How can you take care of yourself in a difficult moment (including this one), and at the same time come to know — and rest in — your essential nature?
- Focus on present-moment reality: the immediate scene, what you’re doing right now, bodily sensation.
- Allow yourself to feel what you feel — in the body/heart (not the mind).
- Minimize reminders of the larger situation. Be here, now.
- Focus on just one thing — one moment — at a time.
- Distinguish between what’s in your control and what’s not. Focus on what is.
- Each day enjoy something that nourishes you.
There are two kinds of distancing: the outer sort and the one within. Physical distancing is prudent at this time. Distancing awareness from immediate reality (at any time) is numbing. The former may safeguard your health and others’, while the latter impedes awakeness. What is the spiritual life about but coming into alignment with what’s real, in this moment? Resting in the truth of your nature is not apart from resting in reality, however much a person might wish it to be otherwise. Indeed, many who adopt a spiritual orientation do it to “protect” themselves from what’s difficult in life.
Awakening never was about distancing from life. It’s about coming to truly live. Not in the mind. It’s the mind, not life itself, we’ve ached for relief from.
Being in the now is both all we’ve got and profoundly restorative. The present is the only real thing we’ve ever had, in fact. Sometimes it takes something on the scale of this virus to drive that home.
* * * * *
See what it feels like to do one thing at a time, attentively — without hurrying. See how it locates you in the now, enabling the task to be done well. Notice how thinking-while-doing is actually “doing” two things at once. If the mind is busy (on a desired outcome, or the next thing on the list, or the big-picture situation), you’re not fully located in this moment. Allow the mind to rest, focusing on the physical. Afterward, if productive thinking is asked for, hold still and do that, just that. This way you do justice to each task.
It’s not the getting-it-done of a task but the felt act of actually doing it that locates you in the now. Conversely, doing something with the goal of crossing it off the list, or as a means to an end, locates you in the mind. When you bring single-pointed focus to an action, there’s no distance — no separation — between you and the act: what you’re doing is, in that moment, what you are. You’re not separate from reality. This is the space where peace can flower. Note that it has nothing to do with the nature of what you’re engaged in, pleasurable or otherwise. It’s got to do with attention itself (which cares nothing for the quality of the moment’s “content”).
* * * * *
Perhaps you orient to thought as a bad guy. What if it’s a wonderful tool that’s just habitually misused? The mind is mostly devoted to ego-maintenance. It’s not inevitable that it be so. Discover the blessings of the mind when it’s exploratory, creative — actually beneficial. See, for instance, how thought can enable you to identify truly helpful ways to take care of yourself and others in this challenging time. To distinguish reliable scientific sources from fear-based rumors. The mind can be engaged to explore the line separating the things you have some control over right now from those you simply do not. See how that use of the mind can enable you to rest from the useless stress of dwelling on things out of your control, obsessing over an imagined future.
Ask yourself what you have control over — what’s actually doable — and what you do not. Do what is, and see if you can let go the largely useless focus on the larger circumstances, including what’s unknowable.
Do you have complete control over the future of your employment or financial situation? Can you know whether you’ll become infected with the virus? Can you know that taking precautionary steps will absolutely protect you? Is it possible to take reasonable steps and at the same time to rest in the knowing that everything is uncertain?
Each time the big picture tries to get your attention, simply notice the pull toward it — the sensation inside the body, the in-motion-ness of the mind. See if you can let the outer situation stay “out there,” returning attention to the here-and-now. The real. The “place” where it’s possible to feel your aliveness — where wakefulness can blossom.
Do you have control over your sources of information, over how much of the day you “tune in” to the latest developments? Learn to likewise tune in to when you’ve reached “enough for now.” The body may express signs of enough. Time to move to something practical, restorative, mentally restful. How liberating to discover that you do have some say in such matters.
Notice the effect on your body, the benefit to your inner state, when you learn to distinguish between what’s controllable and what’s not. How it becomes possible to let go the obsession over the not controllable part. Such relief in it!
You may have a tendency to console yourself with spiritual beliefs, to use the mind to tell yourself All is well, or It’s all a dream. What if there weren’t any belief systems to take refuge in? It’s the mind that generates beliefs in the first place, that sees them as a kind of refuge. What if you allowed yourself simply to rest in the feel of the now, just as it is — to allow the mind to quiet? The mind, after all, does not awaken. It just grows quiet, sans any beliefs at all.
* * * * *
It can be helpful — both practically and spiritually — to gently inquire, when you’re moved to do a certain thing, into the motivation behind the impulse. Notice the feel of what underlies the idea to do a certain thing. Is it fear, the desire to control? Is it love? Wisdom? Is a cherished belief driving it? Be willing to truly see what’s there. Don’t attempt to “manage” what you see and feel. Simply look, in an environment of spacious awareness. It’s like a light coming on, that’s all. Consciousness — what you most deeply are — is able to look without judgment, resistance, or trying to change anything. See what that feels like.
If you’re inclined to mediate or to do some other practice, look to see whether there’s a belief you “should” do it, that it will help you “progress.” Or maybe you’re drawn there because it can be a refuge from reality. What motivates meditation? Does it actually feel restful and alive when it’s happening? Does it invite you to rest in what-is, in a way that’s nourishing, restorative?
