You can survive and thrive with COVID-19. I say that fully aware of the crisis upon us. Even though it’s going to wreak havoc on the economy and uproot lives, it is possible to benefit from it. Not materially, but spiritually.
To benefit spiritually means to benefit in ways that change who you are at a fundamental level. It means to change your being.
You must actively engage this crisis to spiritually benefit from it. Lean into it. If you minimize it, explain it away with bizarre conspiracy theories or endlessly fret over it, it will not provide an opportunity for growth. You will drown in an angst-ridden mire of your own making and will gain nothing.
Those whining about the inconveniences imposed upon them are missing the value inherent in the situation. Their whining is childish and immature because current circumstances are a fact of life and won’t change any time soon. By changing your perspective, however, you can turn your frustration into something transformative. You can change lead to gold.
I’m not saying that if you look at things differently things will change, a la the pseudo-spirituality of Wayne Dyer. No, there will certainly be pain and suffering from this pandemic, for you and others. I’m talking about what you can gain from the pain and suffering that will change who you are, that will enlighten you and make you a more worldly human being.
Consider the isolation imposed on us by this pandemic. As someone who has attended a Zen Buddhist sesshin, I can tell you that solitude has profound benefits. When we are forced by circumstance to break with our habitual patterns, we have a rare chance to see ourselves clearly. We can get a close-up look at how we move through our lives in ways we are only slightly aware of. This new awareness can transform us.
In short, the discomfort produced by not being able to live in the usual ways reveals our attachments. People are attached to many things: their social lives, their need for amusement and distraction and their desire for endless busyness. Most of all, they are attached to the control and manipulation of circumstances to suit their wants and needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has rendered people helpless and they don’t know what to do about it.
When control over one’s circumstances is impossible, as it is now, the only thing to do is to unconditionally accept the present moment on its own terms. Being with what is, especially when we don’t like it, teaches us forbearance, patience and presence. It forces us to dis-invest in our wants and needs and live in the present moment fully and unconditionally.
To live in the present, without catering to our endless desires, is a hard and painful task for those accustomed to living self-centered lives, which is most of us. The endless drive to fulfill our selfish needs distorts and limits our relationship to the world. Moving beyond thinking that it’s all about us expands our understanding and allows us to relate to others with greater generosity and concern.
And, paradoxically, it better serves us because seeing ourselves as a piece of the whole and not the whole itself provides us with a more worldly perspective than the solipsistic alternative. This worldliness enables us to navigate life more intelligently. Rather than blundering through it in blind pursuit of our needs, we take account of the effect of our actions on others, and the effect of theirs on us. We see how we are connected to everyone and everything in the grand scheme of things, and act accordingly.
That leads to another lesson this virus is teaching us: the lesson of interconnection. COVID-19 started as a wild animal virus in China and spread to humans at a wild animal market. From there it spread to the people living in the Wuhan province and then to South Korea, Italy, France and Spain. Now it is at our shores, threatening lives in several major metropolitan areas including New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The reality of interconnection shows us that the geographical and ideological entities that we call nation states are artificial constructs imposed on the real world. The virus spreads everywhere, regardless of the borders and boundaries we create. In reality, there are no borders and boundaries, just people who can become infected with the virus.
In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, we can use our newfound awareness of interconnection to inform our actions. We can dedicate ourselves to helping others by volunteering at a food bank serving the burgeoning jobless, or just by staying home and avoiding unnecessary social contact without denial or complaint. We can lean into the present moment because that is what serves us now.
With our blinders now forcibly removed, we can move beyond an egocentric preoccupation with ourselves to see our relationship to everything around us, thus benefiting us and allowing us to be of service to others.
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