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Love and Fear in the Age of Covid-19
One of the lessons that Covid-19 is teaching us, is that we are all connected. The speed that it has spread around the world is, pardon the expression, breathtaking. Six degrees of separation memes to
I admit it. I am scared.
Maybe not like you think. I am not scared I will run out of toilet paper or hand sanitizer. I am not even scared that I will get Covid-19, lose my ability to breathe, and then die alone in an overcrowded hospital. I know it is possible, it is just not what I am afraid of right now.
Right now I am scared because tonight I am hosting my first online Meditation and Sharing Circle. I am scared people will show up on Zoom and I will not be able to guide them through the 90 minutes cohesively. I am scared no one will show up. I am scared strangers will show up and judge me. I am scared friends will show up and be disappointed.
Did I mention that the theme of tonight's session is, "Love & Fear?"
Where does FEAR come from?
When we are born, we experience the universe as part of ourself. We don't know separation. Over time, we learn our name, how to differentiate this from that, wrong from right. Thus, the ego develops. The ego is very useful in helping us navigate through the world of objects, people, and places. It is not evil, or something to transcend. It is a tool.
It is only when we become completely ego-identified, that the trouble starts. When we take on separateness as our true identity. Our ego wants to control the world, but it is impossible to do so, and so we become fearful.
For example, when I start worrying that my online meditation class tonight will go badly, it causes me anxiety and suffering. All of the fears that I listed above are about my status in this world. Will I lose friends? Will strangers judge me harshly? Am I not good enough at this thing that I am offering for free (what my marketing guru Seth Godin calls imposter syndrome)?
Where does LOVE come from?
Some of what we call love is one ego clinging to another. "If my partner loved me, he would do so and so." When we give this kind of love and it is rejected, it crushes our ego, and we suffer.
The Love that conquers Fear is altogether different.
Ram Dass explains it thusly, "there’s the other part of you. The Atman, the heart, the intuitive wisdom, whatever that is, that merges, that goes out and balances and flows, and gives away everything and doesn’t care, it’s like the lilies in the field, the unconditional lover."
What yoga teaches us is that we are all droplets of water in the vast ocean of the divine. Each of us is perfect, as we are. We are aspects of god in conversation with herself. Unconditional love and compassion are infinite; the more we give the more there is to give.
So I need to circle back to my work tonight. If I look deeper, I remember I am not creating the meditation and sharing circle for my ego, the little me. I am channeling the idea of building a community, an idea that precedes me and does not belong to me. I am doing the work of the universe. If I can do it selflessly, then whatever happens is the will of the universe. It is the will of all of us, together. Thine will be done.
The great teaching that leads to happiness is to serve others, and not be attached to the outcome. The same way that the earth, air, water, and sunlight share themselves with you. The present, is a gift. Share it.
But what about Covd-19? Its effin' scary!
The truth is that we will all experience moments of fear and uncertainty. We can't simply love the virus out of existence. The teachings of yoga are not meant as an escape from physical reality, but as a means of engagement.
As I write this, I don't know anyone personally who has the virus. I expect that within a month, I will know several people who do, and perhaps I will have lost loved ones. I am mentally preparing myself for that, and for the possibility that I may become infected. No matter what comfort we take in our beliefs about the afterlife, there are hard times ahead.
I also see another side. The Earth's ecosystems have been overwhelmed by human activity for some time now. We have been taking her for granted and treating her with much disrespect. Nature has a way of finding equilibrium. Perhaps the virus is part of the Earth's immune system. The closing of businesses and travel restrictions have certainly slowed air pollution globally. It is a blessing that the Earth can take a breath.
I hope I don't come off as glib or uncaring. We are at the beginning of a long process, and none of us knows the ending. Our ego's greatest fear is not being able to control outcomes, and I experience that fear as much as anyone.
Love vs. Fear
I could not find hand sanitizer anywhere for the last couple weeks. I put more people at risk because I couldn't sanitize my hands as much as I would like to. That effect will spread back to the hoarders. Panic and fear will destroy us.
My Sanskrit teacher and friend Manorama teaches that we should "see everything as God." That includes the good and the bad; the behaviors of people, plants, animals and minerals. It is a difficult practice, but when we can ask, "how is this God ?" it at least gives us perspective.
When I look at the microscopic images of the Covid virus it seems to have aesthetic beauty. My mind recoils at this thought, but there it is. "How is this god?"
Another thought that causes me internal struggle, is the gratitude I feel for what my yoga teacher Amy Ippoliti this morning called "the Pause." This slowing down of the world is entangled with so much suffering, death, and fear. But it has, at the same time, created a space for us to connect more deeply, remember what is truly important, and dust off old projects we had set aside in order to run on the treadmill of modernity.
We are One.
One of the lessons that Covid-19 is teaching us, is that we are all connected. The speed that it has spread around the world is, pardon the expression, breathtaking. Six degrees of separation memes to be an underestimate. We are all in this together. There are no real borders between countries or citizens. We are one.
It is OK to feel your feelings, to acknowledge your fears, to cry and to retreat into yourself when you need to. It is also important to reach out and support your friends, family and neighbors. It is a blessing we have the internet to keep us connected from a safe distance. There is no better time than now to say, "You mean the world to me."
Nurture the love that comes out of compassion. Practice patience with your loved ones, and remember they are reflections of the divine. Give someone a roll of toilet paper and some hand sanitizer. Wear a mask for them, not for yourself.
May you all be safe and healthy, and may we hug again in the physical world soon enough. Namaste.