to ensure getting 10,000 steps of walking in each day. With a bit of rearrangement of furniture, I’ve ensured a loop around the rooms of my apartment.  Most of the time I combine my walking, at a reasonable pace, with reading, listening to podcasts or reviewing emails etc. The results are clear from the data from my Fitbit. After this very good week, my target is to see if I can do 50 miles in the coming week. I stress – barring a single walk to the supermarket this is done entirely inside my apartment – just round and around!



Schedule and Structure of the Day

Many people, in these lockdown circumstances can be very easily tempted to decide that they’ll take a relaxed and flexible approach and do what they’re in the mood for, except when they have commitments for phone or video calls (or a child’s online school class commitments). However, I had learned what I needed to adjust to working from home over the last couple of years and I know that without some structure to the day I can too easily get sidetracked and distracted. the result is usually a dissatisfying day without enough achieved and an expanding ‘to do list’.

I’ve also learned that, especially on days when there’s a lot to distract and mood isn’t easy to handle I need to be relatively kind to myself in terms of expectations. So, I structure some blocks of the day, but leave some other blocks of time unscheduled. For those blocks, how I use them is determined largely by my mood and level of positivity as the time approaches. If I’m working on something and I’m comfortably in flow, I let it spill over in to the unscheduled time. Alternatively, I give myself the freedom to do less structured things during those periods, including checking social networking etc. This is not all wasted time, as i’ll explain in a minute.

One way that i am a bit tough on myself is an old habit that i haven’t yet got to work on, but probably should. If, by the evening, I haven’t completed all that I had hoped I will try to push on in to the evening. This tends to coincide that i get a new burst of energy in the evenings (as a bit of a night owl type), so I feel the work i get done during that time is of quite decent quality. However, the downside is

Controlling Media Exposure and Social Networking

There are things happening in the world that are unprecedented and therefore it’s a very human and natural instinct to feel the need to track the news and aim to keep on top of the facts, the data and what’s happening. Once upon a time we would have settled for a limited time, probably in the morning, to read the daily newspaper to be informed. Then, later came TV news which over time morphed in to 24-hour TV news channels.

When you then layer on top of all this media exposure the commentary on it that comes from social networking and it all gets very overwhelming. it becomes so easy to get tempted to disappear down the rabbit hole of news and information for hours on end.  After being disappointed with lack of productivity on a couple of days I figured that I needed to change some things. I figured that deciding to go ‘cold turkey’ wasn’t realistic. So, instead, I built three specific blocks of time in to my day when I permit myself to check the news, read and post social networking stuff and engage with others’ posts.

These three blocks of time go in to the schedule mentioned above. I’m not going to claim that every day i stick within the parameters of these blocks, but i’m sure that it’s better than if I just left it unstructured.

Doing for Others

There’s a lot of scientific evidence that loneliness can be as damaging to life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! Today, it is a massive good fortune that we have the means to make contact with others, anywhere in the world,  So, for my sake as much as anyone else’s it was vital to me from the start to make sure that i was having frequent and regular contact with others. Even with family and close friends there are times when busy living means that we neglect our communication with those we’re not seeing regularly.

So, I committed to reach out regularly and have meaningful communication with family members and my closest friends. I then went through all my contact lists and drew out a list of names of people I had maybe not been in touch with for some time. I committed to make contact with 4-5 of these people each week – reaching out to check that they feel OK and have contact. This has lead to some really delightful interactions, catching up and filling in the gaps in each other’s lives since last contact.

In late 2018 I joined a Facebook Group for parents who had lost a child suddenly. In the early months I was fairly passive in that Group, but it was a help to know that there were people there who were more likely to understand my feelings and emotions when there were difficult days. After a few months I responded to a request for moderators for the Group. The Group is quite big – about 1,600 members. We manage with two admins and around four of us as moderators. this has brought me more actively in to a role of being a sounding board and help for others. Over time, this helps me to deal with my own emotions and to feel that I’m doing something positive. There are times it can be a bit harrowing as the circumstances of some people’s lives are dire and bleak. In recent weeks with the stresses of what’s happening in the world we’ve seen an increase in numbers of new members and more existing members reaching out to unburden themselves as they deal with a whole load of new challenges and problems. This sin’t a commitment that fits neatly in time or can be planned for. But, it’s important enough to me that I accept that and adjust around emergencies when they arise.

In the very first days of the lockdown I saw an article referring to an idea that originated in Canada for ‘Caremongering’. The idea was to bring people together, through social networking, to provide community, local support to others. I searched around and discovered that another expat, Joe Mathers, also from UK, had had the same idea and had formed the Malaysian Caremongering Group on Facebook. Diving in and getting involved was a great way to feel less isolated and also because it was clear that, as good as the local arrangements might be to support those in need, there would be gaps and people who would find themselves in severe difficulty. Within days there was a flood of interest. Today, the FB Group is approaching 10,000 members. IIn turn, there are more localised Whatsapp Groups that enable for close coordination. There are usually two Groups – one in which requests for help are identified or raised and one in which volunteers coordinate for raising funds, purchasing goods and deliveries.

