We are desperately struggling to cope with this unprecedented, unimaginable and most unwelcome crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. Having been a practising psychologist for 15 years, I believed that I had seen people through the worst. As a wife and mother of two, I felt confident of dealing with life and stress. But this virus shattered any such proud defence that I had dared to create for myself to cope.
There is something about psychology and spirituality; where one ends, the other loops in, like an infinity band, dynamic, rotating swiftly showing you the meaning you choose to see. The union of a spiritual attitude and rational perception can be a very powerful tool in dealing with this crisis or any that comes our way.
Be cautious, but not anxious. What is the difference? Where anxiety paralyses us, caution prepares us and makes us functional. Treasure the former, as “thinking caution” is connected with functionality and helps us focus on achievable action. To do something productive, to act and contribute is the ultimate therapy for a restless mind. Caution during a challenge is a strength. So act with caution. A watched pot never boils!
From my life experiences as a child, an adult, a mom, I have found courage to be my most useful comrade during multiple challenges, big and small. Trust me, start with a deep breath in and a strong breath out that means business. Pull your shoulders back, chin up and eyes focussed on how to face the challenge in front of you. Win or lose, you know this will be over soon and you will have given it a fair shot. Courage for me is not just being brave to fight, it also means having the humility to recognise my mistakes. To say I was wrong needs courage. To be hopeful and keep trying means courage. To make small changes and adapt needs courage. To make sacrifices needs courage. I believe that through the coronavirus pandemic, what nature is really asking of us, is to be courageous enough to change our ways, to respect resources and the gift of human kind and to stop taking it for granted.
This one is my favourite! Being conscious means being aware. Be quick to respond to the needs of the environment. Listen, adapt and adjust! Some people have been quick to self-isolate, spent time spreading awareness and educating those who are not aware on facing a world health threat. It was heartbreaking to see that a lot of the “educated” people nonchalantly roamed the world, clearly having their conscious or awareness clouded by pressure of holidaying across continents while casually reading about the deadliest virus spreading exponentially in a world far away from them.
Being conscious in our thought, emotions and actions is a very difficult feat to achieve. One trick to control thoughts is to become conscious of your breathing. Start with normal breathing and gradually extend the duration of both your inhalation and exhalation. Focus on your breaths getting longer, nourishing and strengthening you to face the day.
Being conscious also means listening. Truly listen to yourself and your loved ones around you. While in the face of this demonic manifestation of our own misdeeds towards nature and its resources, we have been compelled to spend time reorganising our priorities. Use this time to be interested in consciously listening.
We are all individually responsible for our community, our world! That said, across the nation, when it comes to water conservation and saving trees, donating to orphanages or cleaning beaches, we hear about more and more people engaging in and inspiring change. This viral outbreak has however shaken our survival instinct and put our sense of duty and obligation to others to test. When faced with shortage of toilet paper, hand sanitisers, masks or hand soap dispensers with sensors, are we able to be responsible for others?
There had been reports of infected or potential patients taking trains or partying at hotels, people lying about travel details or simply not following self-isolation seriously enough. I do not believe it comes from a conscious need to harm anyone, it comes from a regressive, childish and self-centred view where only “I” exist. This is the “me first”, “come first” culture that has actually been appreciated in the past up until now, seen as a strength and proudly complimented. Human kind has survived because of their ability to take social responsibility, work together and see ourselves as a unit of a large community. His Holiness The Dalai Lama said the Holy Secret to end your suffering is seeking to end the suffering of others. If you wish for happiness, seek the happiness of others.
It is time to conscientiously look at where we started and where we have ended up. We need to start talking about collective responsibility and reset the culture for our children.
It is so natural and normal for us to be taken over by despair during a crisis. A voice that chatters within us non-stop, talks “Doomsday” and the fight or flight response makes us anxious one moment, our hearts full of sorrow the next and angry the very next, taking us on an emotional rollercoaster! It’s a talk within us that just refuses to quieten down. Believe me, you are not the only one who struggles with this.
One of the ways to beat this is with rationality. The voices you have are yours and you can exercise control over these thoughts. You can ask if what I’m thinking is fact or fiction, is it an exaggeration, how can I really be sure of what I’m assuming, etc. Be determined that I will talk to myself about the present, the here and now and limit my focus to what it is that I can do (not others). That’s rationality for you.
I love to see faith as a belief, a conviction, a devotion and a love for that which is stronger than us. That which resides in each one us, causes the crisis, sustains it, manages it, cures it, or makes us succumb to it. That which is the only permanent companion of yours, in sickness or in health, in yesterday’s grey, today’s darkness and tomorrow’s sunshine is faith.
A crisis in our life can be defined as an intensely challenging time. While you are probably wondering why I am defining crisis, I want to bring your focus to two of its defining words — challenge and time. The perception of the word “crisis” generates several difficult emotions but when we read the word “challenge”, at least for some of us we may feel slightly more hopeful and less anxious. It’s a problem that we can solve, while it reminds us of some basic rules of life and nature we flouted.
The second word is “time”! It tells us that a crisis is something that is time-bound. While this one will take longer than we would like, it’s something that is dynamic and will go away, leaving us more humble and mindful of our blessings.
(The author is a Mumbai-based psychologist and psychotherapist.)
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