This virus is here, and if you’re anything like me, you may be getting a little tired of people telling you to stop living in fear. Well, here’s my self-righteous response to that:
I am fully capable of living WITH fear while not living IN fear.
It’s okay if we’re afraid. It’s a perfectly normal human response to a scary situation over which we have no power.
Fear, if denied, can wreak havoc on our emotional, physical and spiritual selves. Pushing it down doesn’t serve us. Just like a burp, it’s going to come out whether we want it to or not. I promise you, it’s going to find a way.
Sufi mystic and poet Rumi tells us that “this being human is a guest house.” He says to welcome all our feelings even if they “violently sweep” our houses clean of its furniture.
Well, I’m not nearly as clever with the written word at my dear friend Rumi, but here is a little something I’ve thought up which maybe you’ll find useful when fear comes to your door for a visit.
F – Feel it. We all hate to hear that, but I think it’s important. Feel your heart beating faster than usual, your stomach tightening up… and breathe. Slowly. Consciously. Use a prayer or mantra or not. Count or don’t. Just breathe. In…out…in…out. Slowly, now. You’ve got it!
E – Expect to be afraid. Why wouldn’t you be? This is pretty damn frightening. So don’t be surprised that you are and, for heaven’s sake, don’t be disappointed with yourself. Here’s another E – Everyone is afraid, at least from time to time. If they say they’re not, then they are either made of ice or not telling the truth. Just my opinion.
A – Ask for some help if you need it. Call, email, use Facebook, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype. Lord, there are no excuses for not being able to reach someone these days. Staying connected really matters right now. Call someone up and tell them you’re afraid. If they say you shouldn’t live in fear, tell them your dog needs to go to the bathroom and hang up.
R – Redirect your attention. Find something to do. I don’t care if it’s meditation, taking a walk, baking a cake, learning a new language, or painting your overgrown toenails. Just do it. Turn your mind towards something else. If the news is on, turn it off. At least for a little while. Go find something to do.
Rumi says to “welcome and entertain” our feelings, to “be grateful for whoever comes.” I can’t tell you I’m grateful for my fear. I’m just not that evolved, I guess.
So, dear Rumi, I’m not entertaining my fear, as you suggest. I’m not snuggling up with it or even fixing it a cup of coffee in the mornings. I’m not going to let it take over my household, but it does look like it’s going to be here a while.
What I am doing is buckling down, and with hope by my side, learning to live with this visitor named Fear. It’s my home, after all, and Fear is just going to have to learn to live with me!
It is a grit-filled grace that enables us to make difficult decisions in the face of a sometimes desperate reality, choices that either spring us forward in the evolutionary process or threaten to do us in as a species.
–Judy Cannato, Radical Amazement, p. 64
Cannato’s use of the term “grit-filled” to describe grace captured me. It’s not just the blessing of grace that is holding us up in this desperate time but also determination and firmness of mind and spirit. This grit is embedded in the grace we’re receiving right now just like affection and warmth is embedded in those hugs and handshakes we can’t receive.
No one knows for sure how long this virus will last. We’re all making difficult choices about how to keep ourselves and others safe. Our most critical far reaching choice, however, may be how we are going to respond as a collective when this is over.
This virus is creating the most global suffering of any kind I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. You too, perhaps. Not that I believe the virus was “sent to” us by whatever might do that kind of sending, but I do wonder what it means for us whose future, some would argue, hangs in the balance.
Great suffering seems to be the catalyst that creates a path of transformation within individuals and for societies as a whole. All civilizations undergo major shifts that move them along in their evolutionary process. Surely this virus is not for naught. Surely, there is a huge shift underway for us.
We will eventually get through this. Exhausted and traumatized, no doubt, but we will come through this darkness and out the other side.
It is said that the Chinese symbol for crisis is composed of two characters, meaning danger and opportunity. I believe that new opportunities for us to live differently in every way will present themselves when this danger has passed.
I pray that these opportunities are so profound and obvious that we can’t possibly miss them. I pray that we are so awakened to the “grit-filled grace” that got us through this experience, that the only response we can give when these opportunities arrive is a “Yes” so powerful that it will be heard around the world and into the heavens.
Part of my lifelong calling and current work is as a teacher. One of the ways I really love to do this is lead groups to explore and discuss books. To find the right book, first I see where my current questions are leading me and then make the assumption that other searching souls are being led in the same direction. Then I look around at the books I’ve read or want to read and see which of those will shed light on my concerns and make the assumption that they will shed light on the concerns of the other searching souls. (Lots of assuming, I know.) Then I spread all these books out on the floor, get down on my knees, dangle a crystal over them until it is spinning wildly, and then I know that’s my book. Okay, that last part is not true. But I do pull a few books out and set them on my desk so I can see them in passing. I thumb through them, read or re-read parts, put them aside, ignore them, pick them up again, set them back down, and then (I swear this part is true), one day I just know which book to use. It’s like the cover is a little brighter and the words of the title a bit clearer than the others. This method has yet to fail me.
About five or six years ago, I read The Mystic Heart by the late monk Wayne Teasdale. I knew I wanted to offer it, but it just wasn’t time. I didn’t have a firm enough grasp on his proposition. So I’ve been using other wonderful books which I think really matter for the spiritual journey. Earlier this year, and as a direct result of the election, I led two studies of books which tie spirituality together with how to survive these chaotic and scary times. They are The Powers That Be by Walter Wink and Active Hope by Joanna Macy, both of which I highly recommend. Then I let the summer go by, led two workshops on the Enneagram and another on cultivating our relationship with the Divine all while incubating the question of which book to go with next.
And then one day in late August, The Mystic Heart leapt off my desk, shouting “Pick me, pick me! It’s time!”
Teasdale’s premise is that if our venerated religious institutions want to play their part in moving human consciousness to the next level so we can stand a chance of surviving, they better get over themselves. They better come to grips with the fact that at their core, they’re not all that different. They’re all trying to answer the same questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? And where am I going? These are questions which have captivated humankind long before institutional religion developed. They are questions of soul and spirit, not doctrine and dogma.
The answers to these questions can be found in the great perennial spiritual wisdom which runs like a river through the world’s religions. Each religious tributary certainly has its own direction, and that’s just fine. Teasdale nor those who inspired him are saying these have to be relinquished. What Teasdale IS saying is that the time has come for our religions to go beyond tolerance and even acceptance. To truly serve us at this critical moment in our history, our religions must find that place from which they all spring, that place where all directions to the Divine begin and end, a place Teasdale calls the “interspiritual.”
Teasdale tells us that without giving up their own particular form, our world religions must discover the mystic heart of “interspirituality” which beats in all of them. This heart reveals these core truths: We are all one, we come from the same place, we’re here to discover our true essential divine nature, and we’re headed back to the same place from which we came.
By embracing these fundamental truths, the religions of the world can come together, not to just tolerate and even accept one another, but to embrace one another like brothers and sisters separated at birth. While celebrating their individuality, these religious siblings can rejoice in their common spiritual parentage. In this blended family of “interspirituality,” the religions of the world truly can work together towards the common goals of human service grounded in a collective ethic, a shared global commitment to economic and social justice, recognition of our oneness as human beings, and the evolution of our glorious world into its next stage of higher consciousness.