Updated: May 30
How to Stay Calm in this Coronavirus Crisis
At the time of writing this - 8:47 am, Friday, March 13th, 2020 - I am still alive. However, the world is officially in a crisis. The coronavirus is pandemic and everything is falling apart around it.
People that don’t wash their hands are dying.
People are doing cocaine in France to fight off the disease.
And hell, even the police department in my small town (Arkansas) is closed.
It’s very tempting when we get worried to focus all of our attention, resources, and diehard determination to predicting what is going to happen in the near future. We desperately try to tear away the veil of uncertainty to make sure we won’t be surprised and caught off guard.
We are doing our best to try to control the future.
This isn’t to say it is idiotic to try to anticipate the worst and prepare for it with rational planning.
‘Hope for the best, plan for the worst.’
- A Marine Corp Major told us in Kuwait during our CLiP (Combat-Logistics-Patrol) Training before ‘Boots-on-Ground’ in Iraq… though I think he stole the quote from somewhere else.
We will never truly know what is going to happen to us, nor should we.
Fate, destiny, and luck are prisons we put ourselves in. And no amount of beauty, strength, or intelligence will help us escape this prison. Our lives are in the hands of the unknown on this non-stop stream of time.
We have the most powerful tool in known existence at our disposal, our minds. But even they are not capable of peeking into the future or outsmarting its ambiguity. We are just along for the ride of life, subject to the waves and rapids it throws us in.
What our minds can help us do, is learn to face this unavoidable ignorance with benign trust.
It may feel risky to just let go and trust the universe like this, but it is making a bet on a gamble that usually wins in the end. And if it just feels too scary to let go and trust the universe, well, at some point, we just have to realize we don’t really have any other choice.
‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?’
- Jesus, Gospel of Saint Matthew 6:26
We don’t have to be a Christian to see the wisdom in its literature. The wisdom here is that we don’t have to be anxious about what will come next, including our next meal. The Universe, God, the Tao, Nature, Fate, or whatever you want to call it, will provide.
‘The great Tao flows everywhere, both to the right and to the left.
The ten thousand things depend upon it; it holds nothing back.
It fulfills its purpose silently and makes no claim.’
- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, chapter 34
Even if you aren’t into to all that religious or spiritual mumbo-jumbo, there is wisdom and power in knowing when to switch off our minds. This is especially true in the face of uncertainty.
Worrying over ‘what will be’ is a surefire way to lose your mind. Even if the road is dark and we can only see as far as our headlights, we trust without knowing we will find a place to stop and eat when we are hungry. It’s a small example of this sense of trust we should carry when navigating the more terrifying parts of the future, the unchartered waters where there may be dragons.
It’s never too late to accept this truth and adopt this trust.
Whatever the test may be
Whoever we will love
However our careers will go
Or when we will die
However, comforting it may or may not be, whatever happens for us in the future will be, at least in the big picture, fine. Even death isn’t really something to be afraid of.
Whether we look at the birds flying or our best friends sitting in the living room with us, we can and should take a lesson from our more honest cohabitants of Earth:
We should accept our mental limitations by allowing ourselves to know what we know and putting the rest to the side.
‘But he climbed on, uphill, down dale, past green pastures, but also over wild stony courses where formerly perhaps an impatient brook had made its bed; then all at once, he found himself growing warmer and more cheerful. “What has happened to me?” he asked himself, “something warm and living refreshes me, it must be nearby. Already I am less alone, unknown companions and brothers circle about me, their warm breath touches my soul.”
When, however, he peered about him and sought the comforters of his loneliness, behold, there were cows standing together on a hillock; it was their proximity and odor that had warmed his heart. These cows, however, seemed to be listening eagerly to a speaker and took no heed of his approach. And when Zarathustra was quite near them, he clearly heard a human voice speaking from among the cows, and apparently all of them had turned their heads towards the speaker.
Then Zarathustra eagerly ran up the hillock and pulled the animals away for he feared that someone had met with harm, which the sympathy of the cows would hardly be able to remedy. But in this he was deceived; for behold, there sat a man on the ground who seemed to be persuading the animals to have no fear of him, a peaceable man and a sermonizer-on-the-mount, out of whose eyes kindness itself preached.
“What do you seek here?” cried Zarathustra in astonishment. “What do I seek here?” he answered: “the same as you seek, you peace-breaker! That is happiness upon earth. To that end, however, I would learn from these cows. For I tell you I have already been talking to them for half a morning, and they were just about to reply to me. Why do you disturb them? Unless we change (or be converted) and become as cows, we shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. For there is one thing we should learn from them: rumination.’
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, ‘The Voluntary Beggar’
Nietzsche apparently had a thing for cows, but don’t let that deter you from the truth he witnessed in their ways. Something we can all see just by simply sitting and watching birds or puppies in the park. A puppy would surely love to tell you the secret to happiness as well as a cow, but just like Nietzsche’s cows:
‘The animal would like to answer, and say, “The reason is I always forget what I was going to say” – but then he forgets that answer too, and stays silent so that the human being is left wondering.’
We are always swarmed with information and pushed and pushed and pushed to be ‘better informed’.
But perhaps the greater and more disciplined art we should take on is the cunning of not-knowing and the craft of not thinking.
Here’s raising a cold Corona your way hoping you enjoy this show as much myself and Nietzsche’s cows.