Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Love (and Life) in the Time of Corona

In many ways, it feels good to return to the Mydharma Days blog. It is unfortunate, however, that it had to coincide with a global pandemic, but sometimes that's just the way things go.

The title of this post, if you are younger than the age of 45 and/or aren't in to literature, is a play on Gabriel Garcia Marquez's amazing book Love in the Time of Cholera. I think I would list it in my top 10 (fiction) books, so if you are looking for something to do during this semi-quarantine, I would consider reading it.

I started using this title in my MindBody Ops Facebook Live posts but thought I would use it here as well to kick off a new chapter, as it seems very appropriate.

There is really so much to write about, both related to COVID-19 and not. So much that I don't really even know where to start. I will warn you in advance that this post is not the "feel good post of the year."

Since I spend much of my professional life (as a personal coach and psychotherapist) challenging and deconstructing beliefs, I have noticed that there is one belief that is so interwoven in to our current mindset that we have probably never thought to examine it. It has become a part of the zeitgeist of our modern era; an assumed fundamental truth based on our unique time in history.

That belief is this:

We have an entitled view that Life, and the world, is just a medium for us to fulfill whatever desires we have, with little thought towards how it affects other people or the world that we live in.

If thousands of years ago the prevailing thought was that this world was illusion, or sinful, and something to escape by minimizing or eliminating our desires (and incorrect view, in my opinion), then we have now tipped to the opposite end of the spectrum, where we now see the world as a place to maximize pleasure and happiness and comfort at, basically, any cost.

We could point the finger at the New Agey ideas that sprang up from places like The Secret, or a number of other abundance teachings, but the soil from which most of those ideas grew came from the reality that most people have not had to live with a global crisis since World World II.

Now don't get me wrong...if you have lived or served in an area with war, or famine, or a major natural disaster, you have had a taste of this. But there was always some other place you could go to escape it. In fact, you were probably a 2-5 hour plane ride away from a totally different environment.

But the Great Depression and the World Wars were a whole different level. A high percentage of the world's population was affected at the same time, and these massive events caused profoundly different ways of relating to life and the world around us.

This should have been easy for us to see. It was right in front of us the whole time. We saw it every day in how our grandparents and great grandparents, the ones who survived these epic events, lived when times got good again. Many of them never let go of those older ways of thinking; the ways that life hardened and chiseled in to them. We naively labeled it "old fashioned," but many of those beliefs were the product of suffering and sacrifice and a world view that none of us have ever had to live under.

So here we are today, in the midst of what appears to be a global pandemic capable of causing millions of deaths, and so much of what I see on social media is about inconvenience. How dare that virus disrupt my routine, or my vacation, or my 401(k). How dare that virus ruin the success of our runaway economy; the one that has been very much based on debt and destruction and illusion.

I want to fly wherever I want to fly. I want to go wherever I want to go. I want to do whatever I want to do. It's my right. No one can tell me what I can and can't do.

Does it seem a little more ridiculous when viewed this way? Can you see the arrogance and entitlement? We have been so fortunate to have avoided so much crisis in the last 70 years that we forgot that our life has actually been a grand luxury.

If you are still having trouble seeing it, I would invite you to read more about the Great Depression, or about the rations (and internment camps) that happened during WWII. Or if you really want to have your eyes opened, read about what was happening in places like Hong Kong and Macau during the Japanese occupation.

A Facebook friend of mine (who I won't identify unless he sees this and says it is ok) posted this the other day:

Trust me, that is just one, small example of what I am talking about.

This is not to make light of your plummeting 401(K), or your precarious employment situation, or all of the other stressors that we are experiencing during this time. These stresses are real, and I don't mean to devalue them, per se.

But I do call upon an upgraded understanding and expanded perspective. We have lived during a time that has lulled many/most of us in to a sense of privilege and comfort. And maybe, if we see it as that instead of as how COVID-19 has been a great injustice to our lives, we can live with more mindfulness, and understanding, and appreciation going forward.

Because honestly, that is what it is going to take as we confront the life and the world that lies in front of us. The challenges that are out there in the near future, long after COVID-19 makes its exit, are going to demand a drastic reframe, and if we can begin to view our lives in the context of these upcoming challenges, we are much more likely to make the decisions (and take the actions) that are necessary to make the most of Love and Life in our short time on this planet.

What do these changes look like, from my perspective? That is part of what is to come.

1 comment:

Sarna Becker said...

Thanks for posting this Tim. I'm one of those people who over-comments for short periods of time and then drops off the face of the planet, so sorry if you get sick of hearing from me.

I wonder if our entitlement to luxury goes deeper than our difficulty with shelter-at-home. I wonder if it causes our reaction to the virus in the first place.

As you point out, most of us have not had to experience either man-made or nature-made causes of disaster: wars, internment camps, Spanish flu, or poliovirus. This makes us entitled not just to being overly sensitive to inconvenience, but overly sensitive to risk.

My husband works in manufacturing with a number of refugees from war-torn areas. They are the least likely to abide by social distancing (at lunch, on the soccer field) because to them, the risk of viral infection is small compared to the risk they fled. They place a high value on social interaction not out of selfishness, but because that is what makes life worth living.

I think about this as a future health care provider and the mom of a senior in high school who is missing "trivial" things: senior track season, prom, AP/IB exams, and graduation. How do we balance the cost of life events lost, with the tragedy of premature death, with the universal reality that the death rate of the human race is 100%?

For my refugee friends, they have already lost so much life. I won't quote the numbers from the World Health Org on how many preventable causes of death exist in this world; I will just say that coronavirus is toward the very bottom of the list, although admittedly it has the potential to climb. But I will say that as I religiously follow my careful social distancing and walk by the soccer field where our refugee friends continue to play, the joy of the game in the midst of this season makes my heart a little bit glad.