While so much has changed in these past days, it’s essential to remember what hasn’t. We are capable of immense love. We all long for connection. We’re resilient beyond our imagining. Each of us will one day confront a dread that we fear will consume us. All of us have felt lonely even when surrounded by loved ones. Across the world, a global community yearns to discover how a pandemic can help us grow into stronger, wiser, and more compassionate versions of ourselves.
An unswerving truth arrives more persistently than COVID-19 itself: Sometimes life is hard, really hard. After all, who told us that life would be easy all the time? Nearly every wisdom tradition actually anticipates that the hero’s journey would include heart-stretching hardship. Growing in wisdom is not quick, nor easy. There is no lifehack to enlightenment. Distrust any guru who teaches otherwise. As we peer into the dense fog of the future and wonder what life will be like in the months ahead, what’s clear is that COVID-19 has arrived as our letter from Hogwarts, an invitation to awaken to our deeper calling.
We are unlikely sages in training shocked out of a warm bath of distraction. Just like in the Harry Potter classic, if at first you don’t get the message that you are a magical creature capable of boundless courage and selfless love, then you’ll receive it ten-thousand times until you heed its revelation. The world needs you to wake up and claim your heart’s true calling–we are healers in the making and sages in training! This is our opportunity to become the wise elders that our aching world is longing for. Who knew that a pandemic would call forth all the skills of the heart that our ancestors cherished and handed on for millennia—bravery, trust, patience, selfless-love, and kindness?
We’ll need wisdom in abundance in the coming days to meet our most terrifying foe which will not come in the form of an aggressive virus or untreatable pneumonia; the most dangerous agent in a global pandemic is a human being acting out of fear. Fearful people become dangerous people. While we do not currently know how to cure COVID-19, wisdom traditions have long shared practices to heal the danger inside by waking us up to our true nature. The way to wake up is to dive deep. Going deep down is the way forward. Just like Harry, we will need to practice and train. We’ll need to be honest about our shadow and confront our own shortcomings. We’ll need to help others, and we’ll need to learn to ask for help. While living a heart-centered life cannot be reduced to lists, I’d like to offer some simple practices that can help foster a resilient spirit and train the heart in courageous caring. The Pandemic of 2020 is our first year at Hogwarts, and here’s how we can train.
Powerlessness is the dreaded and sacred classroom where life’s most essential and heart-stretching lessons are learned. So often our minds spiral into worrying about tomorrow or reliving yesterday. We will find resilience only to the extent that we learn how to stay in today. COVID-19 is a radical disruption of our preferred systems of control. Because the attempt to control the past or manipulate the future is now revealed as the absurdity that it’s always been, all we can do is learn to live within the present moment as it is. So, allow yourself to dive deeply into each day fully. Eat slowly. Taste your food. Wash your dishes with care. Cultivate gratitude for what you have. Hold hands with a loved one (and then wash them). Feel your feet on the floor. Wash your hands again. Take a full breath. Walk slowly. Enjoy your screens, but not too much. Let yourself laugh. Sing. Learn something new. Notice the arrival of springtime. Give yourself permission to cry. Dance. Play. Be puzzled. Advocate for others. Clean something, but not too many things. Surrender to what needs to happen. Take a break. Be imperfect. Let go of self-judgment—there is no perfection, only this moment as it is right now. Listen to the news-but only for a little bit. If you need to plan for the future, do so intentionally and for a brief time. Plan your planning so you don’t spend the entire day projecting doomsday scenarios into the future. Any action, if you give your heart to it fully, has the capacity to anchor you in your true nature. Every moment, when lived fully is a spiritual moment.
For so much of my life, I lived from one deadline to the next—just trying to get through. I was living for weekends or the next vacation or the next arbitrary time when I thought life would be easier. “If I can just get through this week, I’ll be OK,” was a familiar mantra. When I finally did survive the week, I spent my weekend anxiously awaiting another stressful week or another unpleasant event in the future. Life was binary in my mind. I was either working which meant stress, overwhelm, and hardship or I was relaxing, which was usually a combination of sleeping, eating, binge-watching, and thinking about what to eat next.
