“If you are a fearful person, the world has much to offer you right now. If it is not your practice to use events in the world to scare yourself, you might feel alone and misunderstood. Be assured: You are not alone. Stay rooted in clarity and common sense.”
I wrote those words recently on the Ask Joey Facebook page in response to increasing anxiety about the coronavirus. The pandemic, like any other situation that occurs in life, is a mirror that reflects us back to ourselves. Or, in the words of a Zen Buddhist koan: “How you do anything is how you do everything.”
Here are a few thoughts about our relationship to COVID-19:
It’s a wake-up call. Many of us sleepwalk through our day. The coronavirus outbreak demands we pay attention. We’re asked to notice who and what we touch and to clean up after ourselves. We’re told to stay home if we’re sick. In other words, we’re asked to return to the basic hygiene practices taught in elementary school. We’re also invited to return to the basic tenets of spirituality and religion. Self-love demands that we allow ourselves to rest away from others when we are ill. Love of others demands a belief in equality. Not one of us is so important that we can’t take time off to self-quarantine if we are sick. And, all of us must contribute to creating communities where those who are ill can afford time off to recover without suffering a loss of necessary income.
An invitation to better self-care. Anyone with a history of trauma or who struggles with anxiety can be more easily triggered by a situation that is out of their control. If this is you, or someone you love, focus on what you can control—yourself. Meditate more often, spend time in nature, practice yoga or Tai Chi. Cut back on caffeinated beverages and sugar. Avoid entertainment designed to scare you. Do everything you can to reduce your anxiety so you have more inner space to handle uncertainty. Common sense operates more efficiently in the absence of unnecessary fear. Be cautious and informed, not fearful.
Back to the cocoon. The instructions from federal and state public health officials to stay out of large gatherings has resulted in cancellations of many conferences and special events. Have unexpected openings in your schedule? Create a retreat. Use it to grow accustomed to quiet—no TV, no podcast, no music. Listen to your thoughts. Become aware of the way your mind operates. Unpack the stories it tells you. Question the veracity of your beliefs. If you have children, teaching them how to respond to a crisis wisely is a tremendous gift, one they are unlikely to learn elsewhere.
The voice of one rational person is sometimes enough to change the way others see and experience the world. Be the awakened change. That way, when you look back at 2020, you will be grateful that you choose to stay aware and in the moment, rather than feed fear.