There’s probably more articles flooding the internet and social media than there are tests available for Covid-19 right now. It’s tough sledding for our anxiety. Many suggest that even worse than the virus itself is our fear response to the virus. On the other, it’s reckless and unwise to operate like business as usual.
To be sure, it’s not business as usual. Epidemiologists are predicting outcomes in the U.S. of 10–15 times what we see from the flu. To date, we have seen 20,000 deaths this year from the flu. That’s scary stuff. When you couple that with realizing our health care system ranks below the small country of Costa Rice (at 37th), and with some of our states ranking low on the list of those within the U.S., it’s pretty unnerving. Stir it up with a stock market in free fall, and a mounting demand of #WhereAreTheTests tweets, and you could say it would be at least a little disconnected from reality “to fiddle while Rome burns.”
Our brains are easily triggered by fear. All it takes is one more season-ending sports announcement and the next thing you know we’re buying 80-pound bags of rice and enough toilet paper to roll your alma mater’s campus. We should mindful of our fear, or our fear will overwhelm us.
A lot of people seem to think that mindfulness techniques and meditation training are just for privileged people. Or that it has little to do with the hardcore realities of people with their boots on the ground. That is simply not the case.
Eckart Tolle writes:
“The best indicator of your level of consciousness is how you deal with life’s challenges when they come. Through those challenges, an already unconscious person tends to become more deeply unconscious, and a conscious person more intensely conscious. You can use a challenge to awaken you, or you can allow it to pull you into even deeper sleep.”
A first-step question really is — or could be: What are you learning about yourself from your response?Another way to put it: Are you writing the story of your actions, or are you in your “monkey brain,” acting out of emotion — and letting the story be dictated to you? Mindfulness can help you observe yourself and work on your fear, as well as your responses to others.
Bowen theory is a family systems theory of human behavior. The family is an emotional unit involved in complex interactions. Even when people feel distant or disconnected from their families, it is more feeling than fact. The members within a family are so interconnected that it often seems as if they are living under the same “emotional skin.” We solicit each other’s attention, approval, and support and react to each other’s needs, expectations, and frustrations. A change in one person’s functioning is predictably followed by reciprocal changes in the functioning of others.
In the end, if you want to make a change within the family, you have to work on yourself. We’re great at pointing fingers. We seem to see everyone else’s blind spots before we’re ready to accept the feedback about our own. But that’s just it, if you want a healthier system, begin with you. Like a lot of things, it’s easier said than done, but all of this is a process. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they also say.
Begin with the litmus test above for a personal inventory. How are you responding? Then ask yourself: How can I change my response (if you need to), and begin dictating the terms of my own story here? What can you learn from this unprecedented experience?
Mindfulness doesn’t just work in times of peace and plenty. Mindfulness prepares us practically for crises as well, whether personal or collective. Perhaps it can teach us that we are all vulnerable. We all breathe the same air. We all fear getting sick. Like a family, we are interconnected. Practicing mindfulness — and starting with yourself — is a way to care of yourself, and others at the same time. Nothing like a crisis to bring out your very best.