Maya Flaminda J. Vandenbroeck is a peacebuilder working for an international non-governmental organization. Her passion is storytelling.
Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to sit down with Maya to take these pictures of her wearing Sesotunawa jewelry. We recently got in touch with her again to ask how she has been doing during the pandemic.
At the start of 2020, I submitted my vacation leave applications and bought plane tickets to Iloilo, Siargao, Metro Manila, Dumaguete, and Cebu to visit friends. All cancelled, of course, when COVID-19 struck. I wondered, if I can’t go out, what’s the best way to live? So I began to experiment.
Woke up at sunrise to walk in the garden barefoot. Set up the hammock in the dirty kitchen overlooking the garden. It became the perfect spot to write and process my thoughts and feelings. I’d swing and write and look up and repeat, enjoying the complete stillness. No matter how hard I sensed, there really were no more reverberating vehicles. Except for the morning traffic of flies and birds and worms and centipedes.
A dragonfly hovered over a street puddle one day, and then brought its partner along the next day. A single strand of a spider web attached to the top of one neighbor’s tree connected to my other neighbor’s roof. Flocks of excited black birds vied for the best branches. A glistening row of dew drops slid down and hit the grass. Fuzzy insects parachuted around.
I realized: Why can’t I be more like a flower that grows slowly and steadily towards the sun? The moment flowers bloom, animals will come to them. In the same way, we humans attract who we are and therefore the best way to live is to work on ourselves.
I wondered: Would changing my consciousness really change my circumstance? I went to where the pandemic was pushing me - inward. And asked questions I wouldn’t otherwise have asked. Why do I feel and think and behave this way? What does it show about myself? What do I need to work on?
I decided: What are the things that I have control of that I can change? Figured I can try to be really fully present. Stop being distracted by Netflix. Not make social media my pacifier. Drink two cups of warm water as soon as I wake up. Eat only what I cook, when I am hungry, and always in moderation. Meditate every morning and evening. Insert ashtanga yoga and try something new, like boxing. Jump 500 times on a trampoline. Join a group of friends every 10 am to meditate for 60 days. Join Deepak Chopra’s 21 days of meditation. Join a 2-day Intuition Training. Join Tony Robbins’ 4-day Unleash The Power Within workshop. Join a 10-day Vipassana Meditation program. Join a 7-day Breathwork course. And listen and reflect on the wisdom of Rudolf Steiner,
Grandmaster Choa Kok Sui, Thich Nhat Hanh, Joe Dispenza, Bruce Lipton, Greg Braden, Lisa Nichols, Eckart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Oprah, Brene Brown, Sadghuru, Louise Hay, and Michael Singer.
They seemed to be saying the same thing: don’t die before your time - before you’ve tapped into your superhuman faculties. Develop your gifts and your powers. I can imagine, in such a self aware and conscious society, people would be growing food in community gardens, teach each other’s children together, live communally sharing whatever they have and cooperating with each other rather than competing. People would be valued for who they are, not for how much they can churn out in a day. Money would be a bonus, not a driving force. Technology would be a life saver, not a killer. Social media would be a safe space, not a giant mall.
My privileged life I have questioned many times and understand more than ever that I am not my job, my possessions, my money, my relationships, my thoughts, my feelings, and my beliefs. That’s the beauty of the pandemic. It breaks down the self as well as systems and structures in order to be able to completely reimagine and begin new ways of being and relating based on what is essential, what is relevant, and what is healthy.
Case in point is the Sesotunawa community of brasscasters and beaders that have turned the pandemic breakdown into a breakthrough. Since 2018, the artisans’ earnings allowed them to not anymore have to struggle to send their children to school or to pay for a motorcycle or sustain their fishing business. But when in March 2020 the pandemic struck and the nationwide quarantine was rolled out, the artisans had difficulty accessing essential goods and had to stop creating their works of brass and beads. With travel, business, school, and work on hold, the artisans had to restrategize. So many of them decided to go back to fishing and farming to sustain themselves and their families. It was not easy at first as they had to relearn their old ways of farming and the yield was not always enough. But they persevered and finally harvested enough to
share with others in the community. Because for Sesutonawa, even if one family is okay, if other families are not okay, then it is still not okay. Solidarity helped Sesotunawa move from enduring and surviving - to thriving.
The earrings and rings Sesotunawa has made for me I consider my Filipino treasures. I like that each piece of jewelry is patterned after nature and is made of upcycled brass, beads, seeds, and even fish nets. The process is meticulous and spans several days. One pair of earrings I have is patterned after a waterfall. Another pair reflects the stars and the moon. Sesotunawa jewelry are special because of their makers’ artistry, and the integrity, passion, joy, and focus put into crafting each piece.
Slow down and pause, the pandemic urges us. Use the time to go inward, to center and balance, to learn, grow, and experiment. With possibly a beautiful Sesotunawa meditation bell and incense holder. Let’s make this Christmas season extra special by celebrating how we are finding creative ways to make the pandemic work for us, not to us.
Words by Maya Vandenbroeck. Follow her journey on Little Flow Stories.