Discovering mindfulness helped me over two decades to notice this pattern and slowly shift how I approach my life. Life is not binary. Mindfulness is simply our natural capacity to be awake and aware in each moment as it is. We practice mindfulness because every day is a mixture of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. “Stressful days” have moments of joy and delight. “Easy days” have moments of displeasure and angst. Can we show up for it all? Your life will not begin or resume when COVID-19 is over. Your life is happening right now! We practice mindfulness because life is unpredictable; sometimes you’re in the light and sometimes you’re in the tunnel. The truth is, it’s always a mixture of both. No matter. The practice is still the same–to stay curious, to show up as fully as you can, and to resist creating elaborate stories in our minds. Can we trust that we have within us the courage and capacity to meet whatever arrives?
Your soul is unbreakable. This has been the great insight of nearly every great spiritual tradition over millennia. While the resilience of the soul is your birthright, the soul also needs nurturing along life’s journey. A pandemic has a way of distilling life to what is essential. By surrendering what’s unnecessary, we free our energy to care for our often-neglected souls. Spiritual practice allows us to stay grounded, stable, and open-hearted amid this ever-evolving crisis.
There are countless contemplative practices that can help to steady your spirit in these unsettling times. Some might try meditation and mindfulness, while others find comfort in yoga, journaling, poetry, or dance. Some will seek out a labyrinth to walk while others will read sacred scriptures, pray, or find a mantra to support them. Still others will draw solace from being in nature, 12 step meetings, or participating in virtual religious services. There are countless ways to care for the soul. What’s essential is that we dedicate some moments each day to nourishing the sacred dimension of our lives so we can care for others sustainably over the long haul ahead. For beginners, keep your practice short, simple, and steadfast. Spiritual practice is our way of staying consciously connected to our Source and the ultimate reality beyond names. These days invite us to hold fast to the deepest values that anchor us amid the storm. More than ever, we need to remember that we belong to Love, the original connection that binds all things together.
A pandemic teaches us just how interconnected we are. Even as we distance ourselves, we do so out of a deep sense of connection and care for each other. It seems clearer than ever that we belong to each other. Isn’t this our greatest lesson to learn in life? While the next step is not always clear, a pandemic invites us to keep drawing the circle of love around us bigger and bigger. Those who are willing to journey with others through the darkness are needed more than ever. We don’t know how long this tunnel will be and if there will be another tunnel after the light. So be a light in the tunnel for others.
Caring for others can be as simple as listening deeply. Deep listening seeks to understand another’s experience without judgment. Wholehearted listening without convincing or defending is a supreme act of love. If someone wants your advice, they will ask. Most of the time they just want to be heard. Take time each day to check in on those in your community. When you commit to caring for others, you may face the inevitable temptation of comparison or worrying about what others think about you. Keep your eyes on your own paper. When you stop minding everyone else’s business, you have more space to care. When you stop judging others, you’ll have more space to love them with compassion. Comparing yourself to others is a sure signal that you are avoiding doing your own inner work.
A crisis provides the opportunity to learn to be gentle with yourself. We are all a work in progress. We are all figuring this life out for the first time. Let’s be honest—we are all making it up as we go along, and we will all certainly disappoint ourselves in these days. The inner-critic’s voice will grow louder so you will need self-compassion in equal measure. Trust that you are deserving of compassion. Trust that you are enough just as you are. Trust that you are infinitely loveable. And remember, you are not a self-improvement project. Love yourself as you are with all your imperfections and your growth will follow.
Make room to grieve for the plans that will not come to pass, for the suffering of others, for the life that must be surrendered to the pandemic. Extend to others the same care and gentleness that you most need. Be patient with the imperfection of others. Someday soon, you’ll need their forgiveness, too. You have no idea what is happening in the hearts of others no matter what story you create from the limited information you have about them. In the end, care. Care again. And again. It’s what our world most needs now. Care is what people have always needed but have not always known how to ask for.
May these days somehow reveal our true nature so that we may finally see ourselves clearly as the light-bearers that we are. It’s true, we were not ready for this. It’s also true that not feeling ready is a common theme in the hero’s journey. There is no need to be ready, only the need to be willing. In these strange and soul-testing days, I offer this intention as we seek to put our willing hearts in the service of our aching world.
When the path is clear,
may we be brave enough to follow it.
When the path is unclear,
may the light of trust guide us through the unknown.
May we remember that our natural capacity for fear
stands alongside our boundless capacity for courage.
May any trace of prejudice within us dissolve
as we remember our shared humanity.
May we not shrink in an impulse of self-protection,
but wake up to the power of compassion within us.
Even in the grip of fear, may our hearts stretch open,
letting love guide everything we say and do.
May we remember that we are always connected to Life.
Each time we forget, may we be guided back
to this unshakeable truth.