The past few months have brought us not only pandemic but also a large degree of pandemonium.In that time I have read, and listened to, politicians, experts, and friends telling me their thoughts, ideas, and mostly, their “knowledge.” Some tell me Covid-19 is a deadly virus and we need to lock-down, keep our physical distance, wear a mask, and listen to experts and authorities. Others tell me it is all a hoax, or at least not as harmful as we are told. Still others tell me that the reaction from authorities is an over-reaction and that personal and individual liberties are under threat.
I do not wish to enter into a never-ending, continuous cycle of claim, counter-claim and ultimately futile conversation. I acknowledge I have no knowledge, no background study or education, in any of this. Hence, I can offer no opinion on the rights/wrongs of the measures taking place. I do, however, know how I can act in the world at this time.
Thinking of how to act I arrived at this C.O.V.I.D. attitude and understanding:
C is for Compassion. There has been a lot of anger, blame-gaming, and name-calling by many on all sides during this time. Compassion allows me to step back from these cul-de-sacs and allow me to have compassion for those who have had loved ones die. I can find compassion for those embroiled in accusations and counter-accusations. Furthermore, I have compassion for myself, for my own fears, uncertainties, and weariness.
O is for Observing, especially observing emotional responses. I notice in others, and in myself, that many of our emotional responses arise from a place of fear. For some it is a fear of illness or even death – of themselves or a loved one. For some it is a fear of loss of work and hence, loss of income. Yet others fear the loss of personal, or individual, liberty. I can observe all of these fears arising in my own reactions and thoughts.
V is for Valuing each moment. When I meditate, or remind myself of the practice of Mindfulness, my emotional state shifts towards ease and I can enter a zone of contentment, accepting what is without judgment. Valuing each moment allows me to be present with my own feelings and also present to the particular engagements I may have with others from moment to moment.
I is for Inter-being. Inter-being is a term coined by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh who (with a nod to Descartes) expresses it as: “I am, therefore you are. You are, therefore I am. We inter-are.” When I try to fully understand this, it becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, to point fingers, name-call, or describe others as fools or idiots, meanwhile suggesting a woke1 attribution to myself and those who think like me. Furthermore, the notion of inter-being does not stop with humanity; it extends to the whole planetary system. Thus, the ways in which we have treated (mis-treated is more apt) nature has profound repercussions for us. We cannot isolate ourselves from nature, and in our attempt to do so (an enterprise we have been on for centuries) we disrupt the intricate networks so much that something, somewhere, is going to give. Now that it has – we don’t like it. (I’ll just leave that last sentence hanging.)
D is for Death. Stephen Jenkinson2 describes our western-styled culture as “…death-phobic and grief-illiterate.” Death-phobia leads to death-denial and death-fearing. We do all in our power to put off death and keep living, even if by keeping living we are no longer living. Yet, as we know, and Buddhism reminds us, everything is impermanent. Everything passes. Yet, our aversion to death ironically means we approach life with impunity. Perversely, our refusal to face death means we fail to live life fully. Covid-19 brings us, if we are willing to allow it, face-to-face with our mortality. And, being grief-illiterate we fail to recognise the love that is part and parcel of grief, slipping more easily into anger or despair.
Each of these five actions/attitudes are inter-connected, and the reader should treat them that way. In doing so, you will discover your own meanings and connections.
For me, these five interconnected attitudes allow me to act in the world during a time of chaos, misunderstandings, confusion, and doubts. Ultimately, how I act is of far more importance than my opinion on the rights and wrongs of the debates on Covid-19.
1. Woke is a term borrowed – or stolen – from the Black Lives Matter movement, and essentially means to have an awareness of racial and social justice issues
2. Stephen Jenkinson, Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, 2015