A shift in our collective social fabric, our work systems, our economy, in our lives; COVID-19 has left us in a state of unparalleled upheaval and in a matter of weeks almost all of what we’ve become accustomed to has drastically changed. If we are vigilant, COVID-19 will be gone someday, but sadly, it will most likely be just one of many such events to become the norm and it has exposed many flaws in the systems that dictate our lives and behaviors. This is our first test and an undeniably stressful mandate into completely unknown ways of being.
As scary as this outbreak is (and it is extremely scary), as I look out onto the quiet streets at 6pm on a Tuesday, a sudden sense of calm washes over me. Things seems so much more peaceful and civilized without people mowing each other down during evening commute and crowding into packed public transportation and stores.
The normal Friday night urge to make plans with someone or book tickets to something and debate cost, time, seating and transportation are replaced with a few clicks of my remote under a fuzzy blanket.
Others may find themselves scared because they are ill or have taken on the responsibility of caring for an elder relative, sick loved one or neighbor.
My heart aches for those struggling to take precious air into their lungs, and for the healthcare and law enforcement workers that are risking their lives to save ours. For this reason it’s so incredibly important that we keep ourselves healthy and stay calm. We all need to take doing our part very seriously. But what happens when even our best efforts are met with resistance? When our parents don’t listen to us to stay put? When we are scared for our well-being and those around us? When we are angry with the government or healthcare systems for not acting? What happens when we feel too sick, scared, angry, stressed or overwhelmed to do anything?
What we can do now
Being present is something many of us talk about and try in earnest to achieve amidst all of the distractions of the modern world. Funny enough, during this time; so inundated by the uncertainty and unfolding second by second change in reality, we have no choice other than to be mindful. The virus has forced us to see what’s been there all along; that our systems are just a construct and that control is an illusion. No matter who is in power, or what the systems are, they are conditional. The only thing that can ground us now, is looking towards the unconditional and being fully with the present moment.
Some feel that when their backs are up against a wall, the only thing to do is to fight, to use brute force to combat the problem and while we must all take action to overcome this pandemic, it’s all in how we do it that matters. This is the true test.
The virus, no matter how we scream at it, or scream at each other about it, throw money at it or fear it and push it away isn’t going to relent so easily. But whenever everything feels out of control there is actually still a lot we can do to help ourselves and each other that can make a real difference. Just as one person can be a catalyst for spreading disease, so can one person make a huge positive impact on the lives of many.
Some of us will encounter or see on the news those that don’t believe this situation is dire. They are flocking to the beach or continuing going to bars. These can be an infuriating, scary and confounding feeling. Yet be that as it may, it’s more important now than ever that each of us practice empathy towards others, acceptance of the situation at hand and gentleness towards ourselves.
To do this, we need to first give ourselves the space and calmness to react from a place of wise mind and compassion rather than fear and anger. For this, is not the way.
Even though we feel fear and anger we can nurture our relationship with those feelings into something healthy and positive.
Relax the anger by softening our hearts
We must remember that not everyone has the same access to the news, internet or the level of education that promotes an understanding of the impact our singular behavior can have on others, much less, on someone living on the other-side of the world. Up until this point, phrases like “we are all connected” and “we are all one” could easily be written off as an abstract or esoteric concept left to yogis, acid trippers and musicians. But alas, it has manifested in a very literal, tangible sense. Yet, not everyone has been exposed to this way of thinking about the world, not everyone knows what it means when we say we need to “Flatten the curve”.
For an inner city youth faced with gang violence and police brutality on a daily basis, the reality of getting shot may be higher up on their consideration level and awareness than what they might perceive to be ‘getting the flu’. There are still young spring breakers from the more remote parts of the US that aren’t seeing or understanding the zoomed out picture — they assume that if they aren’t sick then they can’t spread the virus and are focused is on ‘living in the moment’ and ‘enjoying themselves’ while they can. And with so much misinformation and newly emerging information being shared each day, it’s hard for us to come to a consensus about just how seriously we should be altering and restricting our normal behaviors. For this reason, we must be understanding, we must aim to teach instead of reprimand.
Acknowledge our contribution
But why should you be responsible for looking out for everyone else? Why should you be responsible for helping others to see? Well, we too must acknowledge that we have played a part in people that thing being the way they are, in creating and supporting the systems that are not supporting us.
We have all contributed to the commercialism, globalization, rhetoric and planetary destruction that exposes us to these novel viruses (whether man-made or natural). We are all responsible for perpetrating systems of racisms, inequity and othering that have left some members of our community with less access to the resources, education, care and emotional support needed to cultivate the intelligence, foresight and compassion to effectively and rationally deal with such events. We are all responsible for not standing up to the corporate greed and policies that do not look out for us and our fellow sentient beings. Looking in this way, you can more easily imagine why some cannot see the bigger picture, see a different picture or are operating from a limited self-centric lens.
