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Peace and the Coronavirus

"And" being the critical word

Mesh/Unsplash
Source: Mesh/Unsplash

Anxiety is in the air.

A man struggling with OCD recently offered me a striking description of the impact of the coronavirus scare on his life. He pointed out that while his symptoms usually form a barrier to feeling connected to others, this week he sees others joining in the same concerns and practicing many of the same behaviors. He is feeling more connected.

We have all started to obsess compulsively about the possible dangers in our environment. Legitimate concerns have put new thoughts into our heads which undermine the comfort of touching a railing as we descend a flight of stairs or shaking a hand to welcome another. Our fears, however, are not limited to threats on our bodily health. Empty coffee shops, people with masks and gloves, closed schools and offices, and canceled cultural and sporting events, all threaten upheaval. We are triggered by the disruption of routines and the absence of what’s expected. There are parts of us that reflexively tense in response to these changes.

Good News: These anxieties (i.e.: fear of infection and the loss of a treasured way of life) are healthy!

No, they do not feel good, but they are not meant to. Their purpose is to focus our attention on something risky and on those things that might keep us safe. Wow, this anxiety seems to be doing its job! Most of us are feeling hyper-vigilant and that does not feel good. As time goes on it also becomes increasingly exhausting.

Rest is essential. Exhaustion and excessive levels of stress weaken our immune system, and in the face of this crisis, a healthy and strong immune system is critically important to our well-being. (APA Site 2006) Staying focused on the danger all the time and with all our energy and attention is not going to keep us safe. It might even be argued that to exhaust ourselves with worry is more dangerous than ignoring the crisis all together – which, by the way, would be a very, very bad idea.

Where are we to find peace?

Good News: Peace can still be found everywhere.

A walk in the park…the smell of grass…a cloud…a moon…a child at play…a breath…the taste of warm coffee/tea…the kindness of a friend…offering kindnesses to others…the feel of the chair that is holding you…lines, curves, shapes, color…music…exercise…a pillow…conversation…an idea, association, creative impulse…a dream…a sensation…a kiss…a touch…quiet…a poem, novel, essay…art…film…a good meal…

Life provides an endless, countless array of invitations to peace. It is never forced upon us; we must show up. To experience the benefits of peace there must be an openness to the experience. It helps to imagine breathing it in. We must breathe in the moon, the kindness, the color, the friend. To find peace we must pay attention to and make space within our experience for the peace and the healing of that moment.

Our anxiety often tells us an important truth: that we are facing danger. Unfortunately, we often interpret that message to mean that we should stop everything else that does not directly work to resolve this danger. The fact is we need to eat and drink and sleep no matter the crisis we are in. The more capable we are of meeting these essential needs the more fit we will be to confront any onslaught.

Anxiety and depression resist self-care and mindfulness. Often, we feel that these practices are useless distractions. We might think: “I went to my yoga class this morning, but the coronavirus was waiting for me at the door.” “I went to church and prayed but when I got home my partner was running a fever.”

I am suggesting that we accept the truth that experiencing peace, mindfulness and connection with self and others will have little or no effect on the spread and threat of the coronavirus to either people’s bodies or our institutions.

It is equally true that the coronavirus will have little or no effect on the availability of peaceful, joyful and communal experiences available on a day-to-day basis.

What often gets in our way of living well in times of crisis is the word “but.”

Marcos Paolo Prado/Unsplash
Source: Marcos Paolo Prado/Unsplash

I’d take a walk, but I’m afraid.

I’d share with a friend, but it only makes them feel bad too.

I do that stuff, but it doesn’t change what is actually happening in the world!

What if we try replacing “but” with “and?”

I’ll take a walk and I’m afraid.

I shared with a friend and we both felt each other’s pain.

I am choosing to experience peace in my life, and I am staying aware and responsive to what is going on in the world.

In conclusion, when we create a space for peace and joy in our lives, we become inherently more capable of accepting the hard realities of crisis.

(Copyright Keith Fadelici)

References

APA site: Stress Weaken the Immune System; https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune

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