I thought I had my sh*t together.
I thought my life was finally coming into focus. Then COVID-19 happened, and it feels like everything I’ve learned about myself, about life, is no longer relevant.
I want to rage at the unfairness of it. I want to sulk at seeing my dreams—almost within grasp—evaporate in aerosolized virus particles. I want to numb myself with whatever distractions I can get my hands on.
Because I am basing my happiness on external circumstances. And external circumstances can change at any moment—this is the Buddhist concept of impermanence.
It’s dangerous to construct our happiness around external circumstances, because—as COVID-19 has shoved in our collective faces—anything and everything can change, drastically, catastrophically, in a heartbeat.
The fragility of our society has suddenly been made clear to us. As long as we all part of this global civilization, our lives will never be fully in our control.
But it’s deeper than that, life has always been fragile. Cancer, car accidents, aneurysms, and mass shootings can occur without warning and cut individual lives short. Wildfires, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, volcanos, any number of natural disasters are waiting to disrupt large chunks of the population.
It was easy to ignore the brittleness of our reality when it was only on TV.
Coronavirus is different, because right now the whole world is forced to face the frailty of our existence. If we’re not fearing for our survival, we’re trying to cope with lockdown, loss of freedom on a scale previously unimaginable.
For those of us who are blessed/cursed with being healthy and ordered to shelter in place, we’re stuck in our homes trying not to murder our families or wallow in bed in three-day-old pajamas and empty ramen wrappers.
And yet, if I truly believe the bullsh*t I’ve been spewing about mindfulness, if I really believe everything works out the way it should, then this new reality shouldn’t phase me, but it’s rocked me like a Van Halen concert.
The fragility of my happiness has suddenly been made clear to me.
I was believing I could control my life. I was flying high on Manifesting my Destiny. Happiness was within my reach.
I left my soul-wilting corporate job in San Francisco to find myself in the grace of nature. After a year and a half of nomading around Central America, the biggest lesson learned is that I hate living in cities, and now I’m trapped in a f*cking city. Well played, universe, well played.
I thought I had mapped out my dream life: summers at the family lake cottage in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, winters surfing in Costa Rica. I was finding my voice in the Elephant Academy. Writing, music, community—it all seemed within my grasp—an ideal existence.
It seems laughable now—petty, quaint—my hopes for the future.
Yet I suspect it never would have been perfect. I was transferring my quest for “the One” to a search for “the Perfect Place”—finding the optimal living conditions that would finally make me happy and allow me to express my true self. But something would still be missing, and then I would start blaming the place, like I used to blame my partner in relationships. And then I would keep moving, and moving, and moving, searching for something that can only be found inside myself.
Because I was basing my happiness on external circumstance.
Collectively, we’ve been chasing our ideal lives. That perfect job, that new DIY project that will fix up our house just the way we like it. The perfect family, perfect partner, that next yoga/breathwork/reiki/healing/tantric sensuality workshop that will open our eyes, help us find ourselves. We’re always looking outward, seeking something external.
When we build our happiness on something external, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment, because everything changes.
So what do I do now? Where do we go from here?
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us,” said Joseph Campbell.
We have no choice but to accept life as it is, surrender to the circumstances that are presented to us. We can’t fight it. We must drop all our expectations of how things “should” be and revel in how things are.
We can still meditate. We can still strive to be fully present in our surroundings, even if we deem those surrounding as unpleasant. We can remember gratitude, we can find innumerable other little ways to smile.
What else can we do besides accept our new reality and keep living?