Connected \\ April 3, 2020

PEMcast Episode 16: Creative Constraint

In her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, Pema Chödrön writes: “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth." The truth — about how viruses spread, about how long our country will be shut down, about so many things — seems to be shifting. The truth is elusive. But fear feels very close and very real.

Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.

When the museum closed on Friday, March 13, we needed, as staff, to have a way to come together and make sense of things. For 10 days, Siddhartha Shah, our Curator of Indian and South Asian Art, inspired us through daily videos to sit each day in meditation. He gave us quotes like the one above from Pema Chödrön and offered additional reading and tips on how to meditate.

Siddhartha Shah, Curator of Indian and South Asian Art. Photo by Bob Packert/PEM.

We learned so much about Shah’s own daily ritual, an elaborate and personal spiritual practice, and about the traditional Indian culture he grew up in outside of Chicago. It was helpful to have a daily dose of someone else’s struggles and observations through this strange time of global pandemic and social distancing.

Siddhartha Shah doing a daily mantra writing practice.

Siddhartha Shah doing a daily mantra writing practice. Courtesy photos.

A white dog looking at viewer sitting on a car seat surrounded by flower bouquets

Derby helping with spring flowers. Photo courtesy of the author.

God knows when we are all so worried about the people in our lives, the love we share with our pets is helping.

Since we also like to be helpful, we hope you enjoy Episode 16 of the PEMcast, where in addition to sharing thoughts on a spiritual practice, Shah also introduces us to Hindu deities and the wisdom they can impart to us during this time. In this episode, you can also follow me on this spiritual journey … as well as my frustrations and discoveries as I make my way around a shuttered Salem in search of signs of humanity — and beer.

Notch Brewing brick building with Notch sign above door. To the leftof the building a patio area with tables and umbrellas
Notch Brewing curbside pick-up. Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.
The Cheese Shop glass door with paper signs about pick-up service on them.
The Cheese Shop of Salem stock-up from a distance. Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.
Sea Level Oyster Bar beer menu, toilet paper roll  and beer cans in a paper grocery bag
Sea Level Oyster Bar beer, wine and a roll to-go. Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.
A woman with long brown hair hand painting letters on a cellophane banner
Cellograph art by PEMstaff artist Emily Larsen. Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.
A bluse handpainted cellophane banner wrapped between two trees with quote that says "May we never bear away when we see a friend in distress @ Peabody Essex Museum
Cellograph art by PEMstaff artist Emily Larsen. Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.

“May we never bear away when we see a friend in distress.” These words are from a toast offered during the anniversary celebration of the East India Marine Society in 1806. The foundational members of the museum (which went on to become PEM) knew that, when faced with tests of will and endurance, a higher moral principle must guide us. In their time, they spent months at sea, wrestling with the unknown, with dangers both seen and unseen. More than 200 years later, we find a salient common bond. We, as a community, are in this together.

Glass front doors of PEM with sign that says -To protect the safety of our community PEM is closed until further notice

Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.

The PEM staff wishes everyone health, safety and calm during the COVID-19 shutdown. Museums provide light and inspiration during challenging times. We will be creative in maintaining PEM’s relationship with you in this time of crisis. We look forward to welcoming you back to the museum when the public health crisis has subsided. For more information and updates, please visit and keep in touch through our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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