Life on this earth is hard enough. After all, the Buddha did say that all the world was suffering. For most of us, trying to get by, making sure we and our loved ones have the basics is difficult enough to do. Finding and securing a safe place to live, getting food to the table, having good healthcare, and making enough money to ensure such crucial needs are met.
Now, on top of the normal challenges, we have a world pandemic to tackle. Covid-19 is shaking up our world. And though scientists are doing their best to help against this virus, we are at its mercy.
I look at all events, pleasant or unpleasant, as gifts from the Divine. I may certainly not understand why it was sent my way. But I trust it is for a higher purpose, it is part of the Plan.
If we look at this pandemic as a gift to force us to change, to wake up, both personally and collectively, we can benefit from this in a big way.
In this article, I will be sharing with you eight essential things you can do to not only lessen your suffering but by incorporating them (or at least some, anyway) may even help you to wake up to who you truly are.
I am an introvert and have been a spiritual practitioner for nearly 40 years now, so this lockdown has not been very difficult for me. In fact, it has been quite enjoyable. Yet, I must add that all those basics I mentioned earlier, I am blessed to have. My basic survival needs have been met. That is very important. It is harder to do inner work when survival needs are not met.
I have been homeless in my life as many are now. Being such does not make practicing these impossible, just more difficult with some of them.
On the other hand, as one of my primary spiritual teachers, Ramana Maharshi said in a paraphrase: With a happy dream you will not want to wake up. With a nightmare, you will wake up.
This little tiny virus is knocking humanity to its knees. At this writing over 10 million world cases have been reported with half a million dead. And it is not stopping, most likely, anytime soon. Our economy has been hit hard and millions are unemployed.
There is not much any individual can do besides safe distancing, wearing a mask, staying at home as much as possible. Even with all that there is no guarantee you will make it out unscathed or even alive.
However, that has always been the case. In fact, as Jim Morrison of The Doors sang: “No one here gets out alive.”
Since you have no control over this pandemic; since you have no control over how you will die. And since you cannot say you even had control over your birth. What makes you think you have any control over anything in between?
Perhaps it will appear at times you have had control. Have you? Could you ever control anyone outside of yourself? Maybe you have some control over your actions. But do you even have control over thoughts and emotions?
Surrendering to a Higher Power is taught in all religions. As Ramana said about surrendering, it is like taking a train ride. You are not going to carry the luggage on your head during the trip, you will stow it. And you will trust that the train will take you to your destination.
Surrendering is not doing what you are supposed to do, but to give up the fruits of your actions. You have no control over the results of your actions, so let go of trying to control the outcomes.
Do and give it away. Think of shooting an arrow at a target. You have to let go of the arrow as you shoot it. Once you let go you trust that the arrow will do what it is meant to do.
In the Buddhist tradition, one of the refuges is the sangha, community. In all the religions practitioners gather in churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, sacred sites, for prayer and rituals.
Being around those who are practicing what you are practicing will help reinforce your practice. However, since we are in lockdown, in many places in the country gatherings are prohibited or limited. Still, there are many ways to reach out for community. There is no excuse in this time of unlimited communication channels.
Even if you do not have a spiritual practice, the need to reach out is very important. Mental health experts are warning the public about the mental health of our citizens. Many people are alone in their homes. That loneliness can be very heavy, especially for those who need to be with others a lot, like extroverts.
So reach out to family, friends, or social service providers such as Contact Helpline.
Honestly, I do not know how anyone can make it through life with peace of mind without some form of meditation. Without it, I would have fallen into black depths of despair, alcoholism, drug use. I probably would not be here writing.
While it appears that COVID and a whole host of nasty things and people out there are the ones causing suffering. They are nothing compared to the suffering that happens in our heads.
Our heads spin in a whirlwind of fearful thoughts. Sure there might be some cheerful thoughts thrown in, but only to be followed by fearful ones.
As a rule, most people do not want to see such thoughts so they keep busy with distractions. Yet, you can only watch so many movies on Netflix.
Meditate. If you have not already done so, do it. Which one? I have a meditation website dedicated to meditations from various pathways.
However, here is one that is simple and effective:
Sit comfortably if you can, back straight, hands relaxed in your lap. Close your eyes. Sit in a comfortable position. Relax. Breathe through your nose. As you inhale, say silently, “I.” Hold your inhalation in your diaphragm, gently. Then exhale softly through your nose, saying to yourself, “Am.” I — AM. Just keep doing that for 10–20 minutes. If strain ensues, end the session.
When thoughts arise during it, just go back to the breath, to the I_AM thought. It does not matter whether the thoughts are positive or negative.
If you do not want to use I — Am, then just be mindful of the breath.
The point of this is to become aware of Awareness, more and more. This Awareness, this Silence is ever-present but is obscured by the clouds of thoughts.
