“All human evil comes from a single cause, man’s inability to sit still in a room.” – Blaise Pascal
During the pandemic, people were thrust into awareness. No matter what you did, you couldn’t hide from the virus. You couldn’t not acknowledge the devastation. It was all around. It was inescapable: bars were closed, no visitors were allowed at hospitals, physical distance had to be maintained, funerals and weddings couldn’t be held. Millions of Americans lost their jobs. Once people grieved their old way of life, they were faced with the fact that the virus was present now. Things were uncertain. Vaccines and treatments would be available later.
You could deny the virus. You could try to resist it, but that resistance just added another layer of suffering to that which already existed. If you are not conscious in the face of adversity, your experience is worse. Adversity will never go away and you can’t make the world responsible for you feeling good. That’s not a realistic way of looking at life. Focus on what you can fix, not what you cannot fix. When we are fully present in the moment, our consciousness shifts to awareness, we become the witness, which then enables us to act differently.
In the time of the pandemic, people were forced into the consciousness of the fact that germs are all around. Obviously it’s a common sense fact, but people were called to be more intimate with this fact on a new level. Washing your hands became a type of meditation. Additional spacing in venues that housed large gatherings became the new normal. One way foot traffic signs dawned the floors of grocery store aisles. Masking tape on the floor demarcated distances that customers were to stand at the checkout line. Hand sanitizer dispensers greeted customers as they entered grocery stores. The mainstream media reminded listeners to refrain from touching their face.
With all of this attention on potential ways of spreading germs, it was understandable that some people experienced increased levels of anxiety. As restaurants, public transportation, and hair salons began reopening, people had to make a decision about their personal limitations. Even if a business was open, and their services were urgently needed, the risk of catching the virus could still keep some consumers at home.
People had to explore why they didn’t feel comfortable re-entering society and whether or not that discomfort was irrational. Instead of looking at fellow human beings as walking pathogens, we could condition ourselves to humanize each other. “That is someone’s daughter.” “That is someone’s father.” Mindfulness can bring clarity into what’s going on. Instead of having a general sense of anxiety or panic, mindfulness can aid in drilling down to specific feelings so that action can be taken. Worrying and obsessively ruminating can be minimized by asking the simple question: “Is this feeling useful?”. If it is useful, tolerance and patience may aid in dampening the rumination.
Technology has allowed our society to simultaneously evolve and dissolve. It creates opportunity, fosters growth, and provides entertainment in everyday life. However, it also caused the dissolution of meaningful, personal connections. People became glued to their devices and lost track of time, value, and reason. Mind-numbing tasks had prevented us from engaging and connecting with each other on a raw, human level.
The pandemic kept us on these devices. In the age of being physically distant, we were called to be more socially connected, which was achieved via technology. Patients in hospitals and nursing homes couldn’t have visitors. Public school buildings were closed to students. Recovery meetings couldn’t meet in church basements. Almost every aspect of the social realm was converted to digital mediums.
Jumping between conference calls all day became the new normal; however, there was more awareness around the use of this time. Although using devices became vital to work, school, and social activities, previous warnings of too much screen time were now being heeded. People were more mindful of the time spent using technology and were taking breaks, going outside, exploring nature, and picking up the antiquated device that was the telephone.
There was an overall increased intimacy experienced in these times. Although interactions weren’t taking place in the physical realm, there was a collective understanding that this was a trying time for everyone. There was a sense of compassion and humanity that had been previously lacking.
People could wear sweatpants and not comb their hair. After all, we’re just using phones or staying home. There was a liberating feeling to it all – a lowering of unnecessary expectations. A decrease in stress. A softening of the fake image that some people portrayed. An overarching blanket of kindness and compassion slowly started to envelop communities. Humanity experienced a massive reboot in which we shifted from being technologically connected but socially distant, to being technologically connected and socially close.
In the early stages of the pandemic, stay-at-home orders were imposed in many metropolitan areas as a way of reducing viral spread and not overburdening the already strained healthcare system. This was an effort to reduce potentially preventable deaths. People were forced to stay in their homes unless it was deemed essential like buying groceries or medications. Only certain employees could go to work, and if the workplace was indoors, the company had to operate with a reduced staff.
Millions of Americans lost their jobs since their employers couldn’t afford to keep them on payroll. The universe was telling us to go sit in our rooms and be still. The universe was telling us that we need to be more conscious. It had to be a catastrophic event to get our attention.
Not long after the stay-at-home orders were imposed, people started turning to healthy coping strategies to deal with the isolation and uncertainty. Yoga and meditation were on their way to becoming mainstream in the United States, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that they really had their moment of fame. This highlighted our underlying need for more connection with our self. The most common excuse for people not meditating was not having time. Now people had nothing but time.
During these stressful times, people sought refuge in a feeling of serenity and they found that place in themselves. People couldn’t go outwards, so they turned inwards. When we turn our awareness inwards, we connect with our self and can nurture the issues that are in our tissues. The goal of a meditation practice is not to dissociate from a feeling, but rather to acknowledge it, understand it, and then transcend it. If we cannot minimize the negative noise that prospers inside us, we have to find a way to maximize the happy noise inside us.
We cannot see where the present is going. Looking at things in retrospect gives us our experience, realization, wisdom, and maturity. Being mindful, on purpose and without judgment, connects us with the present moment. That’s all there ever is. If you don’t have a good relationship with now – you don’t have a good relationship with life, because life is now.
Humans have a deeply rooted reflex to engage in binary choices: fight or flight, grasp or reject, believe or doubt. We can’t bear the idea of just staying open. When we are curious about something and ask an open question, the mind is protected from belief and doubt. If we don’t anticipate the answer, then we will not have a predetermined emotional response. This is the most intelligent way to position the mind. Americans are highly engrained in having to know something and capture the truth. But truth is a moving target, reality is not. The world is dynamic and constantly changing, our minds have to too. When we live in the questions, we’ll be moved into the answers.
Like sitting with unanswered questions, observing negative space is another way to experience conscious awareness. Negative space is the area around an object. It is the spaciousness in our environment. Now, to the naked eye, the virus is negative space, but under a microscope, the virus is the object. When we examine negative space, we shift our consciousness to unobserved things. Each morning we awake with a mind of negative space and we fill that space throughout the day.
In our frantic pace of life, cluttered with anxiety and overwhelm, we neglect to acknowledge the down time that connects our activities. If we acknowledge this space, we can bathe in the emptiness of our inexhaustible surroundings, and in turn, manifest a calming sensation. This awareness of consciousness has the power to bring humanity to a population that could use more of it.
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” – Deepak Chopra