The current tone of our popular narrative seems to be one of fear: fear of disease and new germs of untested virulence: the novel Coronavirus COVID-19. Part of why the general discourse around this new bug is so panic-inducing, personally and collectively, is due to gaps in our knowledge and suspicions of suppression of information. When the tone gets to this fever pitch, and the grounding in tested and expert-vetted knowledge is absent or lacking, it is human nature to give in to panicky mass hysteria and assumptions. Reactionary assumptions are resulting in racism, mass hoarding with ensuing price gouging, and suspicions that certain political parties are hyping a public health scare to their advantage or controlling the dialogue for their gain. The lack of faith in the information being released adds to the panic and misinformed practices.
This is a good time to reflect on “the power of the pause”- before panicking and giving in to fears that harm our fellow travelers, the best practice might be to stop our frantic activities and deeply consider our interconnectedness.
Pause: before buying unnecessary items or hoarding supplies.
Pause: & fact check before sharing inflammatory and potentially incorrect media reports.
Pause: consider needs vs. wants before attending crowded functions and taking unnecessary trips on public transit or out of the country. We often fill our schedule with events that we could easily skip- sometimes just for fear of missing out (FOMO). Maybe we should consider the other side of that coin- joy of missing out (JOMO). If you are immune compromised or belong to one of the more vulnerable populations, perhaps this is the time to allow your body and spirit to deeply rest, only attending things that are "worth" the potential for germ exposure. And maybe you will decide that *nothing* is worth potential exposure and choose to self-quarantine- that's ok too, and will boost your immune system by promoting rest and relaxation while preventing your exposure not only to COVID-19, but also to other colds and flus that are circulating this time of year. It could even be a fulfilling opportunity to complete projects at home, cook some nourishing meals using ancestral wisdom for times of ill health, or catch up on that pile of books you've been intending to read. What's most important is that we pause, reflect, and weigh our actions and choices. Act, not react.
School shutdowns, mandates to work from home, churches and theaters cancelling events: the “best practices” from a public health perspective necessitate missing some events that we may have been deeply attached to attending. This might be a time to consider those attachments, and depersonalize our expectations. Canceling highly anticipated events is certainly a hardship, but we all need to be cognizant of our interconnectedness. Rather than seeing this disruption as ominous and arduous, might we see it as an act of love and solidarity for our health care workers, to prevent them being inundated by cases and forced to make decisions regarding allocating scarce resources, as in Italy.
Pause: this is tough but I accept staying home to break the chain of transmission, so that critical cases do not overwhelm our brave staff and limited facilities; also that people with other unforeseen health events might find a bed and doctor if they need it during this time.
Some might feel that restricting activities would be choosing to add more suffering to our lives, but can we weigh that against the suffering resulting from a true pandemic? The first noble truth as taught in Buddhism says that suffering is inherent in being alive, and our choices and actions mitigate how much we suffer from the objective hardships we encounter. So let's pause and thoughtfully discern the best choice for each action we are called to take. The law of cause and effect is very real and we will see it play out over the next weeks, as an accumulation of our collective choices. Let's proceed wisely and mindfully, and use each hand washing as an opportunity to practice encountering fear and washing it down the drain, leaving us equipped to safely connect with whatever action we are called to take at this moment. Let's cultivate JOMO to counteract the FOMO that arises from our attachments and fears.
Pause: our epidemiologists, doctors, nurses, and government are working hard to make the best recommendations at this time. Might we cultivate some trust and faith in science and human collaboration? Our ability to communicate and participate with shared research among all the affected countries may stoke this fire of trust in the human spirit and capabilities to mitigate the harm we all fear from this virus. China and Italy, despite the intense suffering they encountered, have given us a gift of time to prepare and prevent, tools to employ, experience we can learn from. Let’s not let their experience go unappreciated and fall into the same catastrophes they are facing. We might attempt to cultivate some trust in our public health officials who have taken an oath to defend us against pandemics- we might even benefit by cultivating some trust in our bodies defenses and mindfully choose to take actions to strengthen our innate healing abilities. We hope that, in turn, that trust can translate into trusting our neighbors and community to be proactive about defending against the spread to those who are unable to defend themselves, whether biomedically or economically. Let us proceed with wisdom and compassion as we allow the development of understanding and preparedness for this new virus.
On a good note, today a friend in Hong Kong shared a picture of a well stocked shop on her street- where weeks ago they had no toilet paper or sanitizing wipes, they now have an abundance of everything that they need to continue to protect their community health. More shipments will come in to replace the items unavailable today, and with that more lived experience that we can learn from and use to protect our neighbors and ourselves.
Pause, spend time with your family, get outside and take walks in the sunshine, listen to music, remember to breathe. If you are in need reach out to your neighbor networks and make your needs known- someone out there might just have what you lack. We are in this together.