In this Silence will you find this peace that cannot be touched by anything outside. It is always awaiting the return of your awareness.
Meditate once or twice a day, preferably in the morning and evening. It is a lovely way to start the day, putting your mind in a lofty state. As well it helps let go of the day and its challenges by doing it before going to sleep.
Moving the body, no matter how you are able, is important. A healthy body, a healthy mind, is what the Greeks believed.
There are many movement practices you can do in your home, that combine body and mind. Here are a few links to videos you might want to explore. Yoga (Hatha Yoga, to be more precise); Qigong; and Tai Chi.
For more straight physical exercise, you may not be able to go to the gym, but you can do a lot in your house if confined. When I was in the Peace Corps in Cameroon, West Africa I wanted to continue lifting weights. So I rigged up buckets filled with rocks. You can make it work.
Here is a video of four simple exercise forms that will help you maintain your body’s health, which in turn will help with stress.
Walking, if you are physically able and it is safe in your neighborhood, is a simple way of keeping the body healthy. Every night during this lockdown my wife and I walk in our neighborhood. Not only have we helped our bodies feel good, but we have met a lot of neighbors.
We are created, therefore, we are creative. Along the way, we start believing that we are not, that only artists are creative. I teach in a Waldorf school and everything we do is done in a creative way. Everything. We do that so the children become fully engaged.
If I come home tired my first inclination is to zone out, to turn on the computer. It does not alleviate my fatigue; it is more like a flatline. You do not want to flatline while alive! That will come soon enough.
If I go to my guitar, or to a canvas, or to my journal for creative writing, immediately I am energized.
At class meetings when parents grudgingly add one more thing to do in their busy day, who are tired from their work, we will do some form of activity, whether singing, a group movement, painting, drawing, etc. Immediately the energy changes and we are energized.
Thousands of videos and books exist that will lead you in whatever medium of expression you want, whether fine arts, music, dance, or crafts.
According to ScienceDaily: “Whether you’re Van Gogh or a stick-figure sketcher, a new Drexel University study found that making art can significantly reduce stress-related hormones in your body.” See the article here.
As a teacher, I want to create life-long learners. There is always something to learn. Libraries I see as temples to the achievement of humanity. Books are amazing portals to the minds of people no longer with us — only their ideas. I take solace in the fact that when I am gone my books will outlive me (maybe in obscurity, but that is not the point!).For my extrovert friends being deprived of going out eating and drinking has been hard for them. I, on the other hand, am saddened about the closure of the local library.
Still, there are countless videos to watch, books to buy, articles to read, on-line classes to take.
Not only are you passing time in a productive way, perhaps learning a new skill, researching a subject of interest, but you are also using your brain. If you do not use it, you lose it, as they say.
Okay, while I said that we tend to distract ourselves from our inner journey by resorting to entertainment, everything in moderation. Everyone needs to smile. Everyone needs to laugh. And cry.In many of the myths of the world, the gods love playing games and watching the dramas here on earth. They not only are the directors of these dramas unfolding on earth but will actually come down and act.
Games, whether board games or video games, can be very therapeutic. I am a big board gamer, while my sons love video games. I remember my mother playing often Solitaire with the cards. Just a few hands here and there to relax her.
Unfortunately, it seems that most of us just go from work to entertainment, and forget about the other ways of self-growth and inner awareness. Moderation. Balance.
If you are finding yourself in a funk, heavy with boredom, tired from depression, a great way of getting out of it is to find someone else who is worst off. And there will always be someone looking for help.
True, you might not be able to physically interact, but there are phone calls and social media, or just doing a project for someone or some organization. My older sister makes quilts for children dying with cancer.
The important thing is to get out of me-me and expand to include others.
You are what you eat. If you are eating junk, then guess what? Eat whole foods and you are what? That’s right, holy.
Well, not really; yet it will help you not only to have better health but your sanity, as well. I have seen children and adults change their mental well-being, and thus their actions by changing their diets. Some people can be intolerant to some foods to outright allergic.
“Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel. Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain...,” according to Eva Selhub, MD, in her article, Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food.
What is the best diet? I am not even going there. There are so many ideas based on philosophical, spiritual, and health “truths.” I believe that everyone needs to find what works best. And it may differ during different periods for different needs. I used to be a strict vegetarian when I was practicing long periods of meditation, according to yogic practices. I now include a little meat as a way for me to be active in the world, as it seems to “ground” me.
I know food is expensive. If we think of it as preventative medicine, then it is worth it. As my wife says, who is the guardian against too many chips into the house, “It is better to eat healthy than spending money on new shoes.”
We are living in an adventure. I see it as an initiation to move into the future of a more holistic one as a collective whole, and a chance for you and me and all of us to wake up to our true selves.
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