The crisis that is COVID-19 is a scourge, but also a gateway. In a short few months, fear and uncertainty have swept into the collective human heart the world over. This article will focus on the perspective Viktor Frankl used to survive and eventually thrive after he endured the Holocaust in World War II. In his famous book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor said when worldwide events sweep away core freedoms; our response is what really matters and ultimately the only effective solution. Similarly, Thich Nhat Hahn after witnessing Viet Nam suffer through an endless war said in his book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, said, “The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.” Unfortunately, greed, pride, fear, possessiveness, and hatred are hard habits to break. The temptation to hoard, protect our clan at the expense of others less fortunate is very tempting. We versus them mindsets are as old as time. People have killed, enslaved and generally used their neighbor as cannon fodder throughout history.
Alienation, isolation, greed, and a chronic sense of not belonging have caused mass migrations, immigration crisis and unprecedented wealth disparity in recent times. Partisan politics, religious dogma and border walls have replaced compassion, compromise and humanistic solutions. When fear rules and our leaders lack vision, eternal principles and core values become disposable like toilet paper. Since toilet paper is now in short supply, we can all buy stock in Depends. Humanistic polices designed for the good of all have always been abhorrent to the rich and entitled. Socrates was killed for challenging powerful leaders in Athens, when they ignored what he considered core Greek democratic principles. When truth, imagination and dreams collapse, people consciously and unconsciously want to check out. I suspect when chronic despair and hopelessness reach a nadir, worldwide events like plagues, wars and pandemics occur to shake us up.
Due to unconscious fear, resistance to change and sloth, humanity needs a dramatic kick in the butt occasionally. Buddhist monks immolated themselves during the Viet Nam war not only to get attention but more importantly to activate worldwide compassion to wartime suffering. Addictions to habitual ways to look and act in the world are locked away with very secure locks. It takes worldwide events like the COVID-19 pandemic and financial markets crashing to get humanity’s full attention. Now that commerce is slowed down and social distancing is in full swing, our toolbox of trusted habits is turned over and spilled on the floor. Everyone is suffering or will feel the pandemic’s effects shortly.
Our current challenge is to become mindful to discern what matters to us and choose which activities truly make sense. Then chart a productive course of action. We are entering a time where every core belief system we hold dear needs to be examined, assessed and thrown out if it isn’t a viable solution. This global crisis is creating the space to explore unexamined mysteries. It is a gateway that provides an opportunity to create anew. Trauma creates urgency. And the unknown challenges us to sharpen our creative tools of imagination, desire and an expectation to generate more joy, happiness, and trust in our lives. Tragedy invites us to re-examine core values.
The following three sets of questions will help you stay awake and take care of the present moment.
- The following COVID-19 questions may be helpful to explore:
- What is COVID-19 doing to me?
- What does COVID-19 take away, impede and/or give me?
- Does COVID-19 fuel my resistance to change or motivate?
- What new permissions does this pandemic give me?
- Assess what really matters to you going forward:
- Ask, who am I, then evaluate how I live my life?
- What matters to me… why do they matter?
- Which values matter…does beauty matter?
- What worth do I place on what matters to me?
- Do I embody my principles and what matters to me?
- How do I prioritize my answers to these questions?
- Now it’s time to decide which habits, emotional attachments and mindsets:
- Want to stay?
- Need to go?
- What unconscious desires need to end?
- What will I miss…what do I treasure?
- Going forward, what do I need to do?
This is an auspicious time in human history where every one of us is challenged to become greater than we were before. Or will we fall back into recycling ancient patterns of exclusion, class warfare and genocide like the generations before us. This is the challenge I believe CCOVID-19 puts before each and every one of us. The challenge is to become greater than division, derision, fear, greed, and protectionism. Manipulating the weak is an ancient illusion that always leads to wars, hatred and perpetual suffering. The attempt to gain some advantage over another is a timeless seduction. Practicing the belief that we are all one requires policies designed for the greater good of everyone. We are all one and policies that benefit the world as a whole are challenging. I suspect this is why we are collectively brought to our knees sometimes. Can humanity eventually develop global policies where love, compassion and the pursuit of happiness are available to everyone?
Here are some suggestions to close the gateway that is COVID-19.
The previous three sets of questions explored what matters to you and why you might have wanted to leave or check out. Now explore your purpose for existence:
- What needs to happen for you to want to stay and stand tall?
- Can you replace dogma and addictions with honest dialogue, love and compassion?
- How can you create love, joy and happiness in your world to heal your wounds and envision a hopeful, vibrant future?
- Are you willing to protect yourself with appropriate sanitization protocols and social distance with a loving attitude?
Consider truly embodying what matters to you. Embrace your dreams and envision successful outcomes. Create beauty around you that touches your heart and soul. Be what matters, own your values and live your principles. Flow nurturing love and compassion to hot spots around the world where people are suffering. Envision empowered humans the world over overcoming obstacles with love and compassion. Image a new world where love and compassion closes the gateway because all of humanity chooses to create a world where everyone wants to stay. Love and compassion will close the gateway, not more of the same old tired we versus them mentality. In the Eastern wisdom traditions, good and bad and right and wrong are seen as left and right poles on a continuum. Each pole can’t exist without the other. Similarly, a beautiful lotus flower can’t exist without mud. COVID-19 is mud and let’s plant fertile seeds that grow beautiful flowers from tragedy. The following four-step mantra from Thich Nhat Hahn might help us develop more compassion not only with our lover, but more importantly, with everyone.
- Darling, I’m here for you.
- Darling, I know you are here and I’m so happy you are truly there.
- Darling, I know you suffer; this is why I am here for you.
- Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me.
May2020 Eric Ehrke LCSW, LMFT is a psychotherapist at Ommani. He sees clients on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Telephonic services are available during this period of COVID19 physical distancing for new and existing clients. Call our office at 262.695.5311 to schedule an appointment.