The Zen Warrior Meets the Pandemic

The power of silence.

Posted Mar 21, 2020

 M. R./Unsplash
Source: M. R./Unsplash

Everywhere you look, there is the fear of the invisible, the threat of contagion, the unraveling of your life. But for a virus to cause disease, it must follow a pathway that is universal for infection.

This is called the "chain of infection." It involves "the reservoir," which is where the germs can live and survive—such as a surface. Next comes "the portal" through which the germs leave the reservoir to the outside environment. This can be someone touching the germs, or an infected person coughing onto someone else.

Next comes the "mode of transmission," such as touching or sneezing onto someone else. Then comes "the host," which is the person who is susceptible to infection. Finally, there is "the Infectious Agent"—that is, the germs that enter the body and begin the process of the unfolding disease. We can prevent disease if we can stop any one of these steps in the chain from success.

Right now, we are following the CDC guidelines—we are focusing on distancing, isolation, and extensive personal hygiene. There may be germs out there, but if we neutralize them with sanitizing substance, we can stop that step from moving on. We can sometimes destroy the reservoir.

We can neutralize the dangers of the portal or exit of the germ by not touching surfaces or by covering our faces while sneezing or coughing. Distancing and isolation are essential at this important point in time. This can block the mode of transmission.

All of us are potential hosts for the virus, so the way to neutralize this is to assure that you have distance from infection—avoid crowds, avoid unnecessary travel. You don't want to be the host for the Infectious Agent.

The Zen Warrior

We often think of a warrior as someone who directly confronts and defeats an enemy. The most primitive combat is an arm-to-arm battle, wielding swords, bludgeoning the enemy. Or attacking the enemy with bullets. Or struggling with the enemy in physical combat. This is the Engaged Warrior, one that we read about in the chronicles going back to Homer and Virgil. Wherever the enemy is, the warrior seeks out combat. Warrior and enemy are in one place at the same time. They struggle together.

The Zen Warrior is different. They know that to defeat the enemy is to disengage, to distance, to observe, to separate. The Zen Warrior is like the Invisible Man—not to be seen, not to be heard. The Zen Warrior throws out a bewildering challenge: "I am nowhere to be found."

I see a town with many doors, all closed. The Infectious Agent goes door to door. It knocks on the door, yells aloud to come out; it challenges and ridicules—"You cowards. Come out and fight." But the doors remain closed. The curtains are drawn in the windows. The lights have been turned out. There is silence everywhere. 

The Infectious Agent is hungry. It needs to engage. It feeds off of direct struggle, direct contact. But the Zen Warrior knows that if he does not show up, if he is out of town, if the doors remain closed, then the Infectious Agent will wither away, starved, defeated, and ostracized. The Zen Warrior knows that the struggle takes two to tango. But he is not engaging in this dance.

The Zen Warrior knows that doing nothing but staying in, staying away, staying calm will lead to the Agent disappearing. When all the doors are closed, there is no place for the Infectious Agent to go. Nowhere to feed off the Host. As the Agent continues to bang on the door, there is only silence.
The Zen Warrior observes, detaches, rises above, and lives another day.

As the days go by, the Infectious Agent cries out for the Host: "I need you. Come out and fight. This is where you have to be. Show your courage." But the Zen Warrior is the Master of Silence. There is no answer that he will give.

As days go by, the Infectious Agent is stumbling through the street of the Ghost Town, where all are living behind the closed doors. On a tired mule, walking slowly and aimlessly toward the gates of the town, heading away, we can see the Infectious Agent leaving. Riding away. Voiceless.

And in the town, the Zen Warrior celebrates his silence.