Worst case scenario projections, inconsistent information, the thought of a loved one getting sick, the loss of a job or personal wealth, waiting to find out what might happen next; Is it any wonder that many of us are experiencing real fear, stress and anxiety surrounding COVID-19, arguably one of the most wide spread crises our generation has collectively faced?
Humour, hysteria and defiance are just some of the ways in which humans have responded to the virus. Simultaneously, others have chosen to look at this pandemic through the lens of optimism and spirituality, embracing a sense of our oneness as a global community and the potential positive impacts on our earth.
There are unsung heroes across many fields making incredible sacrifices and working overtime to keep us safe. Governments are trying to find solutions for their citizens and business owners are looking for ways to survive, to not lose it all. Personally, I’m in the latter category.
Yet right now there is very little for each individual person to do, with the exception of totally isolating ourselves and/or maintaining as much of a positive perspective as possible.
That sliver of a positive perspective is why I’m offering up this blog. My hope is to help provide some tips for releasing negative thoughts amidst COVID-19.
In no way do I wish to downplay or appear insensitive to anyone’s sufferings during these unprecedented times. I am simply sharing some thoughts and stories that I myself am using during these challenging times as a vehicle for personal growth…or at the very least, as a coping mechanism.
Through my experiences, it has become my belief that we as humans, myself included, generally don’t do well with uncertainty. We make up stories in our minds about the future that usually end in disaster. This may seem like a justified time for worst case scenarios, but the reality is, we just don’t know…and we never have. In fact, the lack of control we actually have is remarkable. As John Lennon famously said, “Life is what happens when we’re busy making plans.” And on that note, who else was busy making plans (that had nothing to do with Covid-19) up until a week or so ago? I know I was, which I’ll get to in a minute.
Take a breath.
People may be asking themselves; How will I pay rent or mortgage? What will I do if the kids can’t go back to school? How can I make sure there is food on the table if this goes on for longer than months? When will I see my friends/family again?
For questions like this, the story of the Taoist farmer always comes to mind.
There once was a Chinese farmer.
One day, he didn’t latch the gate properly and the (his?) horse ran off. “Oh no! This is terrible news!” his neighbor cried. “Such terrible misfortune!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
A few days later, the (his?) horse returned, bringing with it six wild horses. “How fantastic! You are so lucky,” his neighbor told him. “Now you are rich!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when it kicked out and broke his leg. “Oh no!” the neighbor cried, “such bad luck, all over again!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men to fight in the war. The farmer’s son was left behind. “You are so lucky!” his neighbour cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
This Taoist farmer is resilient. He doesn’t judge life events as good or bad, lucky or unfortunate. He appears to hold the mindset that only time can tell the whole story.
I’ve heard this story often enough throughout my life, and was again reminded of it again in Neil Pasricha’s excellent book, “You Are Awesome.” In his book, Neil shares an inspiring story of his mother and her resilience while growing up in Kenya, being betrothed and moving to Canada where she knew absolutely no one. The point of the story, as Neil so wonderfully shares, is the power of adding the word “yet” to the negative statements we can all easily think.
Let’s put that to the test.
I don’t know how to speak Spanish vs I don’t know how to speak Spanish…yet
My business isn’t profitable vs My business isn’t profitable…yet.
We don’t own our house vs We don’t own our house…yet.
Framing it this way certainly makes a difference, doesn’t it?
Just a few days ago, I was looking at my list of goals for 2020; business goals, personal goals, travel goals, financial goals, the list goes on and on. A list, I assure you dear reader, that I spent a great deal of careful consideration developing and planning. A list that, it is worth noting, includes numerous goals carried over from 2019 and yes, 2018 as well. You can bet that COVID-19 will ensure some of those goals will carry on into 2021 and beyond. Honestly, I had to laugh, otherwise the pure frustration would have made me scream!
So just this past week I took Neil’s advice and simply added an ellipsis and a “yet”. I haven’t achieved these goals…yet!
Did I feel any better? A bit. At least enough to allow some detachment from my goals and feel the much-needed space between how desperately and relentlessly I want to realize them and our present COVID-19 reality. Simply put, there are bigger things at play right now – things in over which I have no control. This brings me to the second idea I’d like share in this is blog; how to detach from our thoughts.
In practical terms, non-attachment simply means seeing something for how it really is, rather than how you want it to be. I like to think of this as acceptance versus expectations. We are often emotionally attached to our expectations, the things we expect to happen for us or to us, and as a result, we become frustrated when they do not occur. On the flip side, acceptance is being okay with what actually happens, regardless of the outcome.
In times like these, much like our Taoist farmer, it is more likely that radical acceptance that is needed. Radical acceptance would take some stoic thinking – envisioning the worst possible scenario and getting comfortable with it – something that is never an easy thing to do.
One of the things that makes it so challenging is that, as a I said at the beginning of the blog, we have a tendency to think of the negative side. The piling up of these negative, self-defeating thoughts is what my friend calls “Shit Piling.” So how do not let this “shit” pile up? Well, we’ve all heard the term “stream of consciousness” – that steady flow of our “thoughts” that rush through our heads all day long. Let’s play off of that for a minute and pretend our “stream” of consciousness is in fact an actual stream. What do streams do? They flow. What happens if you throw a stick on a flowing stream? It flows away from you. So, practice viewing your negative thoughts like these sticks. As they flow on the stream and entertain your consciousness, acknowledge them and just send them down the stream and out of your head. Sometimes this will feel like a whirlpool more than a stream, but if you keep sending them down (not attaching to them), you certainly can experience some relief from negative thinking.
This reminds me of a Buddhist story I once heard Jack Kornfield share about a group of monks who were traveling through a field. Their teacher pointed at a giant rock in the middle of the field and asked his students if the rock was heavy. Of course, the students all replied “yes” to which the teacher replied, “Only if you pick it up!” It’s another simple way of looking at our negative thoughts – they only weigh us down if we pick them up.
Of course, we have to pick up some of the thoughts. And detachment doesn’t mean we don’t take action, don’t prepare, don’t do what we must. Today, many of us have to fight back against this pandemic. We have to help. Have to do what we can to get through this situation. And part of that includes doing that last things I’d like to talk about in this blog, which is holding the space – something we can do even if we are not on the front line.
What do I mean by holding the space?
I mean being present for and validating someone else’s emotional state while also being present to your own emotions. You simply “being there”, calm and present, for another person’s emotions when they come up is really all it is. And you don’t need to be physically present to do this. We “hold the space” for our spouses, friends and children all the time, but how often do we “hold the space” for everyone outside of our immediate circles? If I may, I’d like to offer one final example to help share just how powerful “holding the space” can be. There was a group of refugees traveling by ship through dangerous waters. There were storms and even pirates! Hidden in the bows of the ship, each time the ship faced a violent storm or a confrontation with pirates, it was incredibly easy for everyone to fall into a state hysteria – but if just one person remained calm, it was often enough to help lessen the hysteria or avoid it entirely. One person “holding the space”, being present and validating the other fears but not engaging had a powerful calming effect.
Right now, I bet you some feel some sorrow, sadness, anger, frustration and/or fear. So too might your brothers and sisters. So too might your neighbors and the citizens with which you share a planet. You are not alone in feeling these human emotions. Not now, not ever.
Take a breath for each other. Take a deep, calm and compassionate breath for the world. If nothing else – do this once a day.
We are set to learn an awful lot about our world thanks to the novel coronavirus. None of us have faced a situation quite like this before. However as a result, we can try to learn from this experience, we can grow our mental powers as individuals and support each other – even if it is someone we may never meet.
Thanks for reading,