I live in Maine, a state near the bottom of the list of number of cases of Covid 19. Even though 90% of the cases are in my city, I do not yet know anyone with the illness. It’s still easier for me to worry more about the fact that my beloved beach has closed than to be aware of the fact that the world just a few hours away from my door is coping with disaster. Up here my biggest challenge so far is screen fatigue from doing my job on ZOOM. Last weekend I got to revel in the pleasures of being home: doing a jigsaw puzzle in the morning sunshine, organizing the basement in the afternoon, and making pizza for dinner before the delicious pleasure of laughter with my family while we watched The Blues Brothers before bed.
And yet, even when I do not have the news turned on, even when I try to be fully present with what is happening in my own life, I cannot escape the larger reality. In my mind is always the knowledge that devastation is spreading across the world, that my friends in New York, Seattle, Boston, New Orleans and Bangkok are struggling. No matter what I’m doing, every now and then, I hear the phrase Covid Nineteen loud and clear in my mind. The voice is flat, emotionless, but persistent. It is followed by the listing of facts: people, no different from me except for where they happen to live, have lost their jobs; parents are facing the possibility of themselves and their children going hungry; in New York, so many are dying so fast that refrigerator trucks have been deployed to transport the bodies; and perhaps most heartbreaking, people are dying alone.
So throughout the day as I move through my home, nowhere to go, nothing to plan, just time to appreciate the people I love and the life we have, I wonder, how can I possible be enjoying myself, how can I be pleased with the new pace of life here in my own little world when so many people are suffering? It’s a strange place to be psychologically. Beyond trying to stay connected to those I love, and maybe start sewing masks, it seems to me my job now is to batten down the hatches and wait.
In my last post I promised to offer a new tool for moving through this crisis. I encouraged people to meditate. Meditation is a way to slow down enough to witness our own discomfort up close. In meditation, I have found that one of the most difficult things for me to do psychologically is to hold what seem to be conflicting realities at nearly the same time. It is uncomfortable because living with what feels paradoxical takes away any sense of psychological security I have so carefully and unconsciously created year after year, day after day, moment after moment.
As a human being, I have a habitual need to think I can make myself feel safe by imagining I know what’s ahead, by living as if illness and death were not always a breath away. By constantly planning my next move, my next task, my next vacation, I keep straining forward into the future rather than staying with what is present.
When I stop moving, when I sit still, I can see more clearly not what I want my life to be, but the reality of what it is. This can be emotionally upsetting. Yet it can also be a huge relief. When I stop and see what’s actually going on, I can put down the constant burden of illusion I carry. I can stand up a little taller without its weight and look around from a new place. I can see my situation more clearly.
Right now, clear-sightedness is essential. We are in a time that demands each of us be able to function with full access to our best intelligence. And we can only think well when we recognize what’s actually happening around us. Right now, that is hard. When things are confusing, painful or sad, we want to cling even tighter to the illusions we’ve created. When we fear that our safety and livelihood might be taken away from us, our tendency is to try to maintain our distance from what threatens us. Right now many gun stores are overwhelmed with business. Online ammunition site Ammo.com reported a recent spike of 70 percent in sales. Almost all of us are worrying about the future, putting energy into planning to protect what we have. Alcohol (the kind you drink) sales are climbing, another indicator that we are trying to numb ourselves to the terror at our doorstep.
Constantly running away makes it hard to think clearly, constantly denying our own pain makes it hard to know what to do. But allowing ourselves to actually experience, embody and express the emotions that carry so much energy in our bodies, leaves us feeling calmer and clearer. We need to recognize, allow, feel and release what we try to deny in order to diffuse the negative power.
Writing in a journal, like meditating, can makes space to more clearly experience what is. When we journal, when we write without regard to audience or logic or accomplishment, when we write with the same attitude with which we meditate, with a sense of non-judgmental allowing, we can begin to know ourselves better, to see our situation more clearly. And often, when we do this, when we see how challenging things are in our lives and the current situation, we begin to find a sense of compassion arising. We look at ourselves as we might look at a friend who is going through something hard, and we might be able to say to ourselves, “Wow, that’s really hard. No wonder you are struggling. I’m sorry it’s like this right now.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti writes, “The highest form of human intelligence is to observe yourself without judgment.” That’s what I strive for when I write. I try to do nothing more than release what’s troubling me, record my own suffering by writing it onto the page. When I do this, I start to see myself from a new vantage point. By noting (as I might in meditation) the images of illness, death, and fear that haunt me, I begin to access a compassionate, patient part of me. This part can hold my worry and witness my feelings of pain enough to allow space release, for healing.
And then I can move on. By writing down what’s hard, I let it go. It no longer cripples me with the drag of its insistence to be noticed. When I treat myself with enough care to slow down and allow what’s happening inside me to surface, I can release it. And then, I get up from my work with a sense of spaciousness in my mind and heart, better able to think about how to serve myself and my world at this time.
— Catharine H. Murray, Author Now You See the Sky