You may have heard that the Chinese term for “crisis” involves two characters. One which means danger and the other, “opportunity”. “Opportune”, the root of the word “opportunity means “auspicious, advantageous, and favorable”, a set of circumstances that can reveal possibilities that may have previously been unilluminated. Consequently, a crisis is a paradox that contains two ends of the spectrum that contains both fear and hopeful possibility. When we hear the word “crisis”, the tendency is to associate it with the “danger” side of the term, and in doing so, we may fail to recognize that crises also contain the seeds of new and previously inconceivable possibilities that may not have been visible in pre-crisis times. In the English language, “crisis” has its origin in the Greek “krisis” meaning “a decisive turning point in the progress of a disease”. So, according to both definitions, we do seem to be in a bona fide crisis.
I am not suggesting that we are not experiencing a very serious threat to our personal well-being in our current circumstances. A crisis is a time of infinite possibilities, both positive and negative. Associating it with its negative aspects is useful in anticipating and preparing for possible challenges that may be forthcoming. There is however a danger in being preoccupied with this perspective and neglecting to recognize the opportunities that may have opened up in the transition between the old order and the new one. While there is a risk in not preparing for potential difficulties, there is also a risk in being obsessively preoccupied with the dangerous aspects of a crisis. Doing so promotes fear, anxiety, and stress and inhibits our ability to think and respond to it with creativity and resourcefulness.
Acknowledging the presence of these opportunities in no way denies the existence of very real stressors. A pandemic that is turning billions of lives upside down and putting countless people at risk of losing their means of earning, their health and their very lives, is something that we all need to take very seriously. The answer to the question “Do we focus on the dangers of the COVID-19 crisis or its opportunities?” is “Yes!”. Like all paradoxes, it’s not an “either/or”, it’s a both/and”. So, what are the potential benefits of living in the COVID age?
Here are a few of them:
· Slowing down. You may have noticed that the rhythm and pace of your life has slowed. If you find yourself enjoying it, feel free to continue to do so. For many of us, the “old normal” rhythm felt excessively fast and left us feeling like we were never able to get caught up. Moving through life more slowly allows us to be more present, mindful, and relaxed, and we can pay closer attention to the journey without being obsessed with getting to the destination. Slower is also better for our health than speedy.
· Distinguishing our needs from our wants. Deprived of many of the means of and recreation, and luxuries that we may have previously mistaken for necessities is a hardship and a loss. But out of this recognition can come an awareness of the distinction between what is truly essential and what is not. Being denied access to our habituated activities can challenge us to distinguish our true needs (necessities) from our desires (optional). This recognition can free us from the need to keep filling our life with more experiences and stuff, and discover the pleasure of simplicity and diminish our need for external stimulation. At that point, sayings like “the best things in life are free” and “the best things in life aren’t things” cease to be concepts and become real truths. You might even discover that cutting back on your spending doesn’t necessarily ruin your quality of life, but that you can save money and be even happier by shifting your priorities.
· Recognizing our interconnectedness. One of the most powerful lessons that our current situation is affirming to us all is the inextricable interconnectedness that characterizes our relationship with other people, countries, and all sentient beings. It’s one thing to believe that we are connected, and another thing to feel that reality in our bones and to absolutely know that what happens to other people, even if they live on the other side of the planet, inevitably affects us, often in ways we can’t imagine. The evidence that this is true is becoming apparent to increasing numbers of us on a daily basis. This visceral awareness alters our perspective towards others in ways that philosophies and intellectual understandings cannot. It also deepens our capacity for empathy and opens greater access to our own feelings, desires, and needs.
· Living from a quieter and simpler life context permits us to be more present and mindful in our lives Just as driving down a freeway at 80 miles an hour causes a blurring of the scenery, when the pace of our lives is too fast to notice life’s more subtle details, the content of our experience gets obscured. Consequently, we miss out on a lot. We don’t get to smell or even see the flowers when we’re moving through life at warp speed. When we’re traveling by bicycle, we get to see things that we couldn’t see from inside of a race car. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanted to use technology to live a more efficient life, but most of us could use more relaxation even if it sometimes comes from a diminishment of acceleration.
· Noticing systemic inequities in our society can cause us to extend our field of awareness beyond our personal life and of those closest to us to include others who are in need of and deserving of our concern. To the degree that we have a wider and deeper arena of consideration, we not only experience more concern for others, but we become more able to receive the gifts that inevitably are reciprocated when we live from a spirit of generosity. The price that we have to pay to extend our circle of care is the willingness to experience compassion, which means literally “suffering with another”. The bright side of compassion is that we get to also feel others’ joy, happiness, and celebrate their successes with them as if they were our own. This awareness can motivate us to take actions that are driven by a desire to promote greater equality and fulfillment in society in general through our words and deeds.
· Becoming relieved of the burden of carrying the belief that my value as a human being is based upon my ability to always be productive and to fulfill the expectations of others. Many of us grow up believing that we are only worthy of being loved and respected if we live up to the expectations that others. When we find ourselves in a circumstance in which our primary means of demonstrating our value are unavailable to us, it can activate feelings of anger, anxiety, and insecurity, or even panic. These feelings are reminding us that we have an opportunity to find out whether our friends really care for us or whether our relationship is more conditional. It’s also a time in which we can extend ourselves to them to reaffirm our care and support.
· Promoting an attitude of gratitude. If there is one quick and simple means of redirecting our mood or attitude from fearfulness to thankfulness, it’s to focus on what we have, rather than what we don’t have. This is not to suggest that we should deny the pain of what we may have lost or fear we may lose, but rather that we honestly experience our grief and fear without allowing those feelings to consume us. Even in dark times, it can be possible to find aspects of our lives for which we have gratitude, those things and people that we haven’t lost, that continue to sustain and bring comfort to us. Gratitude is always a choice, and it is always available whenever we make a decision to experience it. Sometimes it can be even easier to find it in dark times because our motivation to seek it is stronger. In those times we can more easily see how many others are struggling with experiences even more difficult than our own circumstances.
These are just a few examples of the opportunities that are available in our current situation. There are countless others that we can see if we set an intention to recognize them. The next step is to take actions that will help us to see things from a perspective that leaves us feeling more hopeful and grateful, and less depressed and fearful.
We’ll continue to write blogs and offer YouTube presentations that deal with ways to respond to the challenge of living in COVID-19 times. We welcome any thoughts or stories that you have that you’d like to share with us that we might share with others.
In the meantime, be well, take care, stay safe, and stay tuned for more tips on living in the COVID and Post-COVID times!