This is really happening. It’s been setting in for me over the past few days and weeks that something really big is happening that is totally out of control. We have started a collective journey, against our choice, and now we’re all trying to figure out what we do with this experience. It’s like a horror movie where everyone is hiding and the monster is lurking around the corner, waiting for our next slip up. Or a psychedelic trip right before the drugs kick in; the anticipation of the intensity of the experience – for some it may be a nervous excitement, for others anxiety of impending doom. Whatever way you experience it, this is an amazing time we are in.
We are being confronted with something so shocking and unexpected. It’s hard to wrap your mind around what all of this means what the impact is going to be on your life, your friends, your family, the future of our world. This is completely new and unfamiliar, so it’s hard to figure out where this fits in your life and what to do with everything that is going on. The first thing to really take in is that most of us are going to get through this experience, one way or another we are going to survive, because that is what we do. It’s true that a lot of people are going to die too. There is no getting around that. It would be nice to try and tell yourself that everything is going to be okay and your world is totally safe, but right now it isn’t.
And that is okay. On a fundamental level the world is still as wonderful and safe and amazing as it has always been. Death may seem closer, but death is present every day in the unknown of what we will have to face. Some people will die from Coronavirus and others will die from aneurisms or heart attacks or Alzheimer’s or accidents at home or any other number of reasons. This Pandemic is life too. There is always great death in life, but this is a part of being alive. How we find meaning in the experience of being human, being alive, that is how we will find meaning in our experience of this now.
In some way this virus, the social distancing, the isolation, the paranoia and panic are going to impact us all. We are being forced against our will to cloister ourselves inside and fear one another. We are scared to be infected and scared to pass the infection on to others, scared to be responsible for transmitting an invisible illness that is totally out of our control. In part this fear is coming from our own ego, our desire to protect our self above anyone else – and this is a healthy response to a very real threat. And, our fear is also coming from our compassion and care for one another; an intrinsic human and altruistic drive to put others before ourselves and care for our families, our communities and our world no matter the stress or impact on our own lives.
I’m writing this as I’m considering if my wife and son should spend the next week, the next month or half a year staying with family instead of being by my side. I work with clients that need me to be out in the world and to show up and support them, and that puts me at a higher risk of being infected. That puts my family at a higher risk. And I’m weighing both sides and desperately trying to figure out an answer with so many people involved. My coworkers that need me, my family that I want to protect, my self that needs love and space, food and touch and rest, and a wider world community that is asking so much of every one of us. I don’t have an answer, I wish I knew the right way to respond to all of this, and I don’t…
There isn’t a right answer to how we deal with this. No matter what our leaders and authorities may be saying or doing – it may be harmful or helpful – we are all having our own unique and individual experience of this situation. We have our insights, our observations, our brilliant solutions, our frustrations and issues. You may want to share and influence the situation, but in some way you may also feel helpless and powerless. We are all being overtaxed by the burden of disconnection and uncertainty. There are those working hard to lessen the impact, develop a vaccine and find a treatment that can save lives and help us get back to our everyday lives. We have to trust in our science, in the people working in labs and hospitals; we have to trust that our governments and leaders, no matter how corrupt or flawed, are going to respond as best they can to a situation bigger than any one nation, belief, or religion. There is a faith we have to find in technology and modern medicine that is absolutely necessary at this time in our lives.
Because we will be able to withstand this experience – we are capable of getting through anything and everything. This doesn’t mean we’ll survive unscathed or we’ll enjoy the ride, but we can get through this and we can find meaning through this experience. We are not alone, because everyone in the world is in this with us. No one’s experience is more right than another’s, no one is more better or worse than anyone else. Every possible view and way of dealing with this is out there somewhere, you are not alone in what is happening for you. We have such a tendency to compare and try to determine the reality of a situation based on what we think others are going through. But these are all judgments and projections, and they come from our own fears and anxieties. We all suffer in our own ways and our suffering is unique to us.
