How is this changing you?

Many people are speculating these days about how the coronavirus is going to change the world—not physically but psychologically, philosophically. I’ve heard a wide range of opinions: that countries will become more self-protective and nationalistic, that goddess worship will resurge, that a dawning appreciation among young people of what the skies, waters, and trees look and sound and smell like when they get a break from carbon inundation will result in a new generation of environmentalists.

They’re all interesting speculations. All could be true—and all could be completely off base. We’re less able now than ever to predict the future. I remember doing research in the late-70s for a multimedia production about the future. Experts then predicted that we would all have enormous index fingers, because we’d be pushing buttons for all our tasks. No one imagined that, instead, we’d be typing with our thumbs on tiny screens!

But what we can notice even now is how we ourselves are changing. Forced to live differently than ever before, how are we managing? How are you managing? Do you find you’re more focused, for example, spending less effort on multi-tasking? Have you finally started meditating and discovering that it really does help? If you have children and they’re home all day, how are family relationships shifting?

The biggest change I’ve noticed in myself is that I’ve quit striving, pushing, driving myself. Some friends and I actually had a conversation about striving a few months ago. A few of them wished they could stop doing it, and I said I wouldn’t want to. Yet now, no one can push and strive, because we simply don’t know the future we’re going to be walking into one week from now, let alone six months from now.

I realized this about two and a half weeks ago, when I was busily trying to plan and organize events taking place in June and September of this year and in December 2021. No one was responding to my emails! Instead of getting annoyed and frustrated, as I ordinarily would, I realized that no one finds it possible to plan. So I emailed all the people I’d contacted over the past few days and said as much: Let’s just stay healthy now, I said, find and make as much beauty as possible, and we’ll resume our discussion when this crisis is past. Then I heard from people! They were relieved and said they’re eager to continue planning when we can.

I’ve found that I’m able to concentrate better on one thing at a time. I’m not constantly being plucked and pulled with the worry that I should urgently be taking care of something that I’ve overlooked. My mind isn’t plotting the future, because, truly, all I can do is take care of the moment.

How is this pandemic changing you? Please let us know by writing in the comments box of this blog (below the post) or emailing me.

What I’m reading

Because I haven’t been feeling well for the past week or so (symptoms I would ordinarily just consider the flu; today being tested to see if it’s The Flu), I wanted a good, long, fat, engrossing book to read. The Forsyte Saga! my brain immediately suggested. I read that great tome, about three generations of a family in Victorian London, when I was in my twenties. After quite a search among my books, I found it again (it was on the Russian literature shelf). I am completely engrossed in it as I sit wrapped in a blanket drinking cups of hot tea.

Savory Moment

The savory moments these days often happen online, where all meetings, reunions, and friendly visits occur. I introduce my husband to a new friend from the Holy Land trip I went on in February. I hear that a colleague has gotten free tuition to a meditation training she’d wanted to attend that was full before they decided to offer it online. Someone tells a story about about a flock of seagulls he saw flying down the middle of West 54h Street in Manhattan and then turning the corner en masse onto Eighth Avenue, prompting the firefighters to come out from their station to stand on the street watching.

Is There a Lesson in All This?

My philosophically minded friends and I have can’t help talking about whether the coronavirus has some kind of lesson to teach us. By “us” I mean us-personally and us-as-humans.

A few people think there may be some cosmic overall plan meant to help us evolve to a higher level of consciousness. Others believe it’s all just random—physics at work in the physical world. As for me, I think that, whereas there’s no meaning for why this virus is rampaging the world, there may be something we can seize upon later, as we look back and ask ourselves, How have we changed?

Because we will certainly change. Never before has every single person in the world faced the same lethal threat at the same time. The virus does not discriminate among genders, religions, or races. We are all worried. At some point in the future, right now yearned-for but unimaginable, we will be sitting in the sunlight in cafés, laughing with friends, browsing inches from one another in a crowded bookstore. We will be exuberant and we will be sad, for we will have suffered through the disease and many will have lost someone because of it.

How will we change? Will we become more polarized as a country? Or will we become more generous and compassionate? Will we realize that we don’t need to rush out and shop whenever we realize we’ve forgotten one or two things at the supermarket? Will we become more patient? Or will be become more impatient, more greedy to reward ourselves with all the little indulgences we had to forsake during our self-enforced isolation? Will we realize how much we could do without—celebrate the clearing of the skies when so many planes are grounded, the return of dolphins to the canals in Venice, the bubbling once more of springs in Bali when thousands of tourists are no longer luxuriating in spas and taking long American showers?

Sometimes I feel optimistic. Today, for example, I was moved by a video of musicians from Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, playing their instruments from the homes where they’re isolated, so that we, isolating in our own homes around the world, might hear a beautifully rendered “Ode to Joy”. People can be wonderfully kind and creative, I thought.

And then, less than an hour later, I read a the Facebook post of a Florida friend of Puerto Rican heritage that his daughter is afraid that kids in her neighborhood will mistake her for a Chinese person and beat her up because they blame the Chinese for causing the coronavirus. People can be very cruel and unfair, I thought.

The mission of the organization I founded, Radical Joy for Hard Times, is to find and make beauty for wounded places. The whole Earth is a very scared and wounded place right now. The only thing we can possibly do is to be excessively generous and patient and grateful for as long as we can—and then a little longer.

 

What I’m reading

I’m now reading Dogs at the Perimeter by Madeleine Thien.  It’s the story of a woman who was a child during the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the late 1970s. Her father is killed, her mother dies of weakness and mental confusion, her younger brother decides that the only way he can survive is to become a merciless child soldier himself. The girl, who goes by several names during the course of the narrative, eventually escapes and creates a life in Canada, but her past keeps wreaking havoc on her life.

My husband Andy asked, “Why are you reading such a depressing book at this time, when the whole world is falling apart?” I asked myself the same question and realized that in some way it just makes sense. Often, when I read books or hear news stories about tragedies and tumult that other people are experiencing, I feel like it could have been me—or even that I actually have lived that life somehow, in some region of my being or past life or very active imagination. So now, during the time of the coronavirus, when I feel like I’m connected to everyone on Earth in a new way, it’s the perfect time to read a story about fear, survival, and small acts of rebellion, because on some level that’s where we’re all living now.

 

Savory Moment

On a recent cold, gloomy day, after negotiating the untrafficked aisles of the supermarket and feeling both grateful for the staff unpacking boxes of yogurt, arranging apples in the bin, checking people out, and unsettled by the sparse number of shoppers resolutely keeping our distance from one another, I felt so sad and vulnerable and moved. Then Andy and I went to Home Depot to stock up on birdseed, and while we were there, I was captivated by little flats of pansies in beautiful sunset colors. I loved that there can be flowers blooming at a time like this, as if everything is right and normal with the world, as if the soil will always be glad to receive little roots that know exactly how to behave in it, and as if flowers are possible at a time like this. I bought some of the pansies and put them on a little table in my office. Together we await spring.