09 Apr Grateful Living in the Time of A Global Pandemic
We are living in unparalleled times. Saying so is such an understatement that I am reluctant to be cliché. And yet, it’s obvious to everyone. A sweeping virus, swinging stock markets, and increasingly polarized dynamics at social and political levels, can pull us off course. Public health professionals call upon us to shelter in place. Practicing physical distancing is almost the new normal. In the midst of these turbulent seas, many of us are experiencing anxiety, isolation and loneliness. What can we do?
As I live into my own reactions to the news of the moment, my worldview has been informed by the depth and insight of many great teachers. These include masters from different wisdom traditions, health care practitioners, friends facing end of life, and researchers studying the transformative nature of personal and social crises. From these great sources of inspiration, I ponder just how we might use the skills of spiritual wisdom, transpersonal studies, noetic sciences, and positive psychology, to help us find resilience and hope, even in the darkest times? How might we find ever-expanding appreciation for life’s challenges and live into their transformative potentials?
What follows are a set of nine simple practices that can help us move from suffering to a deep engagement with the fullness of our lives, each and every moment. I hope they are useful to you.
- Take time to reflect on your beliefs and assumptions about what gives you joy and happiness. Start by centering yourself in a safe place where you can close your eyes and recall those moments when you felt delight. Bring that feeling into your mind and body, breathing in the sensations that are associated with your positive memories. Stay in that feeling space and continue breathing into your positive emotions. If your mind wanders back to feelings of anxiety, just watch the thoughts and bring your focus back to your joyful experience.
- Reframe Your Inner Talk. Take note of your critical self-talk, bringing the inner critic into more conscious awareness to help reframe these internal messages as more positive and self-compassionate. As you invite equanimity and self-compassion, wonder and awe into your daily life, even the most mundane aspects of experience can become sacred. A simple practice involves making a short list of your strengths and review it on a daily (if not more) basis. When you find your level of anxiety increasing, review the list, and use this to enhance your own resilience. Remember that we are not powerless.
- Shift Your Perspective. Clear a space in your life that turns away from the popular media and the weapons of “mass distraction” that shape the dominant culture’s view of this pandemic. Find opportunities to pause and ask yourself where you find joy, goodness, and connections. Write down major moments of crisis and how this has led you to transformation that have led you to who you are and what gives you meaning. As philosopher Soren Kierkegaard noted, “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.” Each of us has the opportunity to gain greater confidence in how we manage uncertainty and navigate the future.
- Practice Mindful Attention. Bring your attention toward greater self-awareness through simple activities such as meditation, contemplative prayer, creative acts like painting or drawing, journal writing, walks in nature, gardening with mindfulness, and somatic subtle-energy body practices. Even if you can’t get outside, use your imagination to visualize engaging in beauty. What do you need to surrender or leave behind? How can you conserve your energy for what has heart and meaning? What still needs healing or forgiveness? Place your attention on what is working for you and how you have the strength to manage this time of separation.
- Set Intentions. Ask yourself, “What matters most? What values do I want to adhere to?” How is this moment of physical isolation giving us a needed chance to pause and reframe our life goals. Based on these reflections, you can craft an intentionality statement so that when challenges and opportunities arise, you will have developed an inner compass with which to navigate and make more conscious life choices.
- Build New Habits. Challenge your brain with new learnings, explore new activities in your home, dance in the privacy of your living room to your favorite music, connect with people of different generations through social media. Neuroscience offers us hope that such new habits are possible as we lay down new neural pathways that can help us see the world and ourselves in new ways. As Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
- Find Guidance. Find a skilled teacher, a study group, and/or a social network that supports your explorations. Take advantage of the various tele-health services and resources online. Virtual connecting with others offers a way of living into new patterns and behaviors. If computers are not your thing, write letters. Consider developing some pen pals in senior settings in your community. Reach out and build relationships based on lovingkindness and empathy.
- Move from I to We. While our responses to this pandemic are personal, we are not alone. Our response to this health, social and economic crisis is more than a personal quest. It can infuse your life as you promote the transformation of your community. Altruism and compassion born of shared destiny, rather than duty or obligation, can emerge and add joy and purpose to your actions. Practicing sheltering in place is not only good for you, but vital to the well-being of our neighbors and families. Consider having a virtual dinner with a friend, a digital happy hour with members of the community, participate in creative expression by creating art, music or writing that book you have always dreamed about.
- Death Makes Life Possible. An important part of positive trans-formation involves a reflection on our own cosmology of life and death. There are many maps or worldviews on the meaning of death and how we respond, revealing a wide range of viewpoints. In considering them, people can find comfort and a set of possibilities for how they respond to the dire news of health emergencies and death counts. This pandemic gives us an opportunity to face our own mortality. Embracing the ways in which we experience the fears and anxieties about mortality, death awareness can bring greater awareness to the transformative process that allows a deeper experience of our life journey. This time of global pandemic can help us to reflect on our own legacy and what we hope to give back for future generations. Taking advantage of a one-minute moment to experience gratitude for the precious lives we have been given gives us an opportunity to open ourselves to the great mystery that comes from being fully alive, even in the face of a global pandemic. It is our moment to take the hit as a gift. Together we are the gift.