It’s a delicate balance, to gently implore people to change engrained behaviors, mindsets and beliefs, while not inciting rebellion or non-compliance. To enforce the very few cards we have left to play to save humanity without sending each other into a panic, to help people understand the impact and the repercussion of non-action. Blaming will not help us now, but non-attached observation, compassionate communication and setting an intention and a plan to create a healthier self and outlook can.
The right kind of Non-Action
But, there is a different kind of non-action that I want to draw our attention to. As the Taoists refer to it, the action of non-action; of being.
Action has two implications: the first is that you’re going to do something–walk across the street, for example. However, there is also the space of non-action whereby you quiet the mind to listen, to observe with discernment, to take in without judgement, to hear your instinct and that little voice that says “do” or “go now.” In that process you effectively lose the sense of self and ego and are guided by the flow and balance. After you’ve taken some action, whether it succeeds or not, you are then essentially at peace and whole within yourself.
For all our modern and technological and medical advances, foresight, planning and regular action; the current directives that give us the best outcome to combat the Coronavirus and COVID-19 disease are to stay in place, stay calm, mindfully wash your hands and be considerate of one another. We are literally being prescribed mindfulness and healthy non-action as the best prevention.
We are literally being prescribed mindfulness and healthy non-action.
As the days go on, I can’t help but draw more parallels to buddhist teachings and the philosophy of mindfulness, acceptance, meditation and compassion and the solace that it can bring.
This horrible affliction is asking us as a human race to practice acceptance. To accept a new way of interacting with the world and behaving, to accept unimaginable individual and collective burden. Yes, people will be in pain. Yes, people will die. This is an inevitable part of our existence and while it’s more visceral now, it does not contradict the truth that always was; everything is impermanent.
By the same token, I also read the reports of the skies clearing in China, the waters clearing in Venice, the reduced number of deaths from car accidents, the children being spared from the most horrible symptoms and communities supporting each other and I can’t help but think of the good that this virus brings with it. The light mixed with the dark.
This gives me an incredible sense of peace and hope and a stronger than every resolve to practice.
A chance to revaluate
Aside from the work that I do as a designer and educator. I’ve been a long time meditator, mindfulness practitioner and at-home yogi and cook. These unprecedented events have unintentionally brought us all back to a simpler time; spending time with loved ones, cooking at home, doing puzzles, caring for our elders; It’s given many of us back some quality time and a pace that supports it. It’s refreshing and has made me remember that all the rushing around ‘doing’, will never fulfill me as must as the sitting around ‘being’.
I’ve used this time to start journaling again; keeping a gratitude journal and acknowledging all of the things that this pandemic has given me back; including perspective. I plan to refer back to it and use as a reminder when things inevitably normalized and speed up again and the gears of the machine start turning once more. Life is such a paradox, the way the sweet is mixed in with the bitter every step of the way.
Oddly, there is so much to worry about that this flood of fear and anxiety can begin to narrow our focus to the present moment, and that’s precisely where all the richness is. Focusing on the little things we are grateful for can go a long way in shifting our outlook and keeping our minds healthy and focused on the joy and potential that lies in the darkness.
Release the fear with trust
Perhaps you are scared because you are ill or a loved one is ill. You must be extra cautious in sanitizing and quarantining.
The fear is asking up to sit up, pay attention and be careful and making us feel out of control. However, this lack of control doesn’t have to be viewed as a negative because it also means other factors are in control.
While you are doing all the things you can to keep yourself and others save you can choose to acknowledge all the things that are working to keep you safe as well. Many stores are taking extra measures to keep us safe by sanitizing their store and by limiting the number of people that are allowed in. There are 100s across the country that are sewing masks for our healthcare workers. If you choose to look, there is a lot working in our favor too.
There is a lot that we can do now, whether you are struggling to take care of a sick loved one or grappling with working from home with kids. When you slow down and think clearly you are much less likely to make a costly mistake.
Keep your mind on the moment, keep your awareness on your hands.
Turn to your hands — Whatever you’re doing right now, turn your attention to your hands. Where are they? What are they doing? Are they on your lap?Are they touching your face? What did you touch last? This simple practice of being fully present with what your hands are doing moment by moment can literally save lives. Of all the things to practice this is perhaps the most important.
This simple practice of being fully present with what your hands are doing moment by moment can literally save lives.
Practice gratitude — Even if you don’t have a job right now, even if you are feeling stir crazy in your house. Remember what’s most important. Be thankful for your family members that aren’t sick, be thankful for the food you have to eat, for the running water, the electricity, for the healthcare workers that are out there doing the dangerous work to keep us safe. Start a gratitude journal and see just how quickly it fills up when you start to turn your attention to all the little blessings and things that are going right. Even if you or a loved ones are sick, be deeply in the moment with them, smile and be positive, even if walking down the hall was the only thing accomplished today celebrate it!
Teach with compassion, lead by example — Rather than reprimand and blame each other. Try your best to teach with compassion. Use kind words and tone even when talking to those you dislike or disagree with.
Even if your dad refuses to stay at home and you fear for his well-being and the well-being of others, Try to take wise action and do what is in your means to do. If you have exhausted all things, then move onto working on your own acceptance. Imagine that these are the last days you will spend with your dad and decide how you want to spend them. Yelling and fighting with a person that won’t change or sharing laughter and love with them?
