Mindful Musings

A Meditation on Freedom During COVID-19

By: Forrest RiversSo What IS Spiritual Freedom? — Spirit Quest with LindaAs the United States begins relaxing stay at home orders it has made me reflect on the meaning of freedom in the age of COVID-19. During this period of self-quarantining and social distancing, freedom has come to mean many different things to people.

For the mostly conservative anti-shutdown protesters in the United States (and to a much lesser extent in Great Britain and Germany) freedom has meant the right to work and operate one’s own business without undue interference by government. For these protesters, it has also implied the liberty to make one’s own personal decisions free of state tyranny. Yet, for other folks, freedom has come to mean something different. For many liberal urbanites and senior citizens freedom has come to be seen as the right to be protected from the threats posed by others’ irresponsible actions. In the context of this pandemic, some shoppers’ insistence on not wearing face coverings in crowded public places is an example of such a threat.

Medical workers on the front line of fighting the virus have also arrived at their own unique understanding of freedom. My sister, who is an ER doctor, has expressed to me that she and other medical workers would just like the freedom to be able to perform their (very vital) jobs without encountering societal road blocks along the way. A prime example of such a road block, is the US Government’s colossal failure to provide an adequate number of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing kits for hospitals.

In an inspiring development, a growing number of spiritual seekers, too, are coming to their own profound realization of freedom. In the context of the times, seekers of truth are regarding freedom as something that extends beyond the individual AND as one’s conscious choice to use their free will to alleviate the suffering of all beings. Such an understanding of freedom is akin, in a Christian sense, to being our brother’s keeper. And, in a Buddhist sense, rising to the level of becoming a Bodhisattva or one who devotes their life to service. This perception of freedom has everything to do with right intentions and challenges us to step outside ourselves and to flow with the great river of life. In the end, this acknowledgement of the interrelation of all things (oneness) is possibly the highest truth that mystics of every faith have discovered. Very fortunately for humanity, it appears that more people are beginning to understand that true freedom springs from an awareness that we are all connected. Below, are two powerful examples of this kind of freedom in action:

Example 1: My friend Jamie

For as long as I have known him, Jamie has been passionately devoted to the path of spirit and spreading the light of love. Recently, he began a live stream on Reddit centered on the themes of positivity and personal self-improvement. In just a few months, his platform has drawn up to 500 people at once from across the world. However, it is not the number of participants that matter in this story, but how Jamie has chosen to use his vehicle of expression to uplift others in this anxiety filled time. Recently, Jamie related a touching story to me about how he has been coaching (in his terms) one of his live stream participants through a difficult period of depression and sadness. Most significantly, Jamie revealed how this individual has been finding peace and comfort through their correspondences online. Incredibly enough, this participant lives in Australia! Jamie’s inspiring story is a testament to the fact that the vibrations of love can literally transcend the barriers of both time and space!

Example 2: My friend Austin

Austin has to be one of the kindest souls I have met in my life. And, as an inspiring musician, he has always succeeded in moving others to God through his creativity. During the thick of the stay at home orders, Austin could sense that his neighbors were feeling a little down from this extended period of isolation. So, he took out his guitar and started playing soulful melodies daily with the intention to uplift everyone around him. Austin brought so much joy to the people around him, that he received humbling letters of gratitude from some of his neighbors for spreading peace and love during an otherwise dark time for many.

The examples of Jamie and Austin are powerful reminders that you can still (responsibly) respect social distancing guidelines while positively impacting other beings through your freedom of choice to acknowledge the cosmic threads that tie us all together. In these unprecedented times of suffering and hardship, shift your perspective of freedom from what is good for you to what is also good for all your brothers in sisters!

Mindful Musings

“Let Go, Let God”: Words of Wisdom amid a CrisisRecovery Greeting Card - Let Go Let God | RecoveryShopBy: Forrest Rivers

Like many people, when the outbreak of COVID-19 reached North America I found myself glued to my computer following the latest news about the terrible virus. Many questions from the media’s early coverage soon arose in my mind:

  • Was the crisis being overblown by money hungry corporate news outlets seeking to turn record profits?
  • Have I already contracted the virus?
  • Will my elderly parents avoid getting sick?
  • Are world leaders really doing all they can to protect us from the pandemic?
  • Should we even look to our governments to protect us or would we better off shifting that responsibility to individuals, families and communities?
  • How can I help to alleviate suffering for other people during this time?

 

The questions went on and on and on. Consequently, From the second week of March (the start of social distancing) right on through the first week of May, I spent countless hours reading everything on the web related to COVID-19 to gain a deeper understanding of this historic and consciousness altering event. After many weeks of having near anxiety attacks brought upon by “news binging”, I finally realized that like millions of other people, I had become consumed by the endless emotion train of confusion, fear, paranoia and genuine sadness for the fate of humanity. On the one hand, it is only natural for us all to want to know every developing detail about the pandemic and its cascading effects upon society. After all, we are presently facing our generation’s greatest existential, public health and economic crises’ all at once! On the other hand, such heavy preoccupation with COVID-19 related news also has the unsettling tendency to pull us away from the present moment.

