What Can You Do to Make Every Moment Feel Sacred?
In times of crisis, how does the appearance of heroes change our senses?
Posted May 19, 2020
Among the diverse consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been looking inward at their lives while in shelter-in-place quarantine or battling to survive an infection. This disease is mystifying and terrifying. Scientists are desperately trying to make sense of what is essentially an overwhelm of data that doesn’t fit neatly into a single theory or model. This is a new experience in research.
The disease is not so much cruel as amoral. How are victims chosen? What predisposes one person to be more susceptible than another? The initial observation was that the elderly and immune-compromised were most vulnerable to suffer death. Statistically, that is still true. Yet, counter-examples abound.
Among those infected, the responses range from little or no suffering, to life-threatening. Some survivors have literally been brought back from death’s door and have described their “near-death experiences” in terms that are generally consistent with similar stories in different contexts.
The crisis has amplified and highlighted human virtues and weaknesses. We have a greater appreciation for the dedication, not only of highly trained medical staff who have put their lives on the line (and many have died for it), but also humble workers in meat processing plants, delivery and grocery workers, and public service staff. Heroes are showing up everywhere from all walks of life. The broad diversity is amazing and heartening. Truly, we are seeing the power of the human spirit, the love of one human being for another.
Even among those privileged to be able to work from home or are otherwise stuck at home, many people are discovering or rediscovering what is truly important and satisfying in their lives, such as relationships among family members and the simple pleasures of shared activities, virtually or in person. At the same time, what is happening for those who are so eager to “return to normal” that they have prematurely resumed their familiar behavior? Who is missing the opportunity to learn valuable lessons from this experience?
Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, do you believe that some moments in your life have been extraordinary, in the sense of exceeding expectations or even your ability to imagine what might be possible?
Many people in such situations will exclaim “Oh my God!” in amazement and wonder, even if they may not actually credit God for the miracle of the moment. How did you feel at those moments in your own life? Maybe that happened in the context of a relationship? For example, romantics might point to a “first kiss."
In the current crisis, when literally millions of people are suffering and hundreds of thousands are dying, and when the attack of the disease is both violently vicious and seemingly random, doesn’t it feel like we are noticing, thanks to media attention, many more signs of ordinary people stepping out of their familiar routine behavior to show appreciation, support, even love for others who are in need and are deserving? What happens during a crisis to bring out this acute awareness?
I like to think that when crisis overwhelms us and rational explanations and careful planning fail, some of us with more open or adventurous minds choose to acknowledge the power of faith. This doesn’t have to be a religious faith per se, although that context is certainly appropriate. If a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, there must be positive consequences.
Where will the creativity and the positive energy come from? To discover that, we have to reach deep into the core of who we are as human beings. Talent per se is not the critical factor. Education, money, or any other specific material resource all help but are not the critical factors, either. What do we believe in, beyond our ego, that gives a sense of power to effect change?
Are we so stubborn, so prideful, normally so blind to the suffering of others, that our customary systems have to break down almost completely before we can acknowledge that we still have something of non-material value to offer to society? The intent matters! The outcome can be very tangible, such as the making of face masks that has become a new cottage industry?
In a crisis, aren’t there moments of epiphany, of great clarity, when, of all the things we could or could not do, we can find one thing that will brighten the lives of others, bring a smile or tear of joy to another human being? We see this spirit of giving in very young children as well as very senior citizens. Aren’t those sacred moments, by definition?
Who wouldn't want more of these life-transforming moments? What can we do to create and share more?
The human brain has a wonderful faculty for building habits for its own efficient functioning. We do that by relying on assumptions that we happily forget afterward and never question again. We rely on intellectual and analytical constructs built on those foundations, so we preserve the illusion of rational processes. Ironically, in post-crisis time, when we eagerly resume those old habits, we can quickly blind ourselves to any possibility of discovering the beauty of wonder, the serendipity of Nature, and the nobility of human nature.
Famous philosophers have long evangelized the concept of “living in the moment." Westerners often interpret this as savoring and appreciating what is happening at a given moment, without bringing emotional baggage from the past or the future. However, the Buddhists interpret the idea from a more pure ideal of seeing what is in front of them very clearly, dissociated from their personal needs, emotions, and interests, or any other filters. That’s another approach to shedding assumptions and preconceived notions of what the world is supposed to be like in order to be able to perceive what is there as wondrous and joyful.
Suppose we think about the proposition from the other end of the thought logic, from the outcome, as game design experts might propose. Let’s agree that the desired outcome is to make every moment feel sacred. How can that happen? We can’t just tell ourselves to feel that way.
First, we have to believe that that feeling is achievable, even if we have never experienced it before. Then, we have to reflect on what that quality of being sacred means. How will we measure each moment so that the label “sacred” fits? After that, we choose actions that can be assessed by those metrics. This is not a semantic exercise. This is not simply positive psychology, although that is another path toward the same direction.
How would your life change if you believed every moment is sacred — so special that its value transcends any material measure?
Major life milestones qualify as sacred, but most of us only have a handful of those in a lifetime. I am proposing that every single day can be sacred. Once you get used to that idea, maybe you can see every hour of every day as sacred. Every minute? Every encounter you have with something or someone outside of yourself? What would that take?
Why do we applaud random acts of kindness? Why do we feel those are special and deserving of acknowledgment, but not even from the recipient? Because they touch others in the moment, they are given without expectations or assumptions. The moment a gift is offered and received is defined as sacred.
If you are religious, especially Christian (including Catholic), how would you feel if you could believe that every action, every minute of your day is blessed and reflects God’s presence in you in a very real, non-abstract sense? Wouldn’t your life be filled with bliss? Wouldn’t your sense of worry or anxiety disappear, effortlessly? Wouldn’t you be spreading joy and love to everyone everywhere, especially to strangers, and even more to your family and friends?
Dedication: This article is dedicated to the medical staff at John Muir Hospital in Concord, CA, where I have been inspired while being a patient for the last week (my condition is not COVID 19-related).