This is all entirely spontaneous and among people who have never met. However, it’s been heartening that we’ve been pretty effective and ensured that food and vital supplies reach those who would otherwise be going hungry. These might be refugees, undocumented migrant workers or others not getting support through official channels. As an expat, with above average risk from the virus, I may not be able to run around outside taking supplies to the needy, but from my home I can still play my part. This also feels right from the perspective that I know my circumstances are so much more comfortable than many others.


The Value of Doing for Others


“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

Albert Pike
Attorney, soldier and writer

When I saw this quote earlier today it resonated so strongly with all the aims of the Rex Karmaveer Education Change Champions programme, that i immediately wanted to share it.

Mr Pike seems to have been a very rare and interesting character, reflected in the fact that he is apparently the only American Confederate military officer with an outdoor statue in Washington DC.

In the words of Adam Grant – be a go-giver.



Pursue Meaning, Not Happiness

Quite a few years ago, a trainer on a programme i was attending suggested a book I might like to read. When I found it, it was small, blue and didn’t look very exciting. However, it has become the most prized in my ever burgeoning book collection (even over the books that i’ve been fortunate enough to have signed by their authors.

That book was, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl. To be honest, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read that book and my copy now looks even less attractive to anyone who doesn’t know what they’re looking at. To me, it is quite simply, one of the most inspiring and moving books ever written.

Here’s a great article I came across a little while ago, that sets out what’s important about this book:

Business Insider – Article – A Lesson About Happiness

The article also cross-references another of my favourite books (certainly Top 30!) – Roy Baumeister’s “Willpower”. Reading the article again, I’m also reminded of the work of Adam Grant on giving and his great book “Give and Take” (also Top 30).

So, there you go, three of my top 30 books referenced in one place!

Amanda Palmer: It Takes a Village

For those who talk about how the internet and world wide web are destroying the sense of community and people’s real, quality engagement with each other – here’s a delightful alternative perspective.

Whilst watching Amanda’s Ted Talk I couldn’t help wondering where all this could potentially lead for the world of education – what are the implications?

Amanda Palmer – It Takes A Village

Napoleon Hill on ‘Giving’

The one who tries to get something for nothing generally winds up getting nothing for something.

Those who think they can get by in life without providing the same amount of value for value received will eventually find themselves working harder than ever to deceive others and receiving very little in return. Life has a funny way of evening the score. In the long run, you will get in the same measure you give. Spend your time on productive, positive efforts; give generously of your time and talents, and you will stand out from the great multitudes whose primary goal in life seems to be to get something for nothing.

‘Design for Giving’

With thanks and appreciation to all the staff who worked so hard to make a success of the meeting for Principals and the Press Conference. Turnout was a bit on the low side with fears of swine flu etc. However, the enthusiasm levels made up for any lack of guests.

Design for Giving is, undoubtedly, capturing the imagination of many children and that interest level will continue to grow in coming weeks.

My thanks to Gayatri Chaliha, teacher of Vasant Vihar campus for the report of the meeting below.

Ms. Kiran Bir Sethi
Founder/Director, Riverside School, Ahmedabad which is promoting
the School Design for Giving Contest
Ms. Sethi spoke with great feeling and enthusiasm about the nationwide Design for Giving Contest that has been initiated by the Give India Foundation. Through a short and simple video clip she demonstrated the feeling of joy that stems from an act of giving, however small and seemingly inconsequential …
Design for Giving is about formulating
In this endeavour, children are the agents of change. Children can be the change they would like to see … and be changed in the process because, as she says, one cannot give without changing. Everything done under this programme has to stem from the children – what problems do they see around them that they would like to do something about? How would they go about finding solutions for these ‘problems’? … She inspired the children and brought home to them the fact that they do not have to be 18 years of age, or rich or powerful be able to act and give (this contest is open to the 10-13 years age group).

Explaining the procedure involved, the STEPS of the process were outlined and they are : –

The ‘solutions’ referred to above should have the following features:
 They should impact large numbers of people
 The ideas should be fresh and original. The word Ms. Sethi used was ‘audacious’ ideas!
 It should be over within 1 week (Whether this is something that the school or children would like to take forward for longer is a different issue)
 Need to note how you are changed by the change you have wrought

All stories of change are to be submitted by October 15th, 2009. The winner will receive the award from Dr. Kalam on Children’s Day.
Apart from the tremendous impact of an endeavour of this magnitude (the toolkit for registration itself is in about 7 languages as it involves schools across the country!) Ms. Sethi elaborated upon her attempt to give this another more lasting direction. The stories that will be born out of the Joy of Giving Week will be converted into a curriculum (also in 7 languages …) so that others can learn from these stories, be inspired and hopefully, carry this movement forward.
In the end there was a video of what some children from the Riverside School set out to do and accomplished – and it was a revelation! From the number of stakeholders that just … multiplied to include the rest of the school to parents as well, to the happiness and levels of energy generated amongst the children, those giving and those receiving …


