It is interesting to me how people’s attitudes about what is ‘right’ and wrong behavior and policy regarding the pandemic often seem to be shaped by how likely they think they or their loved ones are to contract COVID-19 and what they think that would look like.
If we think our loved ones or we will be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms because we are relatively young and healthy, we might be upset about the lockdown and see mask-wearing as sheepish. We might emphasize how people are losing work and how the economy will falter. If we think we might get sick and die, we may not feel so cavalier about lifting social distancing recommendations.
Well, what if I told you you could be young and healthy with no preexisting health conditions, get COVID, and not recover for months or even possibly years? Would that change your mind about policy, about how others are acting? The article I linked to above describes people who are going through that very experience right now.
This human tendency is one reason why John Rawl’s “veil of ignorance” was so brilliant. If people creating a new society did not know what station they would occupy in this fledgling society, they would create a just society. If you did not know if you would be a man or a woman, black, brown, yellow or red, if you did not know if you would sick or well, rich or poor, gay or straight, you would be sure everyone was treated with respect and fundamental human rights because that might be you in the not-too-distant future.
Not knowing where we stand concerning a potentially deadly disease is why COVID is interesting. Because it is a new virus and our understanding of it is continually shifting and changing, it can be difficult for people to think they know where they stand with regards to the disease.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t tend to stop people from judging one another, but it can lead to them having to shift back and forth on positions. I’ve seen this on social media where one week someone will be posting a meme making fun of people wearing masks and then the next posting something about how important it is for everyone to wear a mask.
In my experience, people suffer because of what they think they know. We believe we have the answer, we know what needs to change, we can see the problem clearly, why can’t everyone else? From my perspective, this kind of thinking leads to suffering.
We, as human beings, have been blessed with a limited sphere of knowledge and perception. This fact is part of what makes life fun and exciting from the perspective of Spirit. If we knew everything, life would be boring.
But this blessing can turn into a hindrance when we think we know. This negative effect of thought is why in the Bible, the “fall from grace” happens because Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. This negative effect is also why Jesus taught us that we could get back into our “Father’s Kingdom,” Heaven, the garden of Eden, by giving up judgment (thinking we know).
Jesus also taught about forgiveness. True forgiveness is realizing there is nothing to forgive. From a conventional standpoint, there may be plenty to forgive, but spirituality is not about the standard viewpoint. Most often, the spiritual perspective is 180º of the standard view. If it’s not, you may not be dealing with true spirituality. As an example, a spiritual perspective is one where the diagnosis of a life-threatening disease can be the very thing to bring you back to life.
Yet, some of us don’t recognize our inherent limitations regarding perception and knowledge. We get filled with righteous indignation about others’ behavior – because we are undoubtedly the ones who know how to act appropriately. Instead of life being an exciting ride where things are gradually revealed in a wondrous flow, we believe we already have all the answers and are trying to force life and others into the shape we are sure they are supposed to be in. No human knows how life should be. Life is how it is, and we can appreciate it with all its dynamism, or we can “know” it should be different.
I am not saying we can’t participate in shaping life and changing its flow. But life has a funny way of yielding to the human who enters into its stream or what Taoists would call The Tao. When we are in love with something, it melts, yields, and becomes malleable in a way that it is not when we are coming from anger and outrage. The same is true of your life. Are you in love with your life? It is such a gift.
Is there a lot of ugliness in life? Yes. Do humans cause a lot of unnecessary suffering for one another. Yes. But getting upset makes you a part of the problem, not a part of the solution from where I stand. Don’t give up your peace for anything or anyone. You may think you can make the world a better place by doing so, but I promise you what the world needs right now is more humans who know peace and can share that peace with others.
We can enact change without righteous indignation and without turning our fellow human beings into the ‘other.’ We can come from a place of love, compassion, and understanding. If someone is ignorant about something, we can try to reach out and educate, knowing full well that we may end up being the one who gets ‘schooled.’
In Matthew 5:5, the Bible says, “God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.” In my experience, humility is vital to having a truly open mind and to lasting happiness. I don’t care if you are on the right or the left of the political spectrum; I don’t hear much humility on either side right now. I don’t see people listening to one another. Everything is being turned into a political and divisive issue.
I cannot emphasize this enough; we don’t know what we don’t know. If you are upset right now about how ‘others’ are behaving, chances are you don’t have the whole picture. Whether it be social distancing, mask-wearing, businesses reopening, not opening, or something else entirely, you will find peace in letting others mind their own business.
You may say, “yes, but other’s behavior impacts my life or that of people I love, so I have to keep tabs on them.” But you will find that although that may seem right and be valid to an extent, you will be unable to control their behavior or their minds. Even if you could coerce others to do your bidding, you would find that this leads to a unique hell worse than any other for you.
From my limited perspective, one of the most important things that we need to keep right now is our inner sense of peace and love, compassion, and understanding in our hearts. You cannot teach peace if you don’t have it. You cannot share love unless you are aware of its source inside you. Show others the light they have inside them by finding it inside yourself, irrespective of outside circumstances, and then seeing it inside of them.
I sometimes say there are no ‘easy’ human lives. Every human life presents unique challenges and circumstances. Many humans on this planet would believe simply by you being able to read these words on your phone or computer that you must be in a situation that would free you of suffering because, for them, the primary source of their pain is lack of food and shelter. Is that true? Are you free of suffering and challenges? Is enough to eat and shelter enough to stop your mind from wanting things to be different than they are?
One of the main ways we create suffering for ourselves, and one another is believing the ‘other’ is the source of our suffering. I get it; it certainly can look that way. But when we think this, we perpetuate a cycle that continues the pain.
And this brings us back to a core tenet of my teaching, which is taking full responsibility for your happiness. I know its hard, but this is what makes you so powerful when you do it. Another way of saying the same thing is, don’t be anyone’s victim. I am not saying there are no bad actors out there or unjust systems, but this is a spiritual concept, not a tit for tat factual accounting of what we perceive reality to be.
Again, we don’t need a spiritual teacher to tell us facts or report what we already see through the lens of our current cultural and temporal conditioning. Actual spiritual teaching frees us of this. I don’t reinforce your conventional viewpoint because that viewpoint causes suffering. I try to teach you to see from a different perspective because it unlocks a limitless power I call Spirit.
So may your Spirit be victorious today and every day.
-Douglas Johnson E-RYT 500, YACEP