For the past two months we have been looking to the East as this respiratory virus has inexorably edged closer and closer to our shores. Now it is amongst us. Its arrival has brought significant disruption to our daily lives. First of all we were asked to wash our hands more often, quarantine ourselves if we had symptoms of the illness, eliminate non-essential travel, and significantly reduce our social interactions. Now all non-essential workers are locked down. This is just the surface perspective of how we face the first major challenge that we are likely to encounter in this year and beyond. How you respond to this one will set the scene for you through any further tests which lie ahead.
The first way that we need to look at this virus is to appreciate that it is happening at a very individual and human level. This is something which is killing people, and is directly impacting the health and the livelihoods of thousands, even millions of other people. Therefore our first response should be with compassion, and putting the good of the collective before one’s self. Make sure your family and friends are safe and catered for, and where it is safe to do so, reach out to the vulnerable near you too. Though I would imagine that you were like this before, become a model citizen in your interactions with others. If you are feeling out of sorts and shaken by these changes, then make allowances for the fact that others may well be too. When the dust settles on this outbreak, as it will, remember people around you will still need support, understanding, and assistance to move forward. There will be bereavements to deal with, and financial troubles for many people too.
Governments around the world are reaching into their (our) pockets to support businesses, and to some extent individuals. We need healthy businesses to exist so that we can live our lives the way that we would like to. However, it seems a little incongruent that the magic money tree is getting a really good shake at this time to support many businesses, when the existence of such a tree was denied not that long ago. We the people need to ensure that profits are not privatised, whilst the downside risks are socialised on the people. The rich do not need to get richer through this crisis nor the poor poorer. Let us carry the spirit of cooperation, not competition forward with us into the challenges of the years ahead. We are beginning to discover which roles are essential and which are not. Being a nurse or doctor really was more important than being a footballer or a trader of financial instruments after all. And suddenly we are able to house the homeless, when it was beyond our ability only a few weeks ago.
Fear, anxiety, and panic have been the go to emotions for many people as this virus has come closer and closer to us. These are not the best states to be in to effectively react to this new world. Use the initial onset of any fear, as a signal to evaluate the information that you perceive around you. You may well need to take some action to keep yourself and others safe. If so move beyond the fear to take measured and thought through actions. By doing so you are using this feeling of fear in a positive rather than a negative way. Use anxiety in a similar way. It is caused by us focusing on what we do not want happening in the future. The feelings you get, that we call anxiety, is your body’s way of telling you that you are focusing on what you do not want happening in the future. Again this may well be telling you that there are some actions that you need to take. And, if you can, try imagining the future working out well for you. As you do you will find that your anxiety subsides. If you struggle doing this then explore what it is you believe that makes imagining a positive future difficult for you. Managing your emotional state is essential anyway, and even more so now. Remember it is not what happens to you that is important, it is how you deal with it that is.
Health and Fitness
The people most at risk are people over seventy years old and or people with underlying health issues. Such as people with long term respiratory illnesses, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic neurological conditions, and people with a weakened immune system. If you fall into one of these categories, then you need to take extra care of yourself. For the majority of people this outbreak is unlikely to be a personal existential crisis. It is more likely to be an irritation or inconvenience, a disruption to normal everyday activities.
For me it is a reminder that I need to take personal responsibility for my own health and fitness. Some underlying health conditions above are genetic, some may have entered people’s lives by chance, and I am afraid that some are a result of lifestyle choices. If you have been smoking, eating, or drinking too much throughout your life you could have unwittingly added yourself to an at risk category during this outbreak.
Once life starts to get back to normal, remember this sense of personal responsibility. Eat more healthily, smoke less, drink less, and take a form of active exercise that suits you. Look after your physical body to the best of your ability, no ifs, no buts, and no excuses. No one else is going to do this for you, you need to do it. I am not writing this as a paragon of virtue either. I need to cut more sugary content from my diet, and to eat more fruit and vegetables.
This perspective may well not even feature in your thinking about what is happening, but for me the deepest and the most important aspect of this whole drama is spiritual. This virus is asking us to re-evaluate our ideas about life and death. Breath is an essential feature of life, without air (oxygen) we all would be dead in a couple of minutes. This virus is attacking our most essential need. For me at least that is a call for us to pause and consider what human life on earth is all about. One of the aspects of human life that we need to reframe is death. First of all we need to remember that thousands of people die every day around the world from a variety of causes. This one cause is new and urgent at this time, but it is not the only one. I have read extensively about out-of-body experiences, and near-death-experiences. These human experiences, which sit at the fringe of most people’s awareness, have convinced me that consciousness is fundamental, and that consciousness survives the death of the physical body. This does not mean that I think death is something that we ought to actively seek. But it is certainly something that we need not fear.
The other aspect of this spiritual perspective is that I believe we are experiencing an evolution in our consciousness. An evolution in the way we think, and as a result in the way we live. As I said at the beginning of this article, I believe that this event is the first of, probably several events that are going to make us re-examine human life on earth. To be ready for this exam we need to manage our state, be flexible in our thinking, and take actions which are integrative and unifying, rather than self-centred and divisive. There is not space here to elaborate on this, but I believe that what we experience is a reflection of what we think and do. Embrace this new world with love and compassion, even if it may be months before we can embrace each other, physically in the same way.
“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” Bertrand Russell