Sometimes it takes a pandemic to find the most important thing in one’s life.
When the District of Columbia issued quarantine orders, Courtney Dowe rushed to 10 stores in search of cleaning supplies and toilet paper, which panicked consumers had all but stripped from store shelves.
Fear and self-doubt began to take hold as Dowe flashed back to her traumatic childhood, when Child Protective Services took her and her siblings from her substance-abusing parents. The children, the youngest just six months old, were all separated. Growing up, Dowe moved around various foster homes and spent eight years roaming around like a “semi-nomad.”
Her days spent homeless are long past, but the same sense of insecurity again enveloped her amid the recent chaos.
“Am I going to be able to take care of my son? … Am I going to be able to function like regular people?” Dowe, a 43-year-old single mother, asked.
She then spent three days consumed by stress, before recognizing an element she had long neglected: her meditation.
“It was like a light bulb went on in my head,” she said in an interview. “I felt like this is why I’ve been trying to work so hard to build up a spiritual foundation. In times like this, you can’t predict what’s going to happen in the physical world, so it’s important to have a spiritual foundation.”
Dowe practices Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, an ancient spiritual meditation practice with moral teachings centered around the core tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. She took up the practice 12 years ago and attributes her spiritual faith with helping her to find stability in life.
“I guess one way to describe it would be: my life changed from the journey outside to the journey inside,” she said.
After her recent revelation, she started waking up earlier to make sure she had at least one hour to meditate in the mornings. That one hour, she said, brought a transformative difference to her outlook.
“I was still able to see everything, still able to understand everything, but I was not so overwhelmed by it—I was witnessing it,” she said. She also ordered some Falun Gong exercise CDs as a Mother’s Day present for her mother.
Grateful for her faith, Dowe, a musician, will be performing as part of a virtual concert in celebration of World Falun Dafa Day on May 13, when practitioners around the world commemorate the day the practice was first introduced in China in 1992.
On May 13, Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, wrote a message of support on Twitter: “On World Falun Dafa Day, we strive to uphold the universal tenets of truthfulness, compassion, & forbearance, ideals that are fundamental to the expression of the Falun Gong faith.
On World Falun Dafa Day, we strive to uphold the universal tenets of truthfulness, compassion, & forbearance, ideals that are fundamental to the expression of the #FalunGong faith and we reiterate that no one should be persecuted for their beliefs, including Falun Gong in #China.
— Ambassador Sam Brownback (@IRF_Ambassador) May 13, 2020
The practice has been heavily suppressed in mainland China since July 1999, when then-Party leader Jiang Zemin began a nationwide persecution. Hundreds of thousands of adherents have been arrested, tortured, and detained in prisons, labor camps, and brainwashing centers, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.
As the pandemic has kept hundreds of millions around the world isolated at home, the need to maintain spiritual well-being has become ever more urgent. Around 45 percent of Americans are experiencing distress related to the pandemic, according to a May 13 United Nations policy brief (pdf).
Nemanja Rebic, a New York-based guitarist and songwriter, had been on a tour before the pandemic forced him back to his upstate home.
Meditation, he said, has provided a moment for reflecting and working on his own limitations so as to reach a feeling of harmony.
His 10 year-old daughter has been waking up at 6 a.m. every morning to meditate with him.
Over the weekend, his daughter shared with him how she wants to do better so that she could help her friends, rather than following along with whatever they do, such as bad mouthing others.
“It’s very interesting seeing her open up like that and realizing her own mistakes,” Rebic said. “She’s … still just a kid, so that’s kind of wonderful.”
Makai Allbert, a New York college freshman, moved back to his California home after school classes moved online. He credits the Falun Dafa meditation for helping him keep out the “collective stress” and stay focused on his studies.
“It really makes me start off the day on a positive note,” he said.
Amy Isabelle Duncan, a 29-year-old Falun Gong adherent from Australia, breathed a sigh of relief after the pandemic halted her plans.
Before the virus hit, Duncan was working a high-pressure corporate job, studying part-time, and starting up her own coaching business while attending various conferences. She was always busy ticking things off her to-do list. There was little time to chat with family members over a meal or keep up with her meditation.
“With [all my activities] being forcibly taken away from me, it just really helps me get things into perspective of what’s most important—because all of a sudden, I had more time on my hands,” she told The Epoch Times.
Recently let go from her job, her daily routine now consists of meditating, walking in the sun, and sitting at the dining table with her family.
She described the pandemic as “a bit of a wake-up call.”
“I’ve got all my fancy clothes and shoes in the cupboard, and they’re just kind of sitting there. … It all feels very unimportant at the moment,” she said.
For Dowe, having spiritual guidance also instilled newfound patience and calm when dealing with the unexpected.
Recently, her son, who is turning 8 and studying at home since local schools moved classes online, accidentally splashed black watercolor paint on the carpet. While that upset her initially, Dowe checked herself. She told her son to go to the other room while she cleaned up.
“Right now, with everything happening in the world, it’s a good time to practice letting go, to try not to worry so much, because that doesn’t change anything in life,” she said.
She said she felt a greater sense of humility and gave up the idea of “being in control of everything.”
“It doesn’t matter how smart I am, how talented I am, doesn’t matter how I look or what I’m wearing—if I’m not where I need to be spiritually, nothing is going to work,” she said.
The yearning for mindfulness seems to have struck a chord around the globe.
Ani Asvazadurian, a 38-year-old artist from Vienna, helped start a Facebook group in late March to bring the world’s meditation enthusiasts together. The group has drawn about 1,200 followers.
The inspiration “just happened naturally,” said Asvazadurian, also a Falun Gong adherent. She found herself with more free time after being laid off from her job. Seeing more people share messages of hope online has inspired her to share the benefits of the practice, which has helped keep her emotionally healthy during the pandemic, she said.
A girl whom she met briefly last year while meditating in a park reached out to her after seeing her meditation videos on Facebook and later joined the group. They have done the practice’s slow-moving exercises together over Skype three times so far.
Allbert, the college freshman, also joined a meditation group that meets virtually every day.
“It’s a group collective,” he said. “Maybe you are not having the best state mentally, [but] when you see other people meditating with a really tranquil face, it motivates you to look within and find what’s causing that turbulence in your mind.”
Recently, Duncan, also a member of the above-mentioned Facebook group, started a five-day live session demonstrating the five sets of Falun Gong exercises. About 20 people joined her each time, with half a dozen newcomers at each session. One woman shared that she’d noticed an improvement in her rheumatoid arthritis, while another experienced better blood circulation, Duncan said.
“They said that they felt really connected [in knowing] that we were all meditating together at the same time around the world,” she said.
While the practice was first spread in China, Duncan noted that Falun Dafa practitioners there do not have the same freedoms to practice their faith.
“I just really wish for the Chinese people to be free to return to their spiritual ways of life and just have that freedom that we enjoy in the free world to meditate, to nurture their spirit and their souls in whatever way they wish to,” she said.