Here it is, the teacher of them all. Every blessed one of us at “school” nowadays, morning-noon-and-night.
How might it be possible to orient to the coronavirus and its widespread disruptions, to the uncertainty and threat of it all, in a way that opens the door not to paralyzing fear but to clarity and a sense of calm well-being?
Calm (maybe even joy) in this time we’re all in? How can such a thing be?
The enduring lesson is uncertainty, the radical absence of control and predictability. The virus reminds us of the abruptness with which so much that’s been taken for granted can go topsy-turvy. Which always has been the case — and always will be. Only now, in this time we’re in, its penetrating truth becomes vivid.
We never have been in control of life, nor ever could be. But maybe peace isn’t dependent on stability and safety, or anything at all to do with how life is going.
May we see at last that what we were born to know has nothing to do with circumstance or the desirability of control.
For those accustomed to inquire into the matter of what life is really “about,” there’s a more profound something to be taken from our collective present moment. That question Why was I born? What am I here to see, to know?
What is real, sense-able in the now? And how does that differ from what the mind can access?
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The perception of stability and situational well-being never did have the capacity to answer such questions, to lead us to the inner reality that’s apart from ever-changing life, where brevity and challenge persist. To be sure, life is typically lived as though minor “successes” might deliver something approximately fulfilling, reassuring. Even as there always has been (if you’re honest) the softly whispered knowing that an illusion is driving this assumption — the one feeding unrelenting hope, against persistent evidence to the contrary.
The blessing of radically unnerving circumstances is that it becomes impossible to avert the eyes from the illusion that’s been running the show all along. It’s a blessing — a true teacher — so long as there’s the willingness to keep looking.
The question is this: Is it possible to be with difficult circumstances and at the same time to be at peace? Does challenge inevitably negate the stillness at the heart of all-that-is, keeping us at a stubborn distance from the something that life is about?
It is possible to orient to a crisis in a way that’s both wise and not grasping for illusory control. To feel the door open not to fear but to clarity and inner stillness. Peace can indeed exist in the context of a potent force that cares nothing for our contentment.
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Fear is useless, of no benefit. In fact, it becomes an additional contagion, “infecting” many just now. Anxious constant attention is every bit as contagious as the virus, maybe more so. Of course no one consciously decides to be fearful. But there’s likely an unseen belief running the show. It protests that fear is inevitable, in such a situation. The fact that it’s operating unconsciously makes it especially potent, intensifying the fear. There’s the sense we’re at the mercy of not one contagion but two.
An even deeper assumption may be in the picture. Perhaps being afraid may actually protect a person, a kind of defense against what threatens.
Allowing such beliefs to come into the light of conscious awareness can enable a gentle unwinding of their grip. Perhaps leading a person, most tenderly, into what underlies the entire machinery: the assumption of there being an inevitable connection between outer challenge and inner well-being. It’s a belief defining the human condition, that peace in a given situation is simply not possible.
It’s the beating heart of what awakening is about.
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Allow yourself to notice your own unseen assumptions about what’s necessary (maybe inevitable) in a situation like this one. See if this one is there: Given that the threat appears to be ongoing and life-altering, it must follow that attention to it be likewise uninterrupted. The belief being that to avert the eyes amounts to reckless disregard, making a person more vulnerable.
But see the dear cost of unrelenting vigilance, the price paid for ceaseless dwelling in the toxic environment of fear. It is not necessary or helpful. Nor is it inevitable that it be so.
Something in us has the capacity to be both prudent and kind, to ourselves and to others. It’s both kind and wise to take reasonable steps to look out for yourself and for others, even as you’re aware that nothing can assure absolute safety.
What does it mean to be kind to yourself? It means to be attuned to when you’ve absorbed enough information, for now. Notice the toll extracted by unceasing vigilance, by taking in every new development, as if it will help restore a sense of control. Knowing when enough has been reached is both sane and gentle to yourself. Pay loving attention to the effect of fear.
A few times each day, find ways to rest. Allow space to open up. What do you find nourishing? Linger over this question. Be reminded of the things that feed your soul, that delight. Is it music? The beauty of art, of a compelling book? Maybe it’s the rejuvenation of being out in the natural world, or engaging in some creative or physical activity. A hot bath perhaps, a delicious meal. Or spending time with a beloved pet. Connect with those dear to you (even if only virtually, or simply in your heart) — not to fret together, revving up your shared anxiety, but to remind yourselves of why you matter to each other. Remember what it feels like to laugh! What a welcome respite such moments can be, when you’re attuned to the feel of savoring, of gratitude. When you notice what plain aliveness feels like.
Granting yourself such space is surely kind to yourself. It’s also a blessing to anyone around you (perhaps similarly “afflicted” by the contagion of fear) to be reminded such a thing is still possible.
These nourishing moments are of the now. They are experiential. They’re palpable, feel-able. They are not — most conspicuously — of the mind. The mind (you’ve surely noticed) is where the virus dwells, every bit as much as it dwells “out there.”
When these times of spaciousness occur, you may notice how the coronavirus seems to have taken a break. Perhaps you’ll see that something more substantial — more immediate, more alive — is reminding you of itself. Meanwhile, the virus and all its craziness carry on without you just fine, absent your constant dwelling on it.
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Take in the lesson of this great teacher that’s come to visit us all. What if the coronavirus turned out to represent the opportunity of a lifetime? May it lead us at last to see that what we were born to know has nothing to do with circumstance or the desirability of control.
In this time of reduced air travel and the quieting down of a little industry, the earth’s atmosphere appears to have been relieved of a fraction of its toxic burden. May our inner world be visited by a kindred blessing.Jan Frazier