Photo by Christiaan Huynen(unsplash.com/creative commons)
In our current fight against COVID-19, some hope has emerged with the development and distribution of multiple vaccines. The global rollout of these vaccines obviously holds great promise that one day very soon we will be able to put this pandemic behind us and return to some semblance of “normalcy”. However, as we begin to do so let us remember the profound spiritual lessons that we have learned during this challenging time. The past year has forced each of us as individuals to take a long and honest look at ourselves. The many hours that we have spent in solitude has afforded us with a rare and temporary respite from the hyper fast paced material world we inhabit.
Greater time spent in solitude has led many people to reflect more deeply on what holds meaning in their lives. More time alone has surely been a source of extreme mental suffering for some. However, for others it has been a fruitful time to quiet their minds and re-channel their attention from outward egoic concerns (like money, jobs, and social status) to the inner realms of spirit. Since the start of the pandemic, I have talked to many people who say they have used this time to start a regular prayer or meditation practice. I also have spoken with others who relate how this period has sparked a renewed sense of love and gratitude for the natural world. Still, other inspiring souls I have crossed paths with say that this pandemic has pushed them to follow their dreams and spend their time doing what they love. Over the past year, a very dear friend of mine has spent his time at home starting an uplifting you tube channel that now has nearly 25,000 faithful subscribers! Another close friend of mine has honed his love for woodworking and now hopes to abandon his office job and sell his wood work for a living. Other folks in my orbit have spent this time planting wonderful gardens, experimenting with off-grid living, and diving into various forms of creative expression. And in moving fashion, other beings I know have used this time to fully commit themselves to serving others. Of course, the spirit of service is perhaps the greatest spiritual practice of all.
Most profoundly, COVID-19 has taught us that we are all interconnected and that our intentions, thoughts, and actions have karmic consequences that impact us all. As one world, we have truly suffered through this trying ordeal together. As the world charts its recovery from this time of great suffering, the following question emerges: how will we incorporate the higher wisdom that we have gained from this shared experience? The fate and soulful evolution of our species hinges upon this question. Deep within me, I have a mountain of faith that we are all up to the enormous task of becoming the wisdom that has blossomed from our collective experience of suffering. Despite the heavy and tragic loss of life left in its wake, COVID-19 may soon be regarded as one of the latest light posts on the path of humanity’s spiritual awakening.
Forrest Rivers is a writer and teacher who lives in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His new book, COVID-19 and Humanity’s Spiritual Awakening is now available on Amazon HERE.
As a society, we place great emphasis on cultivating role models for our youth. Unfortunately for us all, ours reflect the egoistic values of the culture. These principles include: celebrity fame, material wealth, physical beauty, and personal charisma. It should not be surprising to find that actors and actresses, athletes, business leaders, pop musicians, and even politicians(at least in the age of Trump) become the objects of our youths’ affection. As more of us come to awaken, we will see that our youth need new role models to emulate and loving guides to follow. The question is, who will stand in to replace our pop-culture icons?
How about parents? If they were to live more freely and were not as inhibited by societal conditioning, then possibly. Until then, most young people will go on regarding their parents as out of touch with the realities of being a child. What about teachers? Surely they play an instrumental role in the evolution of our youth. Unfortunately, many children come to regard their teachers with great suspicion. For either subconsciously or consciously, many young people believe educators are conspiring to sequester their souls. To an extent they are right. The formal education system is little more than a rigid indoctrination machine. It trains our youth to become good worker bees and consumers. Personal growth is relegated to the back burner. Might our church leaders come to fill this gap? How many young people WILLINGLY attend religious services?
Let’s think grander. Need our new role model(s) even be in human form? This brings us to a more suitable candidate who also happens to be the epitome of perfection: Mother Nature. Why couldn’t the majesty that is the green oasis, stand in for our standard bearers of ego? There is already a precedent for this. Scattered throughout the world, are numerous indigenous tribes who regard the earth as sacred. From holding her up as an idol, our youth would learn how to coexist with all beings in a peaceful and harmonious manner.
Through observing the interactions between a flower and a bee, children would learn about cooperation. From the tree it would learn about faith, for the tree trusts that rain will fall and the sun will shine. Atop the summit of a mountain, our youth would be schooled in the way of unity as they gain a bird’s eye view of how her wondrous singularities (such as the water, rocks, and trees) give form to the whole of a picture perfect mosaic. Finally, the child would learn of truth. They will see that no being in the natural world lives by way of deception. Each act as they are intended to by our Creator. The snake hunts and kills frogs and rodents to survive. It is not ashamed of who he is by nature. Nor does the tree dress up as a mountain so that she may impress the river. The tree is content with just being it.
Most importantly, elevating nature to that of “guru” status would make us all more loving and compassionate beings. Let us set out together to spread the word that we have re- anointed an old and long lost role model: The Earth.
“Eight Soulful New Year’s Resolutions Everyone can Achieve”
By: Forrest Rivers
Start a daily meditation practice-Besides reducing anxiety and stress, meditation helps us deeply connect to our inner most spirit. It also helps break down the walls of separation that keeps us mired in illusion. There is no “correct” way to meditate but the best times to do so are either in the morning when you wake up or sometime in the evening after your day’s work is done.
Volunteer in your community-Mystics of every faith have long celebrated the spirit of service as one of the surest paths to awakening. There are numerous opportunities to serve in this period of pandemic-related suffering. Volunteer at your local food bank, deliver groceries to the elderly, or enlist as a mentor.
Set the intention to engage in at least one act of kindness each day-the benefit of this one is obvious. The world simply needs more kind people!
Keep a daily gratitude journal-Each night before you go to bed write at least two to three things that you were grateful for in that day. You will immediately notice how this practice helps you adopt a more positive mindset
Get out into nature at least 3-4 times per week—nature is the light that fills all darkness. In nature we can’t help but feel connected to the supreme source of living truth and wisdom. Go take a walk in your local city park, go hiking in the woods (if you have woods near to you) go swimming or paddling in the river or ocean.
Find a creative outlet-Creative expression is the soul’s natural expression of joy and spiritual release. Learn an instrument, pick up a paintbrush or write some poetry while on a walk-in nature!
Plant a Garden-Nothing says soulful like growing your own food and vegetables. Plus, gardening gets you outside and fosters a state of communion with the Earth like no other.
Join a community(sangha or satsang) of spiritual seekers-The benefits of joining a spiritual community (even virtually) are many. The great and late spiritual teacher, Baba Ram Dass, said it best in his delightful book Be Love Now, when describing the beauty of his own sangha centered around the great Indian saint Neem Karoli Baba(also known as Mararajii:) “It’s as if Maharajji has been my father or mother forever, and the satsang, the circle of devotees, is a family of the heart that keeps coming and going, having reunions and going away. Over many lifetimes, we all have different guises and costumes and appear on stage in different scenes playing different characters. We’re all parts of the jigsaw puzzle of each other’s karma.”