Actor, Activist and Brand Ambassador for the School Design for Giving Contest
Mr. Rahul Bose had the assembled audience, especially the children, riveted from the word ‘go’ – and we all know how hard that is with children especially this age group!! He spoke their language – in more ways than one.
Mr. Bose begun first by sympathizing with the children, appreciating how they must feel at that moment – like so much cattle herded into the hall, and how unappealing the subject under discussion must be to them … He had felt the same, he said, when involved forcefully in SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work) which had been the equivalent, when he was in school (and many of us staff as well, if we care to recall), of what was being attempted by this contest. However, as it had yielded neither the all-important “marks” nor was a requisite for graduating to the next class, he had found it boring and uninspiring.
He proceeded then, to two stories gleaned from his experience of travelling through the country, one about the lack of communication facilities on one of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands devastated by the tsunami because of which they could not be informed of what was to come, and the second about two former IIT students who, while travelling in Bihar, came across a village which had no water, and begun an endeavour that involved digging a canal and went on to starting a school, etc. These two pioneers were shot to death, finally, for the simple reason that they were lent helping hands by people who were experiencing the joy of giving and doing to the extent that they forgot about the differences of religion and caste between them, and that was not acceptable to the political forces active there as they banked on these very differences for their survival …
In the manner of the Panchatantra and Jataka Stories, he used these stores as analogies to show to the children and Principals/ teachers present that had he been allowed, when in school, to choose what he would like to do with the one hour of SUPW time, and how he would like to go about doing something useful and productive for others – he would have done something about the situation described in the stories above. And it would not have been so meaningless then … What was therefore unique about the School Design for Giving Contest is that it gave the children that choice. “The brilliant part of all of this is – there are NO RULES!” he told the children. It was all up to them. And if they really did feel, then the ‘imagine’, ‘do’ and ‘share’ would follow. However, if they did not feel, then there was no point getting involved. Too often education is focused only at the head and not the heart, but this experience could change all that …
The Home work he set for the children was to try harming someone the next day, and also try helping some one, anyone. And to “compare and contrast” the differences!! Helping, they would be sure to find, would be a great feeling that would make their “hearts big and strong” – a feeling like no other. That is what the “Joy of Giving” is all about.
He sympathized with the Principals present regarding the vastness of the curriculum they had to get through in the year and the concomitant problems of that. Yet, he made an appeal to them – “If not now, WHEN? If not us, then WHOM?”
The “two Indias” were brought into the discussion – the one represented in the hall by children who … were not poor and did not have to worry about the next meal, and those who were not as fortunate and had to worry about every and indeed any meal. He spoke of the 100 million such children, around the same age as those in the hall, and appealed for even the smallest deed that could benefit them in any way.
Perhaps the most important message conveyed in Mr. Bose’s speech was that of magnitude. The message was that the magnitude of the act envisaged, or how far-reaching or sustainable it might be – these were not to be considered for this endeavour. It was important just to make a start, however small. And the ‘small’ would all add up and contribute in our attempt to turn around the fate of our people and our country, now likened to a gigantic rock fast making its way downhill, to make it simple for the children. He said in his own lifetime, it might not be possible to see the rock stopped. Just to slow down its journey downhill would be an achievement. The children, though, might have the good fortune to be instrumental in not just stopping the descent, but also turning it around on a path uphill
In the question and answer session in the end, when asked what did become of the two stories he had spoken of, Mr. Bose informed us that in Bihar, although the canal had been dug, was operational and the village did have water, the other projects, the school and toilets for women had been stalled. And as far as the Islanders were concerned, Mr. Bose’s organization had helped fund mobile phones for them …


Design for Giving Contest

The Joy of Giving Week (27th September to 3rd October) is a great concept in its own right.

Joy of Giving Week

However, the Riverside School, Ahmedabad have added an additional element which really lifts it to a new level of awareness. What they have created is a contest between teams of students with a teacher for guidance from at least 30,000 schools across India to generate ideas for “Giving” projects, which they will then go ahead and implement. That will see at least 1,50,000 children between the ages of 10 and 13 engaging in acts of kindness, thoughtfulness and whatever giving ideas their creativity leads to.

The Shri Ram School has been asked to act as a nodal link for schools in Delhi and the NCR. We have a really enthusiastic team of teachers from Phase III and Aravali – Chetna Maam, Rashima Maam, Janani Maam and Rina Maam who are working really enthusiastically to make sure that as many schools as possible come on board to celebrate the joy of giving, the joy that a child can gain from doing something for others.

Design for Giving

There is still time to get lots of schools on board. So, please pass the word on to as many schools as possible across India, sending those in Delhi and NCR our way.

We also intend to put together as many teams as possible from within our own school to join in the contest, to unleash their creativity and imagination and to hopefully get a lot of fun out of doing things for others.

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