Trust that just maybe if you show them all the fun you are having on quarantine that just maybe they will want to follow suit. We cannot force anyone to change or comply but we can guard our own happiness and well-being, be the light we want to see and always believe that a solution will present itself if we stay open and accepting.
We cannot force anyone to change or comply but we can guard our own happiness and well-being, be the example we hope others to follow and always believe that a solution will present itself if we stay open and accepting.
Pay respect to your breath — If you are lucky enough to still have air in your lungs, give it thanks. The breath has literally become the most coveted commodity on the planet. Treat it with reverence and respect and show it gratitude by giving it your full attention, taking long deep breaths in and long relaxing breaths out and don’t forget to smile!
Meditate — The amazing power of observing the thoughts in your mind with non-judgement. Watching them and realizing that you do not have to believe in a thing, just because you think it. To see a thought or feel an emotion for what it is (a fleeting sensation) and to let it go. You begin to cultivate a different relationship to your thoughts, feelings and emotions and then can give yourself the power to react in a way that serves your highest self and intention.
Feed your body — It’s important that we all try to do our grocery shopping less often and to go at non-peak hours (perhaps early in the morning or just before close). If you have the ability to have your groceries delivered (perhaps through Prime now or Instacart) give that a try and don’t forget to disinfect your grocery bags and packaged items and wash your produce well.
Cook a healthy balanced meal and keep your attention firmly on the task at hand. “Breathing in, I am reaching for the onions, Breathing out, I am washing the onions, I am slicing the onions, I am crying over the onions”. Imagine that you are infusing great love and nourishment into your food and give thanks for everything that it took for you to get this food in this time of shortage. Sit without distraction and savor every bite. Feel the texture in your mouth and feel the joy of the nutrients replenishing your body and keeping you healthy.
Read this guide to how to safely grocery shop
Watch this food hack video on how to keep your produce lasting longer
Hydrate — We could all use a little extra H2O. Sip your water mindfully, mix in a little vitamin C or a squeeze of orange, feel it hydrating your respiratory system, visualize it cleansing out harmful toxins, bacterial and virus and lubricating all your cells.
Try this refreshing home-made electrolyte, vitamin C, drink mix recipe
Nourish your mind — If you start to feel that all the news you’re reading is increasing your anxiety. Take a break. Do something that brings you some joy, even if it’s just watching a funny cat video. Read a book that uplifts you, play a game or learn a new skill. Consume more things that put you in a positive, happy, hopefully state of mind.
If you’ve ever been interested in design have a look at our Mindful Product Design (UI/UX) Course.
Move it — Get up and get some physical exercise, do an at-home workout or take a mindful (socially distanced) walk.
Laugh — Do not underestimate the importance of laughter to help your mental and emotional health. Talk to someone that makes you laugh, watch an old movies that makes you crack up. Have a silly dance party in your living room. Make a funny video of yourself, you kids or your pets doing something wacky and send it to your friends or family. Giving yourself and someone you care about just a moment of levity is a precious gift.
Stay clean — Wash your hands mindfully. Feel the soap fall into your hands, the warm water rippling through your fingers, and the sweet fragrance waft up to your nose. Count slowly to 20 as you get every nook and cranny, sing happy birthday twice and scrub as if you have just touched jalapeños and need to remove your contact lenses.
Here’s how you should be washing your hands
Focus on someone else — Meditate or pray for the well-being of those closet to you, send them happiness and good vibrations through your feeling space, smile at them from afar and then spread this loving kindness out energetically into the world through your thoughts. Visualize the lungs of everyone in the world being healthy, being full. If someone around you is in need, perhaps pick up a few things at the grocery store for them, prepare them a meal, give them a roll of toilet paper or send them a email or happy video from a far.
Put empathy into practice- Don’t assume. Talk to people about their story about their experience, listen, don’t judge, try to learn their point of view and why people might behave the way they do.
Appreciate the power of nature (and the power within yourself) — For all our chest-thumbing, technological advancement and anthropocentrism, something as microscopic as a virus can grind the whole machine we’ve created to a halt. It’s humbling the power of nature, that something so small can have such a massive effect. But don’t forget that you too are a part of nature and though you may feel small or weak yourself right now, there is a lot you can do, and you too can be a force to be reckoned with and impact many lives positively if you try with the right intention.
How we fair through this crisis will largely depend on how we respond, internally and externally. No good outcome can result from fear and panic, anger and blame. We must set ourselves up to act and speak from wise mind, we must learn to healthfully accept the cards we’ve been dealt and to not forget that even in the darkest moments we have the power to feel and infuse some light and grace.
Even in the darkest moments we have the power to feel and infuse some light and grace.
We have been given such a rare opportunity as a race to look within, to go deeper. When we do come out on the other side of this (and we will, for this too is impermanent) what can we learn from this about how to be and how to interact with each other? What kind of world do we want to emerge into?