Note: This blog first appeared on www.souldegree.com/blog.
I wrote the blog below on Friday morning. Perhaps, like me, you have noted how incredibly fast things are changing in our world. And how something that happened just a day or two ago seems so far away now.
The gist of the blog below is that there is a benefit or two to be found in all that has occurred in the past few weeks and that worry is unuseful. As if trying to slap me awake from a too light-hearted take on the pandemic, in the 48 hours after I wrote this, life hit me with a direct account from my dear cousin of the hardships and worry facing her parents, brother, and friends in Italy, and news that a very close friend just learned that her step-father is on a respirator with Covid-19 and her mother is in quarantine. As a kicker, life created a scenario where I had to travel four hours to JFK airport, suffer a car break down in Staten Island, spend the night in a hotel of questionable cleanliness and take multiple uber trips with masked drivers in New York--our country’s current Covid-19 hotspot.
Believe me, I worried.
And yet, I think there is something in the words below. I wish for each of you that comes across these words that you find times free of worry and that you and your loved ones stay healthy.
* * *
“These are challenging times.”
“Crazy times, eh?”
“Really difficult days we’re having.”
These words or some variation have come from my mouth or been texted or emailed by my fingers multiple times a day, every day, for the past week or so. You’ve probably said something like them as well.
And, there are of course real significant challenges right now and that lay ahead of us:
Loved ones becoming sick or even dying;
Jobs lost, wages disappearing;
Childcare suddenly required but unavailable or unaffordable;
Savings placed in the stock market wiped out.
And more. This blog has no intention to downplay the severity of those problems. They are real and we all need to come together in community to help one another. Family member to family member, friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor, American to American, and flat out human to human no matter where we are from: China, Italy, Iran, or countries that have not yet felt the wallop of this virus. And our government, as an expression of our will (“of, by and for the people”), needs to step up and make the best plans to secure our health and prosperity as much as possible.
With that said and without minimizing the tragedies and difficulties unleashed in the past 80 days or so, I propose that the virus has offered us at least one thing that may make us stronger, more capable of facing the challenges ahead with creativity, resilience, and compassion.
And that is that time has “opened up” in an unprecedented way.
What are your plans this evening? Or tomorrow evening? Or this weekend? Or in two weeks? If you are like me, you have no plans. I was supposed to have a beer with a buddy last night. Canceled. My wife and I likely would have gotten together with friends this weekend. Canceled. Going to the Y to work out a few times each week? Canceled. Going to see LeBron take on the Wizards with my son next week? Canceled. Spring break plans? Canceled.
In other words, planning (or at least large components of it)—are canceled. And, with that, all the mind space devoted to planning is freed up. I am not planning the best way to get to the hoops game to see LeBron, nor how to squeeze the Y workout in before I have to drive my kid to school (because he is now in school online at home and the Y is closed). Don’t have to figure out a hotel for spring break. To be sure, there is still work and bill paying and meal cooking, but the space that had been consumed by so many other planning items is freed.
When that time suddenly opens up before us in this way, one of two things can happen. The mind—that tricky bastard—can quickly fill the space with worry. In a pandemic, that worry is certainly understandable. But it is not useful. The Dalai Lama once said:
If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.
If you can fix it, no need to worry. You will fix it. If you can’t fix it, also no need to worry because it can’t be fixed. The Dalai Lama’s point is not that you should avoid fixing your problems—please do your best to fix them. Rather it is to not worry about fixing them. As the folks at Nike might say, “Just do it,” or perhaps better, as your mom might say, “Just do your best.”
So, if worrying isn’t useful, would it not be better for me to use that freed up mind space to just be. To allow my mind to rest in the present. To appreciate and be grateful for the life I do have. To allow my mind to sit with my sons or daughter or wife here and now and appreciate this moment without planning for the next. That is a gift of the virus: this rare opportunity to be in the here and now with our loved ones. [Yes, I know: talk to me after two weeks of this “opportunity” to be with my loved ones and see if I am not pulling my hair out. But, for now…]
So, I encourage you—and I encourage me—to use the freed up space to get actual shit done about the challenges we face. To spend time with, talk with, and care for loved ones as we are able. And to reduce or eliminate our worrying.
I suggest that, with the mindspace freed up from planning much of our near-term lives, we quiet our minds. That we enjoy the peace and the quiet. That we go for walks and chat with our neighbors from six feet away. That we notice the birds that sing outside our windows every day but whose song we never quite heard before.
As Tom Waits sings:
I never saw the mornin' 'til I stayed up all night I never saw the sunshine 'til you turned out the light I never saw my hometown until I stayed away too long I never heard the melody until I needed the song.
May you and your loved ones stay healthy, may we join together to support each other through our individual and collective challenges, and may we each, in the opening up of time that is right now, hear the melody of life’s song.