essays

Five lessons from Coronavirus

Enclosed is a blog post version of a FB Live event I did on 12/27/20. You may find the FB Live video here.

Early in lockdown, I did a FB Live entitled “Coronavirus, spaciousness, and inner peace.” In this video, I essentially said that Coronavirus was requiring humanity to move en masse, obeying restrictions such as wearing facial masks and social distancing; additionally, as a globe we were doing all these things simultaneously. For these reasons, I suggested that Coronavirus was getting us more in touch with our objective purpose, the deeper realm of our selves at which we are all aligned. 

Well, more than six months have passed since I made that video, and my sense of what both lockdown and Coronavirus mean for us has deepened. In the below post, I want to share five lessons I have learned throughout Coronavirus that I believe are instrumental for all of humanity.

1) We are all connected. This is a cliche in spiritual communities, but it is also a site of deep and expansive significance. With respect to Coronavirus, the superficial level of this statement concerns the virus itself: if someone near us is sick, we ourselves may get sick too. Logically speaking, all of us were aware of this before Coronavirus as well, and for this reason we did things like hold our breath when someone near us coughed, wash our hands after interacting with an ill person, etc. However, through Coronavirus this bare fact of our interconnection has been accentuated: we have been shuttled into the position of obeying rules that rely upon it. 

Going forward, I want to suggest that it is important to generalize and thus expand this lesson into other realms of our lives: if we are connected at the level of the physical, how might we also be connected at the levels of the emotional, the mental, the spiritual? If I am feeling in a sour mood, how and in what ways does that affect the people around me? What about if I am thinking negative thoughts? If my soul is carrying undue burden, how does that manifest in my life, in my community? Taking these factors into consideration, what responsibility do I have for my consciousness? Where does my responsibility begin and end with respect to the energy I put out into the world?

2) We need one another. Think of the loneliness you have no doubt felt during lockdown, the longing for physical company that cannot be supplanted by online connection. Underneath this loneliness, think of the sadness, the loss. Perhaps differently expressing itself, think of the anger you may have voiced with our global restrictions, perhaps even taking part in anti-lockdown protests or researching into vaccine skepticism. Underneath this anger, what do you value? What are you afraid of losing, and what are you suddenly finding yourself willing to fight for? At base of all of these emotions, we are learning that we value and need one another, that we rely upon others for things we cannot give ourselves. As with the lesson above, certainly before lockdown there were people among us who knew this truth, but it could not be grasped so starkly as it can now. There is a strain of thinking in spiritual communities that says we as individuals are all we need, that we can give to ourselves anything we might request from another person; now, in the state of deprivation into which this past year has thrust us, we know this is not true.

3) Our needs are simple. Perhaps before lockdown, you had a job which necessitated global travel, and you regularly hopped aboard planes and departed your home country. Similarly, perhaps you had or were aspiring to have great physical possessions, markers of status such as a ritzy home, a brand-new car, a five star meal. Well, without access to these things, do you find that you really need them? Instead, what those of us who’ve paid attention to our consciousness throughout this event have learned is that our needs are more elemental than we might have supposed, that they are kinds of abstraction. For instance, rather than the need for global travel, perhaps you have a need for adventure in your life; this need can be met in many ways, including explorations of new sexual positions or routines with your romantic partner, hikes around your neighborhood, or cooking at home. Similarly, instead of your need to achieve success through visible markers such as a fancy home and car, perhaps you simply have a need to be seen; like the aforementioned need for adventure, this need can be met in easily attainable ways such as creating a blog, writing and sharing poetry with a friend, or giving someone an update on your life. Do you really need what you thought you needed? If not, who are you? In possession of simple, abstracted needs, we in fact know ourselves more deeply, and an added benefit of this change is that our needs are fluidly transferrable to a myriad of circumstances; we are adaptable.

4) Emotions return us to the real. Think of the anger mentioned in lesson number two above, the loneliness, the sadness. Unfortunately, think of how some people have judged one another for their emotionality throughout this event—for instance, anti-lockdown protesters have judged those who fear the virus for “living in fear,” while those who fear the virus have judged anti-lockdown protesters for their anger, calling it “toxic” or “dangerous.” Again, what are our emotions telling us? What values do they illuminate? What losses do they clarify? Far from distractions to be tempered by rationality, emotions are the handmaidens of spiritual realization.

5) Grief and loss are the template of reality. This lesson is like some of those above in that, if we had been paying attention, we would have already known it long before Coronavirus or lockdown took place. For instance, who among us could deny that life is inherently risky, and that in the end, we die? Buddhism already expressed this nihilistic truth thousands of years ago, as did psychological modernizations of this tradition like existentialism. Similarly, who among us did not know that every moment is the death of a world, the passing of one reality to the next, and that for this reason nothing is stable and loss is the only dependable outcome? Again, we already held this truth in mantras such as “the only constant is change,” once more deriving from ancient spiritual traditions. Nevertheless, through Coronavirus we have needed to face this reality on a scale never before encountered by humanity: regardless of who won the U.S. presidency, regardless of whether or not a vaccine rolls out and is functional, regardless of whether life returns to “normal,” the world in which we once interacted is gone. In fact, because of ongoing changes to our climate due to the effects that humanity has wrought on our environment, the “normal” we once knew is already embalmed if not interred. Through facing this scale of loss and grief—and the fact that they are the only steadfast prediction—what kind of love for our world is revealed? What kind of courage, to care for and love one another even when we know such experiences are transitory? In possession of this love and courage, what will we do, how will we behave?

We know not what future we go to, but I encourage you to meditate upon and hold these lessons close to chest as we go there. If nothing else, we have our hearts and minds. 

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