Every minute we spend obsessively surfing the web is a minute we waste living HERE NOW. Is it wise for our own and our loved ones’ safety to keep an eye on the latest developments? Absolutely! However, there is a balance that must be maintained. From a spiritual standpoint, it may be more beneficial for us to focus our awareness on soulfully rich activities that increase our overall sense of well-being. Establishing daily routines built around positive and uplifting practices like meditation, nature walks and creative expression can go a long way in cultivating a peace within ourselves that can effortlessly be shared with those who are suffering in these times. My old meditation teacher, Dave Smith, used to have an awesome saying that helped his students let go of their anxious and fear-based thoughts during challenging life events: “this is how it is now.” Simple, yet profound. Far from asking us to close our hearts in response to this crisis, such a statement invites us to fully open our hearts through truly surrendering to what is…. even if what we find is discomfort. For that emotion, too, shall past.

Sitting in front of the computer or television set day after day reading every little tidbit of news on COVID 19 will only fill us with anxiety and make us unable to respond consciously to this crisis.  When I sat down to write this piece, I became aware of my own hypocrisy on this point.  So, I made the choice to begin each morning with a 30-minute meditation rather than pick up my computer and work myself up into a frenzy over the latest frightening news. For me, this was an empowering decision as it showed that I can in fact control my mind (I was beginning to doubt myself!) and find some semblance of inner peace amid a fearful climate of sickness and poverty. If I can empower myself, then you can certainly do it too! Maybe, in addition to my beloved meditation teacher’s mantra we can also adopt a second one that is just as relevant to the times we live in…. “Let Go, Let God”.

Mindful Musings

“Choose Faith, Not Belief In these Troubled Times”

By: Forrest Rivers

Faith is a beautiful thing. It can be compared to a budding flower, intuitively growing into its purpose to inspire and give life. However, this inspiring quality is too often confused with belief.

Faith and belief are not the same thing. Belief says: Through my rational mind, I think all things might be one. Or, in the future, I think I will succeed as an artist. Faith says: Within my soul, I feel all things are one. Or, I know I am already a successful artist … the world just hasn’t yet found out.

Belief thinks. Faith knows. Belief is fleeting, and can easily be broken down at the first sign of personal adversity or crisis. Hence, this popular phrase following a trying life circumstance: “I don’t know what to believe in anymore.”

The reason why belief is so fragile is because it is a projection of the mind’s ego. One of the defining characteristics of the ego-mind is that it views the world through the lens of separation. And because it sees itself as separate from the one unified consciousness, its thoughts are not truly rooted in anything but its own delusions of how it ‘thinks’ the world is.

This lack of intuitive knowing may also explain why belief often produces intense religious and political dogmas. In the absence of a deeper understanding, one begins to question the certainty of their own convictions and sets out to convert others to validate their ‘truth’ for them.

In contrast to belief is faith. Faith is the conquering of fear through inner surrender. It is born through one’s intuitive knowing and is strengthened through heartfelt prayer and meditation. Faith also finds its expression through participation in authentic acts of love and kindness.

Faith is firmly rooted in one’s own direct experience and soulful reflection. Another inspiring aspect of faith is that it takes on an eternal quality of higher truth that needs not be spoken to convert would-be believers.

For a person of faith, it is enough to know, for example, that Jesus and Krishna are sons of God in the respective Christian and Hindu traditions. Similarly, it is enough for those from Native American traditions to know (through direct experience) that in both form and spirit, the Earth is a perfect expression of divine awareness. With faith, one has no desire to convert others, for what is known can only be arrived at within.

The desire to inspire others through sharing wisdom and baring one’s soul is a hallmark of faith. The desire to control another’s thoughts is a hallmark of belief. The former is the source of inspiration for the sincerest artists, counsellors and spiritual seekers. The latter is too often the motivation for politicians, religious leaders and captains of industry. Faith heals and unites. Belief injures and divides.

These exceptional times that we find ourselves in have been mostly defined by our attachments to extreme belief. For example, amid the devastating backdrop of the COVID-19 health crisis, there is an alarming number of people who strongly believe that this pandemic is grossly overblown, despite medical evidence showing how horrifying this illness really is.

  Faith vs. belief


woman with surgical mask in front of laptop

Until recently, I used to be one of those people who believed that this pandemic was overblown, in order for political elites to control the people in their quest for total tyranny. But then I began hearing direct encounters from doctors (including from my own physician sister, who works in the ER) who have witnessed, firsthand, the destructive impact of the virus.

Another manifestation of extreme belief that has emerged in these times is the view that this pandemic and the ensuing economic collapse are signs that the apocalypse has arrived. Internet posts on this very topic have rapidly multiplied over the past six weeks, while the world has been in shutdown.

Of course, the negative consequences of current belief systems are there for us all to see. A particularly strong example is that of the current anti-shutdown protests in America. These protesters are demanding an immediate end to the shutdowns, even though virus cases are on the rise.

Fortunately, bubbling just below the surface is a faith-based perspective that transcends the realm of belief altogether. Viewed from this vantage point, many people of faith are increasingly coming to see this pandemic through a lens of greater awareness.

This expression of faith regards COVID-19 and all the challenges it presents as humanity’s golden opportunity to move beyond the state of ego-consciousness we have been in. Such a perspective extends beyond all divisive political, religious and societal dogmas, because it has everything to do with our own collective spiritual evolution as one human family.

Remember: Belief injures and divides. Faith heals and unites. Let faith be your guide in these troubled times!

******This article was originally published on themindfulword.org