March 17, 2020

Flirting with Panic: Mindfulness in the time of COVID-19.

Read: Elephant’s Continually-updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon

The world is freaking the f*ck out right now.

Faced with this hurricane of uncertainty, it’s easy to get sucked into panic. But each of us has the ability to find our calm in the midst of this whirling frantic action.

While reading these reports of mounting frenzy, we can choose to remember to breathe, stay grounded in our bodies, and act from a place of calm. I almost forget this in my own little personal drama.

The coronavirus didn’t get real for me until Wednesday, March 12.

I felt insulated from it, here in the sleepy coastal village of Bahia, Costa Rica. Sure, I had seen the pictures of empty Costco shelves and posts from Facebook friends wondering how they’re supposed to wipe their ass without toilet paper, but no one was talking about it here, no shelves were empty.

Until Wednesday morning, when my weekly pilgrimage down the dirt road to the local farmer’s market led me to an empty building. Instead of the normal bustle of all-natural, organic commerce, I was greeted by locked gates and eerie silence.

A sign hung on the wall, handwritten in black marker, Spanish first, followed by English: “Closed for two weeks, on order of the Ministry of Health.”

WTF. I felt a moment of panic: how am I going to get my fresh produce? The to-die-for mangoes, along with surfing and sunsets on beach, are one of the redeeming factors that balance out the relentless heat and insatiable insects of this tropical jungle paradise.

Then I wondered about all those farmers who usually sell their produce at the market—this has to be a nightmare for them. Is all their produce just going to rot someplace? This sh*t is messed up.

I stopped at Mini-Mercado don Freddy in town, one of the two gas station-sized markets that serve our village, where I bought a wilted head of lettuce and a despondent red pepper. This is going to be a long two weeks.

On the walk back to my house, I briefly wondered about flying back early. My flight back to Wisconsin was booked for April 2nd, about three weeks from that morning. But that seemed like an overreaction. I didn’t give it much more thought and went about my day.

Later that night, around 10 p.m., I was sharing a cig with my Belgian neighbor, Jerry. He told me the NBA cancelled a game after all the fans were seated and the players had warmed up. After all the people had already gathered and stewed their germs together.

That makes no f*cking sense. Reason had fled, irrational hysteria was spreading, and I felt its pull.

I hopped on my MacBook, trying to figure out if I needed to start panicking. I saw a post on Facebook—the trajectory of coronavirus cases in the United States is matching the trajectory in Italy, delayed by about a week.

What if the panic spreads and the U.S. totally closes its borders, like Italy?

Then a Facebook friend told me the U.S. just banned all flights from Europe! Holy sh*t!

What followed was 12 hours of my flirtation with panic. You can read the gory details here, if you’d like, but the point is, I forgot to breathe. I forgot to stay grounded in my body. I was sucked into the Facebook feeding frenzy of an unthinking reaction.

The next day, in the late morning, I realized my unbalance. We all know that feeling, thoughts popping one after another, mind pulled hither and thither, circling around and around. Agitated, unsure what to do, all possible courses of action seem fuzzy, unclear.

The path out of panic is to recognize this state, the wide-eyed, rabbit-trapped-in-a-cage feeling of foggy thinking. When this happens we need a time-out, a complete break and reset.

I walked down the dirt path to the beach, barefoot and shirtless, to seek solace by the ocean. Feeling the grounding of the earth under my bare soles, my mind began to slow.

Sitting on my blue sarong, patterned with little turtles, in the shade of a palm tree at the edge of the beach, I felt Pachamama under my butt. I heard the electric-razor buzz of cicadas, chittering birdsong, and the crash of waves. The ocean breeze caressed my bare chest.

Breathe. Let go.

Maybe a little pranayama. Inhale…two…three…four, hold…two…three…four, exhale…two…three…four, hold…two…three…four.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat…

Let go of the worry, feel it drain out of my body, from the crown of my head down into the earth.

Let go of the tension in my shoulders, in my neck, in my gut.


Find the stillness within.



A thought comes unbidden: I should change my flight to Sunday.

Taking a break like that pulls us out of the nosedive into hysteria, helps us see the big picture, define our priorities. With calm comes clarity.

My priority was to not get stuck in Costa Rica. With the madness descending upon the world right now, anything could happen, and the risk of getting stuck here was not one I was willing to take.

My instincts tell me we’re in for a couple of months of wild panic that will eventually blow over. I would rather spend those couple of months in Wisconsin with my family than down here in Costa Rica.

And just in case we’re in for something worse, again, I want to ride that out with family.

The panic is rising, let’s not forget to breathe and find the calm that is always inside us. We’re going to get through this, no matter what happens, it’s going to work out the only way it can.

All we can do keep breathing, remain aware of the world around us, and ride the wave out.




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