When you’re motivated to read and consider every piece of news or “advice” that comes across your radar, look to see what’s behind that. Is it the panicky force of obsessive fear, the grasping for illusory control, that’s driving you? Notice such things and their effect on your interior. Realize that you do indeed have control — over whether to “go there” all the time.
If you feel anger flare at times, look to see what might underlie it. Very likely it’s fear, or grief from a sense of loss. The mind generates anger as an attempt to seize control — and (more deeply) to protect you from the the pain of what’s beneath it. If you see this happening, gently allow yourself to surrender to the depth of what’s there, to fully feel it. Do not attempt to “undo” anger via some (mind-based) spiritual effort to mute or deny it. Instead sink into the bodied sensation of anxiety, sorrow, whatever has given rise to “protective” anger. Allowing yourself to surrender to uncomfortable feelings may actually bring relief. At the very least it will put you in touch with what’s real, a rest from the exhausting mental attempt (however well-intentioned) to control.
Control what you can. Feel what’s alive in you. Let the rest go.
Discover other ways the mind can be a actual blessing. Not the ego-enslaved sort of thinking but by engaging the remembering capacity of thought. Remind yourself of those who are dear to you, or were long ago. Revisit activities you’ve delighted in (and may be able to enjoy now). Memory can enable a person to evoke beloved persons and events from the past. By using the mind to “go there,” a palpable appreciation of an earlier time in your life may be felt to come alive. Although the recollection is clearly of a long-gone past, the feeling evoked is experienced in the now, palpable in the heart, the body. You may feel renewed delight, perhaps even cherishing and gratitude. A vividly evoked memory might get a laugh out of you.
No, this is not “living in the past.” It’s a way to allow yourself to “experience” anew, in this moment, something from long ago. It’s entirely possible to appreciate past times with dear friends or family, to remember creative or fun adventures from youth, without becoming stuck in the past, in tiresome associated mental patterns.
Recollection (or looking at old pictures) can, to be sure, nudge the mind into its familiar habitual story. See if you can simply be with the sensation of the memory, without revving up the tiresome ego-soaked story associated with it. Just feel. And notice the present-moment aliveness, the bodied experience of the now.
Remembering someone of personal significance may move you to reach out to them to say thank you, or I love you, or “remember the time?” Perhaps a long-overdue “I’m sorry.” This is the sort of blessing the virus outbreak may give rise to. A potential source of nourishment to you both, having more to do with love than with fear.
As you consider such possibilities, take care what communication “mode” you turn to. Because social media can open fear-inducing floodgates, consider other options. Phone? Email? That old-fashioned thing, an actual physical letter in the mail? Imagine how precious a letter in the hand can be, the pleasure of its recipient seeing your familiar handwriting. Even if you don’t feel moved to actually re-connect, simply allowing yourself to experience the depth of what’s come alive in you can be its own present-moment delight. Maybe even gratitude will flower.
Take care too with the possible tendency for the two of you to dwell overmuch on the current situation, to the detriment of what led you to reach out in the first place. Yes, you will surely “go there” together. But an excess of shared fretting and lamenting will benefit neither of you, revving up yet more crippling fear. Remember: it’s about allowing love and delight into the encounter.
What else might you find nourishing? Is there an activity that reminds you you’re alive, that invigorates? Is it being outdoors, smelling the air, hearing the birds? Going for a walk or other physical activity? Does music bring you joy? Something of a creative nature? Reading a good book? Is there some imaginative way you can offer help to others? Notice how when you give yourself to something like this, the mind tends to quiet its racket: you’re located truly in the now, your senses alive.
Do you have control over whether you devote part of each day to doing something that nourishes yourself? You do indeed.
* * * * *
Learning to rest in momentary reality is not about trying to cultivate a certain inner “state.” It’s about seeing what’s actually there, alive in you just now: what’s real. Among the things we’re not in control of is causing ourselves to feel a certain way. Let alone “staying there” — that cherished idea of trying to “hold on” to something, including a state that feels good, relieving.
See if you notice the muttering of some mind-generated idea of what being awake is like. Perhaps one of the few things that can be reliably said of wakefulness is this: it almost never looks or feels the way the mind imagined it might.
Spiritual awakening — coming to know what you most deeply are, and resting in that — never was about distancing yourself from life, from the body, the moment. It’s about coming to truly live. Not (at long, blessed last) to “live” in the mind. For it’s the mind — the assessing, resisting, manipulating, anticipating mind — that we’ve ached for relief from. Not life itself, but what thought has “done” with life. This is the shocking revelation that some “on the path” stumble onto: that the very circumstance they’d longed to avoid turns out to be the door to liberation.
Awakening is about coming at last to rest in radical uncertainty, in the utter absence of control — the very last place anybody would have expected to find profound peace. Brevity and the unknown are among the enduring realities of living a human life. Authentic “hereness” opens the door to resting in the very things that used to terrify us, as we come to experience the radical okayness of whatever is, just now.
Sometimes blessings turn up in surprising places. Let this moment we’re all in be the surprise doorway into that liberating discovery.
I wish you rich explorations in this potent time. I wish you well, in every possible way.