We don’t have the same supports we normally do, because we can’t leave our homes or we’re cut off from the activities and communities that help us maintain our wellbeing and sanity. And along with the threat of the virus you are still faced with the same traumas, challenges and stressors you experience on any day – the boredom, the interpersonal frustrations (even more challenging virtually), the existential dilemmas and so on. This is also an opportunity for growth as much as an opportunity to grieve and become more aware of the humaneness and interconnectedness of our experience. That doesn’t mean you’ll be the same or you’ll enjoy the changes you go through. Because our lives will change through this experience, whether we want them to or not. We don’t know what that is going to look like, how this is going to change ourselves or the world. But we have the choice to grow or to let it become our trauma. Either choice is as right as the other. This is a time for us to pause and see the habits that don’t work and change along with our life. Or it is a chance for us to get more entrenched in those habits; hole up and protect ourselves from what is really happening, from what we’re really, truly feeling through all of this.
My wife said the other day that she chose not to buy more eggs to leave more for others who may need them more than we do. She said: “If the panic is going to stop, it will stop with me.” We have to flatten that curve too. Because it’s going to be important how we choose to respond to this crisis. How we work with our own fears and our own minds, all the thoughts and questions and worries that arise, because a part of all of that is true and a part of all of that is what we’re dealing with on our own personal level. There’s a lot of information out there from friends and family, to news sources and experts and officials. And we have to sort through all of that to try and figure out what is right for us in this moment. What do we need to do to play our part in helping to contain this pandemic and helping to take care of ourselves, those we love and those we don’t even know but could be impacted by our actions and choices. It’s all upsetting and messy and really tough to figure out.
On a global level we are all in fight or flight, we are all in a state of survival: unsure if we’ll get sick, how bad that sickness may be, if we’ll live through this, who might die that we care about. This does not mean there is nothing we can do. We will all need to work with and recover from this trauma. And we always have choice, even if the choices suck. We can always define our own meaning and purpose in any experience: it may be to stay safe, or to be heroic, to do one’s duties, to reach out, to shut down, to let go of control, to be true to yourself and your experience. Some ways may hurt more or less, and that is your opportunity to become more aware of your day-to-day suffering. Because how you suffer through this will only highlight the familiar patterns you already know.
Use this to see yourself. Every time you face the unknown is an opportunity to see deeper into who you are and how you deal with the vastness and unknowableness of life. In the moment-to-moment activities of each day you can become more aware of what is happening and how you are impacting others. Are you feeling anxiety, panic, paranoia – good! – how are you sharing that with those around you? Or are you experiencing love, a longing to help – good! – how are you sharing that with those around you? Are you fighting the situation, resisting to protect yourself from having to deal with the full impact of everything that is happening in your life, in the world? How are you sharing that? How are you letting this experience change you and how are you fighting it?
I’ve had a chronic illness so long I don’t remember what it’s like to be healthy. I don’t say I understand everyone’s experiences, but I do know that we are capable of tolerating just about anything in this life. And with tolerance comes adaptation, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. That process takes time and can leave us with wounds that scab over but never fully heal. That process can also be what guides us towards our true self, our passions, our goals, the light that gives us a sense of purpose and wholeness in our lives. You might not think you’re capable of it, you might think this life is not worth living (and if you do please call someone to help: a friend, a therapist, a hotline 1-800-273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)). But I don’t believe that. Not for a single person out there. There is goodness and strength unimaginable within all of us. We will get through this, there is no doubt of that. We will meet friends and loves, we’ll struggle and we’ll flourish, we’ll breakdown and we’ll become new people – this is the way it’s always been; through every challenge or catastrophe life has always found a way to continue on and grow. We will always find a way to reconnect, heal and recover the wellness that is within us all.
I am grateful to all of the scientists and doctors and researchers and public officials and first responders who are going through this with us and helping to support us all. I’m sure we’ll make mistakes, but I’m glad to have every single one of you out there to take care of the many things I can’t take care of myself. Thank you to everyone who is going through this with me.