As we practice social isolation to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus, and other countries are in various stages of its spreading or containment, we’re all feeling fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. We fear for our friends and loved ones, even for ourselves. These fears are all natural, and part of the human condition.
Many spiritual traditions recognize that death can be one of the greatest teachers. In the Rule of St. Benedict, for example, Benedict recommends that we should “Keep death daily before our eyes.” And Tibetan Buddhists meditate on their future death.
Death is the great teacher because it pierces through our illusions of being in control; it reminds us that we are all vulnerable. I’ve watched the videos of coffins laid out in churches in Italy, and have heard about the first deaths from the Coronavirus in my home city, and I thought, “Wow, this is real!”. Paradoxically, while we socially isolate, we’re more aware than ever of how vulnerable we are, how our lives and our deaths are intimately connected with each other on this planet.
This may sound a bit morbid to you at first, but the reality is that we are always surrounded by the presence of illness, death, and separation. Our awareness is heightened right now because the external circumstances of the Coronavirisu pandemic shine a global light on these truths. As we pause during this social isolation, we can see a bit more clearly that any time anyone is separated from our human community we all suffer. When some people are left out of meaningful work to participate in the economy or the health care system, when our neighbors don’t have access to education, safe drinking water, sanitation, to legal protection in our justice system, or any other social good, then the real truth is that none of us are free in that situation.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said it so eloquently –
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
Social isolation has forced to slow down and see things differently. And yet, this pandemic will pass, and life will return to whatever we mean by “normal” – although we will carry the pains and losses of the experience. I don’t know about you, but what has come to pass for “normal” in our culture is wearing me out. We’re constantly bomarded with political and messages in commercial and social media telling us who we should hate, and who we should blame for our suffering. My heart is tired.
These messages are all traps to trick us into closing our hearts, to get us to blame others for our pain, so that we don’t have to feel that pain anymore – at least temporarily. But it takes a lot of work to avoid pain and fear by closing our hearts – it’s exhausting. When we shut out others in anger and hatred, we’re just sowing the seeds of deeper pain in the future – because we’re cutting ourselves off from our deeper connection to each other. Maybe we can all see that a little bit more clearly during this period of isolation?
I want to invite each of you to consider that how you choose to engage the fears and anxieties that you’re feeling right now – during our social isolation and our attempts to lower the curve on the infection rate. I want to invite you to consider that how you relate to these fears will influence the way you feel for the rest of your life.
While you hold your loved ones close in your homes, you can open your heart to the reality of those who are infected with Coronavirus, and to the challenges of healthcare workers. It will be painful, yes, but the very pain itself holds the key to the healing and liberating truth that we belong to each other. How you embrace the pain of your fear during the Coronavirus can actually liberate you from the fear and anger that so many of us are caught in today in our culture. Whatever helps you to open to that liberating truth, hold to it in these days of uncertainty and cherish what it can teach you.
If this message resonates with you and you care to join me, please do whatever you can to keep your heart open during this time of fear, anxiety, and isolation; share this message with your friends and loved ones. What the hell – share it with the people you can’t stand, with your “enemies,” and have a good laugh about it. If you speak multiple languages, and you’re moved to share this message, translate it and share it on your social networks.
All of our problems will still be with us when we emerge from this global pandemic. We’re going to need to keep our hearts open to meet those challenges with the kind of courage that we can only find when we work together.
I’d like to leave you with encouraging words of a universal blessing in the yoga tradition that I received from on of my teachers, Myra Rucker. From my teachers to you, and from you to all, I hope you find courage in these words to keep an open heart:
May all of us together be protected. May all of us together be nourished. May we work together with great energy. May our study together be brilliant and effective. May we not hate or dispute with one another. May there be peace all around us, peace within us, peace to and from everything and everyone we encounter.
Peace, and thank you for listening/reading!