So the big question on everyone’s mind is, so when does everything go back to “normal”? The above article gives us four timelines for life to return to some semblance of the life we had before the Covid-19 outbreak of 2020. But my suspicion is, never. Let me explain.
I am not saying we will have to ‘shelter in place’ or practice social distancing forever. I am saying that we will likely emerge from this a very different society. Sure some ‘normal’ things may return in a few months like maybe schools reopening. Others may take longer, like bars and restaurants opening. And at some point, we will consider the changes to our society that resulted from Covid-19 a part of a ‘new normal,’ like taking your shoes off at the airport post 9/11.
One area that will likely have long-term or perhaps permanent changes will be the economy. As someone who is part of the growing ‘gig economy’ here in the US, I know this pandemic has already impacted my income. This impact will have a ripple effect causing me not to make purchases I had planned to make, thus affecting other businesses and their purchasing power and on and on. While the economy may one day ‘bounce back,’ I suspect it will be a different economy, and that may be an excellent thing. Some kinds of work may disappear entirely; others may be changed permanently, but again, some of this change maybe for the better.
Another area I suspect we will see change is in healthcare. In my opinion, our healthcare system has been broken for a long time. It works okay for some, but is inefficient, relatively expensive, inhumane, and has – along with our leaders – already failed us in this time of need. Now, I am not talking about healthcare workers, mind you. I am talking about a system, an institution, a kind of ‘cultural machine.’ Maybe it was the best design we could come up with in the past, but many have seen the problems with healthcare for a long time. Now with the added strain of the pandemic, the health care system may have to undergo some fundamental restructuring, at least, and perhaps even total collapse and resurrection. I read one article that suggested that Covid-19 may be the first of many pandemics that will continue to spring up in the future. If this is accurate, our healthcare system would have to be restructured in a way to help deal with these waves of pandemics.
I could go on. Education, politics, personal hygiene, social norms, I can see them all being impacted long term by this virus. Additionally, as I said in one of my first dharma talks on the subject, Covid-19 may be the first of several waves of change that force humanity to change its ways, the hard way. Now before you bemoan being born at just the wrong time to see your world changed, I will try to point out a few things.
One is that if this is the first such wave of social, national, or global change that you have witnessed, you are lucky. There is no ‘normal’ way of life. There is what we are used to, but there is nothing ‘normal’ about the way we modern humans live today. Anyone who lived through things like the industrial revolution, the influenza pandemic of 1912, one of the World Wars, the sexual revolution of the ’60s, or even 9/11 saw their world changed to some degree. Some of these were more significant and slower changes that altered the shape of society over the years or decades; others were ‘events’ that resulted in a ‘new normal’ almost overnight. My point? Change IS normal.
The next point I would like to make is that from a spiritual perspective, this truth – “that change is normal” – is to be known and integrated into our being because it is one aspect of our total being. But one part of the mind, we will call it the ego, does not like change. It fears change, and yet, when presented with a ‘changeless stillness’ or ‘infinite silence,’ it gets board at best or antsy and agitated at worst.
Another part of the mind, let’s call it the intellect, is a sort of ‘storytelling/prediction machine,’ and is far from perfect. For one, we know through scientific study that is has a negative bias interpreting neutral, or even positive situations as unfavorable. This bias is likely the result of evolutionary forces on our ancestors, but it does not serve us, modern humans, as well. In a time where we are continuously made aware of problems from all around the world, most of which are out of our control, continually telling ourselves doomsday scenarios is not very helpful. Now I am not advocating for a head in the sand approach to modern life and media. However, part of spiritual mind training – aka, meditation – is learning to see thoughts as separate from yourself and thus not having to act or react to each one. We can see an idea, decide if it is something that we can do anything about at that time, and act on it if it is or release it if not.
The same is true of our emotional system. Each individual’s nervous system is partly hard-wired at birth with a particular disposition. There is some evidence that we can shift this disposition in some regards with training, and also through drug therapies. But some of that hard-wiring will likely remain throughout our lives. Our emotional system is also shaped by our personal experiences, right up to the present moment. Traumatic experiences are particularly compelling at quickly rewiring the nervous system to help us survive. But much in the same way that our minds negative bias that likely served our ancestors no longer seems to do so, so our default emotional wiring can be problematic in modern life. If I experience acute trauma in my life, that may leave me with unhelpful and inappropriate responses to completely non-threatening circumstances.
So what do we do with this antiquated biological machinery that is not serving us very well? Update it. How? Mind training, or what I call Yoga. I am not talking about Yoga postures or any one technique in isolation. I am talking about a disciplined, systematic approach and working with an expert – a yoga teacher – who you trust to help guide you. The result should be a usually gradual but palpable shift toward being able to handle stress and thus enjoy the inevitable changes that life will bring.
So when does this end, when do things go back to ‘normal?’ For a fully enlightened mind, this is normal.
-Douglas Johnson E-RYT 500, YACEP