The Coronavirus is bringing nations to a grinding halt. The virus is devastating communities. It has ravaged China, Italy, Spain, and France, and continues to stomp through more countries.
Work from home has become a new normal – if your line of work permits that. If you are a daily wage earner, hope the government has your back.
COVID-19 has sent nations into lockdowns. But with lockdowns, people are also spending a lot of their time on video streaming services, thus clogging the internet. In response, Netflix, Amazon and other providers have been asked to limit their content to SD from HD and 4K to save on bandwidth and stop the internet from going down.
The image above really made me sit up and think. It moved me to write this article as a small way of passing on hope to the community in these times of crisis.
What we are going through is unprecedented for sure. Some say it’s like a World War. But, is there a way we can better utilise this time indoors? Something that can have a lasting impact on humanity, long after COVID-19 is brought down?
There’s a Deadly Virus and it’s already Inside
COVID-19 is a deadly virus that’s ravaging communities. But there has been a far deadlier virus that has been silently destroying humanity for centuries. And unlike COVID-19, that virus has not originated in China or Africa or Asia or Europe.
That virus is inside.
It’s the virus in our minds. And that makes it so much more deadly.
And a deadly external virus that forces us to stop in our tracks may be just the stimulus we need to tackle the virus inside.
What could we do?
Now that we have plenty of time indoors, this is a good time for us as a human race to take stock.
It’s time to look within.
The Virus in our Minds
Why are people thronging supermarkets and bulk buying today with no concern for their neighbour? They’re merely following their thoughts.
“The virus is deadly.”
“It will affect us.”
“There’s going to be a lockdown.”
“We will run out of food.”
“There won’t be any in the stores.”
“Oh! What are we going to do?”
“God! We are going to die.”
“No! I must stock up.”
Do you see the trend?
And yet, there’s no sense in this. Administrations emphasise we will not run out of essential supplies. But people are buying loads of toilet paper, sanitisers and food they will never consume.
It’s what happens when we follow thought with no rationality.
A Spiritual Response
Before you turn away from this article, please don’t confuse this with religion. No matter what religion you follow, or even if you don’t follow any religion, there’s something for you.
Let’s start with a simple exercise.
Find a corner in a quiet room. You only need a spot on the floor where you can sit down.
Set a cushion or pillow on the floor and sit cross-legged on the edge of the cushion. This way, your torso leans slightly forward. This helps to keep your back straight easily and brings your body in balance. Don’t bother about lotus or semi-lotus position for now. Just sit comfortably and cross your legs.
Set a countdown timer on your phone for 5 minutes.
Sit with legs crossed, place your hands gently on your lap, somewhere around your groin. Once your body is still, start the timer.
Close your eyes to avoid distractions. Bring your focus to your abdomen, just above the area of your belly button.
As you breathe inwards, notice your belly rise up to meet your chest. Then as you exhale, observe the belly descend.
Keep your mind focussed on just this area and let it observe silently. Rising and falling. Rising and falling.
If your breathing is fast, it’s fast. That’s fine. If your breathing is slow and long, it’s slow and long. That’s fine. If your breathing is irregular, it’s irregular. That’s fine. Do not judge or analyse.
Now, when you sit to observe your breath, you may find after a minute or maybe just a few seconds, thoughts stream into your mind drawing it silently away from focussing on your breathing.
“People are dying.”
“My investments are down with the markets.”
“What are my children doing?”
“Do I have enough food in the house?”
“Will the stores run out of supplies?”
“I need to get back to work.”
“This is nonsense.”
The stream of thoughts will be endless. It’s all right. Once you are aware of a thought, simply bring the mind back to focus on the breathing. After a while, it may wander again. Sometimes you will become aware of your thoughts immediately. At other times, you may find several minutes have passed before you become aware your mind is not focussed on your breath.
Whether immediately, or after several minutes. It’s all right. Once you do become aware, bring your mind back to your breath.
Simply focus on your breathing until the timer rings.
When it does, open your eyes slowly, continue to sit for a few moments. Then get up and continue your routine around the house.
What you’ve just done is a technique of meditation that’s now become known as mindfulness meditation. But it was perfected by zen masters thousands of years ago and has been around for generations.
What’s the Purpose?
You may rightly ask, what’s the purpose of this?
Here’s the thing. Everything we are used to doing – work, play, even prayer and ritual, is geared toward achieving something. More money, happiness, ecstasy, orgasm, exercise, weight loss, lower cholesterol, better health, heaven, moksha, eternal life.
But you don’t do mindfulness meditation to achieve anything. It’s being aware of the here and now.
Start with small chunks of time – like 5 minutes. Then gradually extend the session. But don’t push it. Maybe 15 to 20 minutes. Then 30, 45 and even 60.
And never be angry with yourself if you cannot seem to control your mind. That’s ok too. Start over and just be.
This is not a race or a matter of progression.
Insight Timer is a free app that lets you set the session time with starting and ending bells. It also has some nature sounds or instrumental music if you like, during the session.
Slowly, as you do this regularly, you will become aware of what you are doing throughout the day.
Now that we are in lockdowns and our activity is curtailed, it’s easier to be aware far from a maddening crowd.
Did you notice the water as you washed your hands? What about the vibrations of the vacuum cleaner as you go about house cleaning? Even the feel of the fabric on your body.
You become aware of anything you are doing in the moment.
And aware of the thoughts as they stream past the mind.
You may be surprised at how many thoughts stream in and out of consciousness. The flurry of activity you observe is going on through the day and night inside your mind.
The question then becomes, who’s controlling whom? Are you in control of your mind? Or is your mind in control of you? Neither is good or bad. But it’s the awareness that’s important.
How does this relate in times of crisis?
The stress levels in times of crisis can be alarming. And, as medical sciences have always told us, stress works to reduce our immunity. It affects our body. And this, in turn, makes us vulnerable to disease.
Our modern living has exponentially increased levels of stress. This is borne out by the incidents of mindless violence all around.
The perfect environment for a virus.
By observing your breath, you will come to better understand your mind. And even quiet it down. Thoughts come. That’s the nature of thoughts. It’s what we do with a thought that matters.
When we follow a thought, we are led by it.
Following our thoughts has led us to where we find ourselves today. Rape, murder, armed robbery, armed conflict, terror attacks, family conflict, the list goes on.
Once we begin to be aware of the nature of our thoughts, things start to change. Once we get used to observing a thought and seeing it for what it is, and then letting it go into the stream of random thoughts, without following it, that’s when transformations in behaviour will happen.
Transformation cannot happen through laws or through social strictures or even religious diktats.
Transformation can happen only from within. Once we see that we all breathe the same air, once we see the rise and fall, not just of the abdomen but of everything around us – the very universe, only then we begin to understand we are all one.
We are not just living in the world, we are a part of the breathing universe.
And COVID-19 lockdowns may become just the reset button for humanity.
We will come out of this crisis together. We can chose to come out the better for the experience, or we can be the same.
How we are as a human race on the other side is what’s in our hands.