“Five ways to Inwardly Evolve in these Troubled Times”
By: Forrest Rivers
The world is in a panic about the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to this still-emerging global outbreak, schools and universities have either shut down or have been forced to shift to remote classes, government buildings have been shuttered, restaurants and bars have been closed indefinitely and many billions of people have been forced to self-quarantine amid an increasingly chaotic environment that has some questioning if we are witnessing the wide-scale collapse of our social orders.
There is no doubt that the human health threat of the Coronavirus is both real and alarming.
Perhaps just as concerning is the negative economic impact on the poor from all the forced closures and hits that the service industry has already endured. Adding to all the turmoil is a general climate of fear that has found its collective expression in panic-buying at grocery stores, massive unrest in global financial markets and extreme totalitarian measures being taken by governments around the world to contain the virus.
Fortunately, for us all, there are glimmers of hope that have emerged from this pandemic. If we can allow ourselves to be with what is, our response can provide us with ample and profound opportunities for spiritual growth.
5 ways to inwardly evolve in these troubled times
Meaningfully contemplate death
A hallmark of any global pandemic is the media’s emphasis on the number of dead and dying. Undoubtably, the repetition of mounting death tolls from the disease can produce deep anxiety and fear among the global public. However, if we shift our perspective just a bit, the existential threat this virus now represents provides us all with a wonderful opportunity to confront our own fears of death.
Why is confronting this intrinsic fear so important? Many seekers within the Buddhist tradition believe that making peace with the inevitability of our own death is among the highest spiritual practices we can pursue. When we transcend our own fear of death, we unlock the sacred gate to live more freely and fully in the present moment. When we live more freely and fully, we follow our dharma and all of humanity benefits. This virus provides ample opportunity for such reflection.
Serve the elderly and the poor
Unquestionably, the rapid spread and fallout from COVID-19 presents a direct threat to the welfare of all global citizens. However, two very large demographics are at an especially heightened risk. Elderly people (those above 60 years old) and poor people are facing particularly difficult times. Due to their advancing age and weaker immune systems, the elderly are at a much higher risk of dying from this infection.
On the other hand, highly restrictive lockdown protocols by world governments have ground the world’s economy to a halt. It is the poor and working classes who have faced the brunt of economic shutdowns to contain the virus. Bartenders, restaurant and retail workers, flight attendants, custodial staff, small business owners and even many teachers are paying the price of our governments’ health measures through a wave of massive job layoffs and frightening financial insecurity that hasn’t been seen since the start of the Great Depression in 1929.
Now is a great time to rediscover our compassion as one people, and step up to alleviate the suffering of all those who are most vulnerable among us. Krishna, a God incarnate within the Hindu tradition, once counselled his beloved devotee, Arjuna, that karma Yoga (the spirit of selfless service) is among the surest paths to personal truth and enlightenment. Today, service to those who are vulnerable is imperative.
Reconnect with nature and art
In governments’ attempts to control the spread of COVID-19, the world has been advised to avoid large crowds and gatherings, stand six feet away from other people and self-quarantine at the immediate onset of symptoms.
In places like Italy and China (are Canada and the U.S. next?) citizens have even been forced by the military to remain confined in their homes, with the exception of trips to grocery stores or pharmacies. While social distancing is far from ideal (due to greater isolation and increased cases of depression), the time alone and away from work may wind up providing us with ample time to reconnect with the natural world and explore our creative outlets.
As a regular hiker and lover of the Earth, I have noticed how many more people have taken advantage of this forced period of isolation to take to the woods and explore the beauty of nature. As the capitalist machine grinds to a halt, wouldn’t it be wonderful if our Earth Mother emerges once more in the forefront of our awareness?
Social distancing also provides an ideal environment for self-reflection and the exploration of a plethora of creative outlets. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if the enforced solitude caused by this pandemic winds up breeding a renaissance of creative expression, the likes of which we have not seen since the hippie counterculture of the 1960s.
Recognize humanity’s sense of oneness
Since the turn of the new millennium, it seems like the human race has been deeply embroiled in sectarian conflicts, and has been hopelessly divided by ethnic, racial, religious, national and political divisions.
Much of humanity has forgotten that there is far more that unites us than that which separates us. As the wise Ram Dass once noted, “we are here to awaken from the illusion of separateness.” The universal threat that COVID-19 presents to all human beings gives us a rare and beautiful opportunity to see past our superficial differences.
The existential fear this virus provokes is a powerful emotion that we all now share, regardless of what corner of the world we reside in. With this basic understanding comes a higher spiritual realization that we all share in one another’s suffering and joy, and that we are all tied together in a vast cosmic web.
This crisis may very well help us recover our sense of common humanity. If we can learn to adopt this perspective throughout these tumultuous times, the odds are good that we can also begin to identify and redress the very serious societal injustices that exist within our cultures when the scourge does finally pass.
Start a meditation practice
The anxiety that people, particularly the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, are feeling from this pandemic is understandable. However, what if the anxiety that many are rightfully feeling can be channelled into more positive ends that promote lasting and meaningful spiritual growth?
Enter the ancient Eastern practice of meditation. The extreme existential fear that we are now facing may inevitably lead many people to look within and seek some semblance of inner peace, amid the onslaught of a panic-driven media. The times are ripe for all of us to establish a daily meditation practice of stilling our minds, opening our hearts and surrendering to the present moment.
Further, the unique conditions of self-quarantining, coupled with a high-anxiety environment and unprecedented access to online meditation resources lends itself to the emergence of a ‘meditation evolution’ among the world’s populace.
A profound and inspiring movement towards inner peace and enlightenment could be one remarkable outcome of these trying times. And meditation could very well be the channel by which many seekers ascend into the higher states of planetary consciousness.