“The only journey is the one within.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Almost three months ago, I was reluctantly packing my bags to travel out of Brazil and return to the United States.
I was already missing the sunshine, the tasty food, the coconut water by the beach, the most beautiful skies I’ve seen in my life.
I was also saying goodbye to my friends with a heavy heart. I hadn’t felt that connected, inspired, and grateful for having such good friends in a long time. I remember our talks while watching the waves at the beach in the evening. Back then, for some reason, I knew I had to enjoy those precious moments and cherish every second with them.
I guess my gut feeling was right.
Now, I look back at the photos and it feels like it hasn’t been a few months but a year. Then, I remember my return to teaching college classes in February. The excitement on my new students’ eyes. The laughs, the jokes shared in class. I remember my evening dance classes, all that energy and all those smiles. I remember my 11th anniversary with my husband at the beginning of March.
A few months back in time, and we were different.
It seems we live now in a different reality, so disconnected from what we experienced not so long ago. I can’t help but play a movie in my mind of the “time before.” Even though I am doing pretty well, I keep asking myself if I should have done things differently. If I should have called someone special a little bit more often. Maybe I should have smiled and done more good in the world when I had the chance.
We never know what the future holds for us moving forward.
Although we can try to be positive and hopeful for things like a vaccine, this time will undoubtedly leave many scars in our souls.
Since many of us have been in a contemplative state of mind, we ought to think of a few hard lessons this epidemic has taught us.
These lessons won’t necessarily make our sadness or worries disappear, but they will certainly help us stay in touch with the core of our current situation without losing our minds and ourselves in it.
1. Almost everything is out of our control.
Buddhists have worked hard to teach us the lesson of impermanence, and some of us still haven’t grasped it.
It doesn’t matter how much money we have, how many people we know. It doesn’t matter if we are healthy or not, the fact is that we never know. Life can suddenly be a wondrous adventure or a morbid experience. We’re never far from experiencing the best or the worst. And that’s impermanence. It’s dry and unwelcoming, but it is our reality.
Is that supposed to make me feel better?
Actually, it’s not. It’s just supposed to help us understand the groundlessness of our current situation and embrace life as it is.
I’m not telling people to accept it with a smile. I’ll never be happy about a virus killing so many people. But as long as I don’t try to control anything, or change how I feel about it, I should at least find more serenity if hard times come to me. Maybe I’ll find more joy than pain. Who knows? But whatever you find, work with it, not against it. Resistance is the main cause of pain when we don’t know how to deal with impermanence.
So stay safe, do your part—that you can control. Wash your hands and all that other stuff you hear on the news. One can be proactive, but don’t feel like you have to control everything or everyone—because you can’t. We may be in charge of our actions, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst as the proverb says, but we still don’t know where we’re heading.
2. We should never take any small actions or experiences for granted again.
Remember what it felt like to eat outside, on the patio of your favorite local restaurant? It feels like a long time already for me. I also think about the amount of time I sometimes wasted scrolling through my email while eating my soup at one of my favorite places.
When this is all over, I will leave my phone in the car. I’ll be more mindful of the taste of the food, the hot mocha in my hands, the smile on the servers’ faces, the laughs that families share at the tables surrounding me.
Perhaps in the future you won’t complain about the mess the kids made during the sleepover party. Perhaps your eyes will no longer roll when you see the number of dishes at the sink after Saturday night get-togethers with neighbors and friends.
Perhaps, like me, every little thing you didn’t realize was important will be enhanced—every aroma, every sound, every taste. Everything will be more colorful and filled with emotion.
One thing is for sure: we will all be more mindful. At least, I hope we will be, and that we have learned to appreciate more of the impermanent moments we have.
3. We should say “I love you” a bit more often.
Amidst the chaos in which we’re living, I catch myself wondering if I have given the right people the attention they deserved, and if I was really there for them when they needed me. The same goes for the wrong people. Should I have made space for so many toxic and painful experiences with folks I should have let go of?
Now is the time to think about the past in a constructive way. This is not the time for self-blame, self-loathing, and judgmental behavior. We’re quarantined but we are alive—plus, we have the internet! Call that person who matters most to you. I confess I have a real hard time saying “I love you.” So for me, this has been a big lesson.
For the ones you are ready to let go of, simply bless them and thank them. Thank them for the good moments they’ve shared with you (even if very few), or the harsh lessons they taught you, and let them go. Forgive yourself for past mistakes, too. As I said before, all is impermanent on this planet; we never know how much time we have, so why should we spend time on what doesn’t make us happy? It really doesn’t make sense anymore. Not after what we are experiencing as a collective consciousness on this planet.
4. Meditation and time for self-reflection were never luxuries—they are necessities.
I recently wrote an article about why going within is the only way out right now. We can’t expect to thrive in a world filled with fear and chaos if our mental state reflects the state of the outer world. We need to find peace of mind even if we are not “at peace” with what’s going on. Trust me, nobody is and nobody will ever be okay with that.
But we must be ready to face our fears, be in touch with the cruel impermanence of life so we can move past resistance. We must accept the fact that only a calm mind will prevail. If we meditate, we won’t necessarily bypass our fears, but we will be more aware of them. A mind that is aware is stronger. Consciousness is already an awake state of mind. So time to go within, folks.
The common theme? We need to be safe in isolation, but also deeply connected.
If we spend the whole time scrolling through emails and social media on our phones, or watching movies, we may be missing out on the important lessons this virus is teaching us. So make this isolation count. Do some thinking, show up to your wounds, do the inner work. It could also be time to evaluate relationships, work, anything that matters to you. It’s also time to be grateful and count our blessings.
If we all take these things into consideration, we will not only come out of this stronger, but a lot more compassionate and connected to the oneness of humanity.