As you have already realized, the spread of the novel coronavirus is a very serious threat, endangering the lives and health of many people. Please do not ignore it or take its potential impact lightly. Act in wisdom and with great caution, according to the gravity of the situation where you live and the guidelines of your local health authorities.
But, although we are living amid events that can overwhelm the mind, they shouldn’t overshadow the Heart. Apart from any strict physical health and hygiene guidelines we may receive, let’s not ignore another very important aspect: our mental hygiene.
Someone recently confessed to me that 95% of his thoughts are about coronavirus—mostly worries, confusion, and fear. This is likely the case for the vast majority of people now, and most of us don’t even realize this new condition of the mind.
Love Is in the Air
We used to quote the statement “Love is in the air” as an experiential expression of being open and immersed in a field of love that is not only personal, but universal. Now, the most common refrain seems to be “Coronavirus is in the air.”
I really hope that it is not literally in the air around us, but it is definitely present in our mental environment. When most of our attention, thoughts, and emotions are there, when news articles, opinion pieces, and projections about its spread are ubiquitous, and videos on YouTube, Facebook, etc., are mostly focused on it, we may develop a kind of pandemic psychosis as well.
Demons and Diseases in Ancient Traditions
In many ancient traditions, diseases (especially those occurring as pandemics) were often associated with a kind of demonic power. This was not only because of a lack of scientific understanding but referred to the subtle dimension of diseases—their associated panic and suffering.
For example, love is disenchanted and lacks poetry and sacredness if we reduce it to what biology and psychology say, subsuming the experience of love under categories such as “hormones,” “brain chemistry,” “the unconscious,” or “sex drive.” Similarly, pandemic diseases carry not just a virus, but a kind of demonic power (of course, the word “demonic” is just a way of dramatizing this subtle dimension). It is unseen and the lack of awareness it engenders poisons souls and minds with thoughts of obsessive fear and confusion. The lengthy shadow of ignorance feeds illusory monsters. A demonic power, even though false, seems real. It’s happening now—we shake in fear at every sneeze and cough (even if it is far from us) or if our throat gets sore.
I am not saying that the biological facts related to coronavirus should be ignored or dismissed. But there is a need to make a distinction between verifiable physiological effects and the psychological effects brought on by fear, between being cautious and panicking.
Love in the Time of Cholera
There is an exquisite novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera, which depicts the beauty of decades of a forbidden love that blossoms during a cholera epidemic… It is a beautiful metaphor for the impregnable power of Love, and an inspiration for our times.
The Meditation Remedy
Remember that in all struggle, agitation, and confusion, the Present Moment, the beauty of the Heart, is still there, waiting for us.
Meditation consists of seeing the facts for precisely what they are, in equanimity, in love, unaffected by fears or desires. When we let go of the burden of beliefs, hopes, and fears, we invite more freedom and spaciousness. We may be confined to a tiny room, but we aren’t bored and never lack space, because in the Heart there is so much space…
The power of the Heart eliminates distracting and obsessive thoughts as they arise. This nourishes a state of clear, centered, awareness. Becoming nothing (by releasing the ego, fears, stories, etc.), we become everything—flowing, blissful, sacred Reality.
There is an old Latin phrase used in the Christian tradition: Crux medicina mundi (“The Cross, medicine of the world”). Paraphrasing, we can say that Self-Enquiry can be the medicine of the world. Thus, it is not the virus that will wear the Corona (the crown), but the Heart!
For Rumi, to be a Sufi meant “to feel joy in the Heart when sorrow appears.” He was referring to the capacity to sublimate personal emotions in the freedom of the Infinite Heart. Of course, even during a pandemic, sorrow can be sublimated in compassion and Love.
Playing a Game with Changing Rules
Right now, humanity seems to be in shock. People are continuing with what they know, with their habits, even though their routines are deeply disturbed or completely overturned. Overall, this sense of constant wavering and shaking simply reveals a humanity that is fragile and confused, far from being mature. Suspicions of bioterrorism and conspiracy theories show that people essentially have less and less trust in the direction the technological world is heading.
This pandemic and, more and more, the entire modern world, is “like playing a game in which the rules are constantly changed without ever being made clear—a game from which one cannot withdraw … and in which one can never return to an older form of the game,” as Alan Watts said.
