Wow! So much has happened during the past week.
I’m 66 years old and I’ve never seen levels of change and uncertainty develop so quickly. The morning of 9/11/2001 was more drastic, but since I never believed that the events of that morning were anything but a one-off event, it didn’t leave me with a sense of disquiet or even affect my daily routine the way recent events have.
Last Sunday morning I awoke with a pain in my chest. It felt a lot like the onset of the flu, so I couldn’t help but worry a little. The feeling stayed with me into the afternoon, and was joined by a sense of unease throughout my body. Finally, I decided to pay attention to what was going on inside me.
I sat in meditation, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that I was feeling anxiety, not the onset of sickness. My soul, the depths of my consciousness, was reacting in its own way to the distressful situation. It had been decades since I had last experienced anxiety (at that time it had come upon me while working at a particularly stressful job), but I hadn’t forgotten the feeling.
Recognizing what I was feeling and putting a name to it, helped clarify matters, but didn’t relieve them. One cannot think or will away anxiety. It sits in the soul like a lump, and like Bartleby the Scrivener, is impervious to reasoning.
A few days earlier I had read some pages from a book by Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh. It had a paragraph that I found particularly pertinent:
There are real, painful feelings, strong emotions, and troubling perceptions that agitate or make us afraid. With the energy of mindfulness, we can spend time with these difficult feelings without running away. We can embrace them the way a parent embraces a child and say to them, “Darling, I am here for you, I have come back, I’m going to take care of you.” This is what we can do with all our emotions, feelings and perceptions.
That’s rather touchy-feely I know, but I went with it. The best thing I could do with the powerful feeling of anxiety that was throbbing inside me was to hold it in my attention and just say “its okay, this is what I feel.” Many of us, when we were young, were taught that we should be strong and not give in to such feelings of fear and weakness. But denying the feeling of anxiety just adds to it. Instead I embraced it. I let it be the focus of my meditation. I tried to feel every nuance of it. This did not result in the anxiety disappearing, but it did allow me to relax, to become focused.
The anxiety was still with me when I went to bed that night. But I continued to make it the center of my attention, and that helped me get to sleep. When I awoke the next morning, the anxiety was gone. It was replaced with a feeling that I could deal readily enough with whatever was coming.
I do not know where current events are heading. Government officials, at least in the state where I live, have just closed restaurants and bars. They are following a plan developed by health officials, but a plan that doesn’t seem to take into consideration the economic implications of all this. It all seems to be premised on a faith that covid-19 will simply go away in a few weeks and then things will return to normal.
I hope this faith pans out and these uncertain times pass without much more damage. But I’m not confident of this. Unfortunately, there are a lot of waiters, waitresses, bartenders, cooks and others in the so-called “gig economy” who are only a few pay-dates away from being in real financial trouble. It doesn’t seem that a lot of thought is being given to these people. If you are one of them, my thoughts are with you.
I have little power or control of the world. What’s fated to happen will happen, and I’ll just have to wait to see how it all pans out. (Hopefully I’ll still be here to see how it all pans out.) Though I can’t do much about the world, thanks to the practice of mindfulness meditation, I do have a degree of control over myself and how I react to the world. Mindfulness is keeping me rooted even as the sands shift around me.
I hope all of you stay well, and find the strength and comfort to see you through these uncertain times.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.