By Tasha Friedman
Stop now. Close your eyes. Feel your heart.
You are here, you are aware, right now.
At this very moment, humanity is meeting itself in a new way. With the global outbreak of coronavirus, fear and uncertainty have become the daily norm for so much of our global family. And yet, with this disruption of normal structures, there is an opportunity to transcend.
While many will remain caught in fears, as spiritual practitioners it is our responsibility to offer an alternative: a view that encompasses the reality of the situation while keeping a higher perspective.
Are you ready to accept this invitation? Are you ready to let go of the familiar in exchange for a deeper, wilder truth?
Meeting Reality in the Loss of Certainty
So many of us live our lives caught up in the future, in all our plans and worries and expectations, the feeling that “my life will start for real once this thing happens” or “I can relax once this is finally over.”
It’s good to have plans and try to build something with our lives, of course, but when our plans start to seem more real and important than what’s happening right now, we’re on the road to suffering.
The current situation, as if someone hit “pause” on the entire world, can be taken as a strong wake-up call to return to the Present Moment.
In a very real sense, the future has been abruptly cut away.
Maybe everything will go back to normal in a month. Maybe it will take six months. Most likely, things will not go back to the same normal as before. This kind of shock to our societies’ systems and infrastructure does not go away overnight, and we have to be open for this. The world we will find when we come out of our quarantine bubbles, whenever this happens, will be new and unknown.
We are now at a unique point in time where it is essentially impossible for any of us to make plans beyond the necessities of day-to-day life.
While it can trigger intense anxiety, this loss of certainty actually represents a step into intimacy with reality.
From the mind, life seems predictable. We feel like we can say with some confidence where we will be in an hour, a month, or even a year.
But how often do things really turn out as we expect? I invite you now to look back over your plans and expectations from the last year or so, and see how often they correspond to what actually happened. I’m guessing you’ll find 50/50 at best; not any meaningful correlation.
No one expects their life to change suddenly, and yet that is exactly how life-changing events happen. Everything is normal until it isn’t. We know what we’ll be doing every day for the next month until suddenly we don’t know what’s happening at all.
Call it chaos theory, interdependence, or the special providence in the fall of a sparrow, as you wish. The web of cause and effect that binds together all of manifestation, down to each and every atom, is so vast and complex that as soon as we step outside of our normal patterns, it indeed seems like falling into chaos.
And yet, within that chaos is a mysterious harmony. A wholeness in which everything makes sense even while nothing is understood. When there is a shock, when chaos peeks through, there is also a chance to open to that inner harmony.
By letting go of planning, of imposing our own patterns onto a reality beyond understanding, we fall into a flow of meaninglessness so much deeper and more beautiful than any meaning our conceptual mind could ascribe: the strange, directionless, empty beauty of life.
The Middle Way between Nihilism and Self-Existence
To some, this may seem to verge on a sort of nihilism. Nothing matters, nothing is real, everything is random and meaningless. This is certainly not the message I am trying to convey.
In Tibetan Buddhism, they talk about the famous “Middle Way” as a path between the two extremes of nihilism and self-existence.
Self-existence means to believe that objects are real from their own side, that they have a separate existence independent from consciousness. Nihilism means to believe that nothing is real. Both views are equally wrong.
Walking the Middle Way in this sense is to allow things to be simply as they are. To recognize them as temporary appearances within a consciousness that remains unchanged, and to allow them to manifest without projecting stories, concepts, or beliefs onto them. To witness them with full awareness in the Present Moment.
Like this, we set them (and ourselves) free from a need to be one way or another, to serve a purpose, to function relative to our imagined past or future.
The flower that I hold in my hand now is not the same flower that I picked off the bush ten seconds ago. The person that I am now is not the same as the person I will be tomorrow. The ego says “yes, I am the same” because it wants something solid to grasp onto, but the cells are different, the thoughts are different, the memories are different.
The only thing the remains the same is something that does not belong to the ego: the feeling of pure being, the background of Awareness that gives life to the everchanging flow of appearances.
Clinging to an illusion of static existence as anything within the realm of the ego, as anything but this pure “I am,” is to cut ourselves off from that source of life.
Allowing ourselves to exist only within the Present Moment, we become the source itself.
As we recognize that nothing has any meaning outside of itself, everything has infinite meaning within itself. With no need to be justified by the past or serving the future, every moment is exquisitely unique and perfect within itself.
It is the reality alluded to in this poem by the Zen master Ryokan: “Maple leaf falling down. Showing front, showing back.”
And that is all.
Embracing the Unknown
Shantideva, the great Buddhist teacher of the Madhyamaka, wrote that for any problem, there are two options:
“If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will do you no good.”
The truth is that all our fears, anxieties, and attempts to predict the future are useless. All the worrying in the world does not help a single sick person. On the other hand, simply bringing clear awareness to the global situation and abiding in compassion may start to change the frequency around the whole process.
This is challenging for the ego. We so much want to be able to get out there and fix the problem, make things right.
However, in this case, the best thing that most of us can do is to do nothing. Not in the sense of continuing business as usual, but taking all necessary precautions, preparing what we need, and then staying in our homes. Turning inside. Letting go of business as usual, if only for a little while.
In this restraint from normal activity, we can discover a different kind of action, a motion that comes directly from the Heart and may seem to exist only for us. It is an initiation into the power of internal action: compassion, blessings, prayer, and stillness as our greatest gifts to the world.
From here we can understand the true meaning of surrender.
It’s a common form of spiritual bypassing to try to use surrender as a sort of bargaining chip: as long as I trust, everything will turn out fine. Or, to cling to beliefs like “everything happens for a reason,” as if all is determined by some outside force. This false positivity is a way for the mind to avoid facing fear directly.
Real surrender is when the world can burn, and take you with it, and though your heart breaks, you can sit still with the perfection of it all. It is a trust in existence itself, no matter what colors the unending kaleidoscope of life may show.
From here comes true compassion, infused with the wisdom of the void. Without reactivity or attachment to any particular outcome, the Heart expresses its pure will to benefit others.
So, stop now. Breathe. Your heart is empty, your heart is full. There is no time, nowhere to go, nothing to do. Let yourself fall.