20 Beats 19
Spiritual resilience in a time of pandemic
Posted Mar 15, 2020
Q: I’m not a therapist, but I’ve been reading your blog anyway. It looks like all your questions so far have come from therapists, but I hope you’ll answer this one from someone who’s not. My question is: are there any spiritually-informed, mental-health-savvy words of wisdom you’d offer about living with the stress of the coronavirus?
A: Dear Not a Therapist,
Thanks for reading and for asking this timely question. You’re correct that all the questions so far have come from therapists. But this is a brand-new blog, and “all the questions” comes to a grand total of . . . wait for it . . . two. I don’t think two qualifies as a rut, but I appreciate your help in keeping this thing from falling into one.
I have three concrete suggestions in response to your question, and I hope it causes no offense that I’m offering them (and addressing you above) with a bit of playfulness. The coronavirus is a matter of great seriousness, of course. I need not detail here the deaths and other severe hardships that have been and will be wrought by this speck of a substance 10,000 times smaller than the width of a dime. People across the planet are feeling stressed and afraid because of it, and understandably so. The ground beneath our feet is shifting quickly, and every day it feels like we're waking up in a new world.
But playfulness has a way of working itself into even the most serious, stressful, and fearful of circumstances (work-play pun intended), and so it was for me when I received your email. What popped into my head as I read your question was a spontaneous dismantling and repurposing of the acronym COVID-19.
COVID-19 is the acronym for Corona Virus Disease 2019, the name given the disease by the World Health Organization, because each virion (that’s the word for a virus when it’s outside its host cell) has a “corona,” or halo, around it, with spike-like projections emanating from it—think of the pictures of the sun, with rays, that you drew in elementary school), and because scientists discovered it in 2019.
But I am no scientist. I am a therapist and a writer, and my mind is given to fiddling with things. I am exercising a degree of creative liberty, then, and allowing the acronym itself—COVID-19—to suggest three ideas to fortify your spiritual resilience in this time of stress.
1. CO: Let the CO here stand not for corona but for co-, the Latin word meaning together, mutual, shared. The reminder here is to stay “co,” to stay together.
The public health experts are advising us, wisely and rightly, to stay apart. Avoid touch. Avoid large groups. Avoid shared spaces unless you have to. This counsel is undoubtedly for the common good, and schools, religious communities, and the sports industry are all getting on board.
But staying apart physically doesn’t have to mean staying apart entirely. Connecting with others (connect = the Latin co, together + the Latin nect, bind) is good for us—good for us emotionally, good for us spiritually, good for our immune system—and there are many ways to deepen our connectedness in this time of social distancing. Telephone, FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom with friends and family. Write that thank-you note you never got around to. Send an email to someone you’ve lost touch with. Connect online with a spiritual community. Go through the pictures on your phone, find someone you love, and text it to them. Make a pot of soup and take it next door.
2. VID-19: The VID here stands not for a virus but for vid-, the Latin word meaning “to see” (it’s where we get our words “vision,” the act of seeing, “video,” something you see, and “providence,” the idea that God foresees). And the 19 refers not to 2019, the year, but to 19 minutes.
The advice: Limit your coronavirus screen time to 19 minutes a day.
It’s a good thing to stay informed about this pandemic—what’s happening, what it means, what you can do to protect yourself, what you can do to help others—and there is information aplenty available through the device you’re reading on right now. But there can be too much of a good thing, and saturating ourselves in corona coverage, for hours on end, can add to our sense of distress without adding much in the way of helpful information.
There’s research on this if you want to read it, but this is a truth we all know in our bones without having to read it in a journal. Energy follows attention. The eye is the lamp of the body. You are what you eat.
3. 20 beats 19. By now, we’ve all gotten the word to wash our hands. Vigorously. Often. With soap and water. For 20 seconds. (That’s two rounds of “Happy Birthday” or one of “Amazing Grace.”) And I hope you’re doing that.
But here’s another 20 that will help: 20 minutes of spiritual practice.
The psychologist and spiritual teacher James Finley says that a spiritual practice is anything you do, wholeheartedly, that takes you to the deeper place. Maybe it’s meditating, praying, or reading some sacred text. But it might be singing, or dancing, or yoga. Or reading, or writing, or walking in the woods looking at moss (which is what I’ve been up to this afternoon). Whatever interrupts the momentum of work, worry, and woe, whatever magnifies the magnetic center of deep knowing and deep love within you, whatever strengthens your connection with what really matters and brings your stress into the presence of steadiness—this is your spiritual practice.
And it's good for you, personally. It strengthens your immune system. But it's good for those around you, too. Spiritual energy is contagious, and what you do in the spiritual realm resonates way beyond just you.
So try giving yourself to a spiritual practice for 20 minutes a day. And any time you can double down—since it’s 2020—try 20 minutes twice a day.
20 beats 19.
I hope one or more of these suggestions prove useful to you, be they the suggestions themselves or whatever better ideas they spark in you. Thanks again for the question, and be well!
This is a question-and-answer blog for therapists, therapy clients, and others interested in the intersection of psychotherapy and spirituality. If there's a question you'd like to see addressed here, please contact me through my website: russellsilerjones.com.