“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… ” ~ John Donne
As I write these words, humanity is experiencing the beginning of a pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus. It’s a time of upheaval. There’s a lot of uncertainty. For instance: we don’t know who is contaminated and who isn’t. I may be carrying the virus and not display any symptom, and the same is true for everyone else. So we go through our days asking ourselves: “Is it possible that I have it, and don’t know? Do I have it? Do they have it? Will I, unintentionally, pass it on to someone else? Will someone else, without knowing, pass it on to me? And if I get it, will I survive?”
The pandemic is here, and it is still early to say what may happen, but it is not too early to notice the ways we, humans, react to the menace. We have never seen a similar situation before, with such a large disruption of our routines, with such strict measures of isolation, and with so much uncertainty about what lies ahead. Feelings of helplessness, confusion, sadness, grief, and anger come to haunt us. Fear activates the fight-or-flight response, generates anxiety, and rushed, mindless, and selfish reactions are already taking place everywhere, challenging the notion that we are naturally good, compassionate, and benevolent beings.
Well, this crisis poses an opportunity for us to pause and contemplate our behaviors and the motivations behind them.
Can a global challenge like this one bring out the best in our humanity? Can kindness, generosity, and compassion be our guiding lights during these challenging times? Can we sacrifice ourselves for the greater good? Can we, perhaps, overcome our prejudices by realizing that the virus affects all humans indistinctively? Can we realize our interdependence and how utterly interconnected we all are? Can we use this time off wisely to reflect about life? Can we bring to mind the impermanence of everything, including our own physical existences? Can we see how, in so many ways, we are fortunate and blessed? Can we realize how little we need and how much we have? Can we focus on what is really important in life? Can we be grateful? Can we realize the immense value of human connection? Can all this reflection inspire us to live differently?
We are all parts of an integrated whole. The spreading of the viruses shows that what I do impacts you, and what you do impacts me. It shows that what you do, not only impacts me, but also all the people in my life. It shows that what I do, impacts not only you, but also all the people in your life. It makes viscerally obvious that we are all interconnected and responsible for each other’s well-being.
If moved by fear I react mindlessly, and, for example, buy more goods than I need, I may be depriving you of what you need. If you buy more than you need, you may be depriving me of what I need.
We can be mindful or mindless. We can be selfish or selfless. What I do affects you. What you do affects me. We are all in this together. As John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.”
What comes to my mind are science-fiction stories such as ‘The War of the Worlds’ by H. G. Wells, ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy, and ‘World War Z’ by Max Brooks, and, with them, the questions, “What will it be? All for one and one for all, or each man for himself? Altruism or Egoism? Cooperation or Competition? Compassion or Selfishness? Optimism or Pessimism? Hope or Despair?”
We shall see.
What is clear is that we don’t know what will happen. And isn’t that always the case? No one knows what the future holds. The pandemic brought to light something that has always been there, only temporarily hidden: we live with the illusion of certainty and security. This clear and present threat made us remember that we are not invincible and eternal, and that these sobering facts of life should be faced with equanimity.
Mindfulness invites us to see clearly. Mindfulness invites us to get closer, feel, and get familiar with what we fear and makes us uncomfortable. Mindfulness invites us to name our emotions — sadness, grief, anger, confusion, helplessness, and hopelessness — and acknowledge them, feel them, and hold them in our loving, tender, and compassionate awareness. Mindfulness invites us to befriend uncertainty and vulnerability, and be at ease with them. Mindfulness invites us to make a good assessment of the situation, accept what we cannot change, and put ourselves in motion to change what we can. In summary, mindfulness puts us in the best possible position to be the loving witnesses of what is unfolding, see the big picture, and choose the wisest and healthiest responses to the challenge.
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Piero Falci is an author and educator who believes that the inner work that leads to personal awakening and transformation is indispensable to create a wholesome world. He is an explorer of the mysteries of life who loves to observe, reflect and write, and who not only aspires to live a life that matters, but also hopes to inspire others to do the same. He is a promoter of peace who believes in advancing the idea that Heaven is here if we want it to be. He teaches Mindfulness Meditation and Mindful Living, and the acclaimed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program as taught at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He leads mindfulness silent retreats and organizes Silent Peace Walks. He lives in Florida, USA. Join his Mindfulness Meditation and Mindfulness Living sessions at Shiwa Yoga in Deerfield Beach and Yoga Source in Coral Springs.