Whoever you are, wherever you are, you are affected by the current pandemic of Covid-19 coronavirus. I want to offer a few spiritual approaches and insights that I hope are helpful or comforting no matter your spiritual tradition.
Whether you are worried about your elderly parents, or your chronically ill child. Some of you live alone, and are scared about being cut off from your community – I see you.
Maybe you are panicked because you see your retirement savings evaporating or you are planning a wedding right at this moment and are receiving cancellations for the most important day of your life — I feel you.
Some of you have no insurance, are under-insured, or work by the hour — my heart breaks for you.
Some of you work with refugee or homeless communities or with children who need school lunches and fear for their well-being and safety. I see you.
This is most of us: anxious, fearful, worried, and uncertain. If not for our health and welfare, we all know someone vulnerable.
I do not have answers. But I know these two spiritual approaches to be true.
#1 – Be Where You Are
- Stop for a moment.
- Just sit.
- Check-in with yourself.
- Tell yourself the truth regarding what you are most concerned about.
- See if you can find the place in your body where the pain, worry or fear is.
- Breathe into that place.
- Put your hand there and bring compassion and love to yourself at this moment.
Bringing mindful presence and compassion to wherever you are now is the first and most important thing you can do.
Be where you are, because really – where else CAN you be? Sit, breathe, accept, give love to your own feelings.
Also know – you are not alone. Thousands of us, maybe millions, are experiencing these same feelings.
#2: Working With Fear
Another spiritual approach to the fear many are feeling is contained in a wonderful teaching by Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1810) that saves me. He said:
The whole world is a very narrow bridge;
the important thing is not to make yourself afraid.
Likutei Moharan (II:48)
We are on a narrow bridge right now.
Not sure what tomorrow will bring.
Uncertain about the present: Who is contagious? What should I cancel?
Rebbe Nachman’s “narrow bridge” wisdom has been often mistranslated as “don’t be afraid” – but that is not correct. The Hebrew is this:
k’she-adam tzarikh la-avor gesher tzar m·od, ha-k’lal v’ha-ikkar shelo yit-paheid k’lal.
It’s a critical distinction. The Hebrew is in the reflexive tense – meaning – don’t make yourself afraid.
Rebbe Nachman acknowledges that fear exists. He teaches to not make it worse by “en-fearing” yourself.
We do this almost without thinking. When we allow the stories in our mind to take us into extensive “what if’s”, we jack up our fear, unnecessarily.
For example –
“My mom is 85 and has diabetes. Suppose she gets sick? What if there aren’t enough nurses in her assisted living facility to help her? What if she goes to the emergency room and they don’t have tests? Imagine if the hospital has no beds?…..etc etc etc
In this way, our brains ratchet up our anxiety, going from one to ten in a microsecond.
A certain amount of fear and concern is necessary for our survival. Too much, though, can be unhealthy. Neuroscientists have learned that it can affect how our brains function. These times call for us to be clear-thinking, and make good decisions.
Therefore, it is imperative to begin to notice when we are telling ourselves a story about the future that we do not yet know, thereby increasing our anxiety and fear.
Stay with what you know now. Yes, be prepared. Take what actions you need to be safe and make plans for yourself and your loved ones and perhaps your neighbors. But stay in the territory of what you know now, and pull yourself off the ceiling when you begin to spin out.
Don’t “en-fear” yourself.
The Second Arrow
I learned a wonderful Buddhist spiritual approach to how we “en-fear” ourselves from my teacher Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg. It’s about the “second arrow.” You get hurt by the first arrow, which is real – but then by re-living it over and over again, the second arrow keeps harming you. This “arrow” can be fear, worry, and even judgment.
Summing up, these two practices and ways of thinking are essential tools for this moment we are in right now.
Be where you are. Acknowledge the truth of your situation. Love yourself exactly where you are.
Be prepared, but learn how to not make yourself more afraid.
Above all, know that we have each other and that we will rise again.
I will have more in the coming days. If you wish to receive my subsequent thoughts, sign up here for my newsletter.
Blessings to you —
Alice Nervig says
I read this out loud to my room and out the deck open door..the deck that looks into the beautiful and very spiritual Black Hills of SD. Rabbi, you always fill my heart and teach my mind. I’m not Jewish, but I do believe in kindness.
Oh Rabbi, that “second arrow” plunged right through me! I’ll add that to my journey to being better. Feeling hopeful and uplifted. Thank You!
Mary Ann Malkoff says
In my life, the ‘second arrow,’ is the one that does 80% of the damage. Sure fear and worry play a part – like today with the current pandemic of Covid-19 coronavirus. But judgement has done the most damage. My goal is to learn to be as nice to myself as as I am to others. I can be so mean — holding myself to an impossible standard — and I save it all just for me. I’ve turned the corner and have become more gentle to myself, but it has taken me 60 years. A nice benefit of aging.
Carol L Welcomb (@car54ol) says
Excellent!!! Thank you for sharing this (and I thanked myself a wee bit for reading it), so thank YOU again