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Spiritual lessons of pandemic

Corona is the Latin word for crown.

When I first learned this I could feel my scorpio senses tingling, confirming my suspicion that the coronavirus pandemic had several spiritual lessons to teach. Later that day I attended a yoga class—the last before the studio decided to shut down—and the teacher announced that the focus would be on the crown chakra, the gateway of higher consciousness and universal connectedness. It clicked then, of course, that the coronavirus (or really any epidemic of disease) recalls us into the greater collective as well as our earthen bodies simultaneously. It demands that we explore ourselves as spiritual and mortal beings. It forces us to restrict, reevaluate, reconnect, reground, reform, and even revitalize.

For the last week, like everyone else, I’ve kept mostly to myself, and parced through my fear and deep feelings on this very scary moment in the world. I have spent several hours in deep reflection and receptive exploration of what the spiritual lessons of this pandemic truly are, and how we can approach them. In a literal way, this virus has forced the world to pause, to take stock, and cherish what is truly important. But I sought the deeper resonance, the archetypal experience where true transformation occurs, and that’s what I chose to write about. I hope this brings you calm or reflection or perspective. Stay cautious, stay informed, and wishing everyone health and peace.

1. We are all connected.

It’s amazing how obvious this becomes to us during a time of disease. More than ever we are aware that we are all of the same flesh, the same substance, the same susceptibility, the same strength. And beyond the level of the body, we are realizing how profound our invisible connection is, our shared experience in emotion and soul. Psychologist Carl Jung suggested nearly a century ago that we all participate in what he called the collective unconscious, the great abyss of archetypal energy that we feed and that feeds us. It is through this unconscious collectiveness that we unite in spirit and passion, meeting the archetypal realm that we all intuitively understand. Right now we are acutely feeling our neighbor’s fears, pain, and panic, even across oceans, as all the hearts in the world are gripped with the same insecurity and need for faith. We are deeply, profoundly connected, and diving into that space enriches the soul in an immensely powerful way. Spend some time in meditation on your collective intuitions. Turn off the news and feel into the world, experiencing it as an entity without and within. This will both ground you and offer perspective, inviting a sense of peace.

2. Fear is good. Panic is dangerous.

When death and disease are forced into your mind, you are going to be in a state of fear. Fear for your life, for the lives of loved ones, for your communities, for humanity at large, is natural and necessary. Fear makes us wary. It makes us pay close attention, tap into compassion, and want to protect the world. It forces us to practice courage, and faith. It pushes us right up against the unknown, and demands we figure out how to survive.

Panic, however, is entirely different. The word originates in the god Pan, who was said to inspire an irrational fear that drove people to insanity and death. Panic rose to popularity in the 17th century, describing a particular nonsensical mania, the sort that would cause sailors to leap into the ocean or soldiers to flee into an enemy’s camp with an unjustifiable sense of fright. Panic is reactionary, and inhibits thoughtful, life-saving choices.

Mythologically, panic always leads to death, while fear always leads to transformation. The spiritual lesson now is to accept our fear as a calling to lean into that transformative place. We must experience our fear so that we may find our strength, and reject panic which only lures us to flee from the wild unpredictability of life into anxiety and the mindless desperation that may harm others. Take time to be with your fear. Journal through it, or speak to it openly. Ask what is seeking transformation in you. If panic starts to seep in, catch it and remind yourself you are strong and safe. Be mindful through this, as it is a key lesson of the moment for you and all those around you.

3. Nature is all-powerful.

Pan truly is the god of the moment, since at his core he’s the manifestation of the ruthless power of the earth itself. Pan terrorizes us by reminding us that we are puny humans, that Nature will always be able to demolish us. The medievals believed this meant Nature was the root of our evil, which is why the Devil of the tarot is so associated with carnality and earthly corruption. And today, even though we are liberated from these antiquated ideologies and are ultimately nature-positive, we still cower and rage against her capricious cruelty. 

When faced with a pandemic, we are in a way put back in our place. We are reminded that humanity, too—even with our technology and advancements—is fragile and susceptible to Nature’s whims. In ancient times, people would make sacrifices and practice rituals to appease and please Nature, while today we ignore her altogether until we just can’t anymore. This is an opportunity to put yourself back into proper relationship with Nature. She is not malevolent, she is all-powerful, and we must once again revere that power.

Go into nature. That is the safest place to be at the moment, and in a way it is calling to us. I know I will be taking myself to the riverside for quiet and clean air, offering prayers and requesting protection and healing for the world. I encourage you to do the same.

4. Status-quo is an illusion.

With the world facing lockdown, all the constructs we have always relied upon suddenly lose their depth of meaning. Ideas such as politics and capitalism are rendered virtually pointless when they are not performed, when our experience of living is the four walls around us and people we’re with. It’s clear how quickly the world as we know it can be upended, when we describe it in -ologies and -isms, instead of the actual places and situations we’re in.

Russell Brand writes, “The most potent tool in maintaining the status quo is our belief that change is impossible.” Today we are deeply aware the change is not only possible but eerily easy, and I believe it wakes us up to the world’s workings we’ve placidly accepted. My husband laughed and said to me recently, “It seems like this epidemic is waking people up to their basic human rights. They’re getting sick leave and working from home and might even get aid from the government.” This pandemic is making us slow down and reexamine the way the world works, and I challenge you to do this with a spiritual center in mind. Because the outer constructs of the world are not divorced from inner realities, the two should walk hand in hand. Take this alone time to question whether you believe the world should change, and how, and why. Ask whether you’ve been an instrument of the change you believe in, or if you’ve blindly protected the status quo, and explore how you could bring these lessons into your life post-corona.

5. You are mortal.

Of course you know this, but have you ever contemplated it? Confronting your mortality—your very real physical death and decay—is scary as hell, and usually not done alone. Throughout our ancient past, this job would be performed alongside a priest, in sacred ritual, or with communal support. This was one of the key purposes of religion, in fact, and it makes sense that the farther we’ve moved from religious structure the more the discussion of death has become “morbid” and taboo. We have become alienated from our mortality, not only because we’ve lost the essential religious containers, but also because we’ve become heavily protected by medicine and technology. Pandemics are aggressive and ravenous, and don’t give science the chance to catch up, meaning that we are not only shockingly vulnerable, but terribly unprepared psychologically.

Now is an opportunity to create a sacred space for yourself and think about what it means to be mortal. If it’s too scary to do alone, reach out to a friend or psychologist or spiritual healer of some kind (these may be the best prepared for this type of discussion!). Ask the dark, underworld questions of what death might be like, if you’d fight it, if it scares the shit out of you. Meet yourself on this deep, chthonic plane, and process your feelings about the one reality we all must face. Afterward, hold yourself, and remind yourself that right now you are vividly alive, and wonder what that now means to you.

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