Giving Ourselves Conscious Shocks
What we are lacking is a fundamental education in awareness, in being present with what is. We forget to embrace what comes, with lucidity and serenity, santosha (contentment)… We neglect the art of dis-identification with the ego, which gives freedom, empathy, and availability to others and the Cosmos. We need an education in deconditioning. Otherwise, we require intense shocks to be awakened, to realize the inconsistency of a culture oriented toward money, material things, and ego-relevance. These are exactly the conditions that maintain the dream state. Such shocks can be beneficial because they can wake us up from the sleep of self-sufficiency.
But we can give ourselves conscious shocks. We can simply be amazed and wonder about world alienation. Rather than running away, ignoring, resisting, or suppressing, we can face the obvious absurdities of our times. We can look into fear, come in contact with it, and learn about its deceiving, unreal nature. It is not about how to escape from it. It is in an unshakable Heart-embrace of distress that awakening happens.
In difficult times, in moments of shock, many people discover the sacred dimension of the Heart by surrendering. Surrender is the open availability to what is. If the need arises for you to sacrifice your selfish desires for others, to take care of others, to help and actively express love, be available.
Availability also means to simultaneously maintain both a fiery inner discipline and a natural, radiant peace. If you must be quarantined for a while, stay in your heart, as if in a meditation retreat, without being bored or haunted by the demons of fear. Remember that, ultimately, each of us stands before the threshold of eternity, alone with ourselves.
Practical Advice for These Times
As you navigate these new times, remember:
- The ineffable, the Heart, the Present Moment is always there, available, waiting for you. Even more than before, open to that intimate domain and act from that place…
- The Japanese proverb that states: “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.”
- Freed from projections and hopes, there can be no ground for fear.
- There is no need to make big plans or live in projections; stay in the Present.
- Agitation of the mind pushes people to always do something. In these times, do what is really needed and then witness the useless noise of your mind…
- Laughter, dance, and joy is a deadly virus to panic. The end of fear is the beginning of wisdom.
- Whenever you realize that you are caught in heavy thoughts about yourself, your plans, and your problems, consider others, who may have bigger issues, as well. Keep a global awareness. It is in the nature of worried minds to shrink, of generous hearts to expand.
- Give yourself conscious shocks. Shake yourself from selfishness, awaken, and care more for others.
- Check inside at least two times per day for the sanity of your soul. If you find a predominance of fear, frustration, or agitation, hold fast to the Heart and do not stop meditating until peace returns. Cherish your soul with Love and blessings coming from the infinite reservoir of atman, the Supreme Self.
- Regularly check on the health of your close friends, relatives, and people you care for, especially those most at risk. Communicate, and be available for those in need… Caring for others requires us to more intensively practice everything that can energetically and spiritually support and help other human beings, especially elders.
- Don’t spend more than 15 minutes per day checking the news. And, be sure you are only getting your news from reliable sources. In this way, you avoid becoming obsessed…
- Contemplate the difference between fear and being cautious. Being careful and correctly informed should not be grounded in fear.
- Express determination and integrity.
- Nourish trust in the Heart and despair will starve to death.
- Watch the sky. If you are confined in a room, contemplate the sky of consciousness in your Heart.
- Be aware of spanda, the active power of the Spiritual Heart. Use it to send blessings and compassion to the whole world. Thus, you will no longer participate in the subtle problem (fears, angst, worries), but in the subtle solution (the Bodhisattvas’ field of compassion).
- According to your soul’s inspiration, pray daily to the Virgin Mary, Jesus, or Tara, or invoke Shambala to bring peace in the souls and minds of people, and to heal those touched by the virus.
Join Us in Meditation
Right now, many of us are together in a meditation retreat in Mexico. Each day at 9:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 6:30 pm, we conclude our Hridaya Meditation sessions with 5 minutes of sending blessings, compassion, and love to everyone sick with COVID-19 and for the entire world to be released from suffering to find the peace and spaciousness of the Heart. We invite you to join us at these times, or to pause at whatever times work for you, to move from any feeling of fear or separateness to a sense of togetherness despite external conditions.
Next week, we will begin offering synchronized group meditations twice per day. We warmly encourage you to join us and will share the exact details on our Facebook page.