Great news everyone, we can relax! All the fear around the latest superbug is true. You can get sick and even die. It’s also a fact that we are interdependent and of course we can catch each other’s sickness no matter how much we buy into the delusion of separateness. We are connected, not separate.
Of course, we’ll do our best to not spread the germs but is the panic and shock around this virus helpful? Is a dysregulated nervous system due to constant stress, warnings, upsetting news cycles and anxiety supporting a healthy immune system to help us stay well?
The reason we can exhale is the fact that you can get sick and die has been true every moment of your life. If we are surprised by the news of illness and demise perhaps, we’ve lost site with reality. Since the first breath we took we’ve been dying. We’ve all been dying and being reborn our whole lives. This latest virus scare is one of the greatest teachers our culture has received in a while. Although we never wish for a disease to happen it is what is happening. How painful is it to resist reality? The recent panic shows how disconnected we are in the west from the reality of life. The Buddhists have known about impermanence and interdependence and have been teaching how it can heal us for more than 2,600 years.
The story of the Buddha is that he was protected from the realities of real life locked away in a refined palace. In this place he had all the finest material things, best foods, highest intellectual teachings, opportunities to have sex etc., and it wasn’t satisfying to him in a lasting way. Somehow, something wasn’t quite right, he was still craving more or tired of what he had. Sound familiar?
All the worldly things only gave him temporary pleasure but never lasting peace. He finally left the village (symbolic of choosing the spiritual path that leads away from confused, mainstream material culture) and snuck into town. Even though his parents were trying to keep the eventual Buddha (awakened one) from seeing reality he looked down an alley and saw an old person; he looked down another and saw a sick person; next he saw bodies at the charnel ground dead and decomposing. He realized in that moment that this was reality. We are all going to get sick and die. Some of us will get old. This is the truth. Is it really a surprise that we can get sick and die even today?
Those that are tuned into reality can breathe and relax. It doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing to reduce the spread of this virus. In fact, we should consider meditating daily to regulate our nervous system, increase our resilience and tune into our inner healing system by shutting off the news after we learn the basic info needed. We can also stay healthy through self-care, a vibrant diet and the use of our basic intelligence to care for ourselves and others . To reduce our suffering around fear is also the best thing we can do. It is wise to align with reality and stop fighting the truth of our interconnectedness and mortality. When we feel out of control it’s helpful to tune into what we can control. And, what we can control is our relationship to what is happening. The teachings say that pain is unavoidable, yet suffering is 100% optional. The only time we suffer is when we fight our reality just like we’re doing now with this latest virus.
There’s really no need to panic. We can see this as an important wake up call. Every day that you leave your family and friends to drive to work you could easily die on your car ride. Sickness and death have no predictable timing. It’s truly magic and a gift that we are even here today to read these words. You may have noticed that you have friends and family who died at all ages of life. You’ve probably heard of famous people that have died. No one at any time is immune to sickness and death. We’ve never had a guarantee that we’re going to live a long life.
I wonder if we can use this latest scare as an impermanence practice. It’s something the Buddhists do every day. They reflect on the four thoughts that turn mind to the dharma (practice). They meditate on four things - precious human birth, impermanence, karma and defects of samsara. This helps the practitioner come to terms with the reality that this life is precious (when lived in practice); this life is short; that what we do in our unenlightened state of confusion will create a painful future result (so we better wake up and practice truth) and that we all lose the people, places and things we love and have things happen to us that we don’t want to happen. In other words, in our ignorance we suffer unnecessarily. Simply by tuning into reality we can be free.
Every day, Buddhists around the world meditate on the fact that the next breath could be their last. This isn’t morbid, this helps you feel alive and to see the preciousness of each moment. They start their day with gratitude for the opportunity to be alive and to practice and to be with those they love. This remembrance of reality keeps them from over investing their time in worldly concerns that can only bring temporary happiness and instead live 24/7 in limitless peace, ease, joy, compassion and equanimity.
Perhaps every time we get one of these scary emails about the virus shutting down yet another event or the big news that we should wash our hands and not cough on each other, it could be a reminder to appreciate every moment we have with our friends and family. Most importantly it could be a push to let go of our confusion and delusion about this external world being able to provide stability so we can look inside and more deeply tune into the reality of limitless peace.