You already know the facts of coronavirus. You and your loved ones are at risk. Entire populations are at risk. And not only from biological damage or death, but from economic damage.
So let’s move on to one sure and responsible way to deal with the pandemic threat.
How can you drop most of the anxiety and stress?
Deep down, you already know this one sure and responsible way to deal with this challenge.
It’s a mental medicine compounded of the following:
One reality is that you can control some personal risks of coronavirus.
We as communities and populations can also mitigate some of the communal risks.
The tactics and strategies of reducing our personal risks, and the risks to our communities, are clear and well-known. We need not rehearse them here, since they are recounted in dozens of news stories that you’ve already read. Washing of hands is one tactic. Maintaining social distancing is one strategy. You already know all the others.
Another reality is: any one of us may, despite doing all the right things, still contract the virus and develop symptoms. May even become gravely ill. May even die.
You may think, “But this article is supposed to reduce my anxiety, not decrease it.”
Keep going, because …
Another reality is: The more you avoid facing realities that make you anxious, the more anxiety you will feel.
But if you look at the reality long enough — and it takes only a few minutes — then you’ll see …
- It’s not unacceptable.
- It’s not, rationally or personally speaking, something that must never happen because …
- It quite obviously does happen.
- So insisting that a pandemic must never happen would be irrational and unrealistic.
- You can deal with this.
Many things in our existences we can’t control. But we can control one big thing about our experiences: Whether we look at reality, which is easier. Or whether we run from it, which is much more stressful.
- We can tend toward more anxiety by insisting reality be different than it can be.
- Or we can tend toward more courage and better action by accepting all realities as profoundly interesting and important.
A viral pandemic is not something that must never happen. They quite obviously do happen.
The only question for any individual is: What can I do about it right now?
And we’ll find there are many things we can do. A sampling:
- Put pressure on leaders to lead better. They are the ones who move the lever most — for good or ill.
- Observe all the well-known tactics and strategies for reducing personal and communal risk.
- Help other individuals in concrete ways and emotionally, so that they can act as skillfully as possible to decrease their risk and communal risk.
- Focus on the meta-level identity which we each obviously are: Beings which are
- created out of the earth
- sustained by solar power (all plants and their foods for us are created obviously and literally with solar power, which we then eat)
- From this point of view, you’re famously (see Alan Watts, and many other strictly realistic thinkers), and obviously, an aspect of the universe looking at itself.
- Identify with that meta-level of what you are, and your anxiety plummets.
- This is simple, direct observation, and requires no extended meditation or long years of study.
If this reality sounds strange, it’s only because we rarely observe it. As scientific and realistic fact, this view of us is the most direct, rational, and realistic view possible of what we as human beings are.
And we find that, far from depressing, it’s realistically transcendent. No woo-woo. No crystals. No prayer. Nothing which isn’t strictly verifiable.
You’re the whole universe, looking at itself.
When you die (news flash, every one of our “little self” bodies will), you as this meta-level identity will no more cease to exist, on this meta level, than the universe.
We also find there are many irrational mental acts we can avoid doing, because they only make our experience more unpleasant, without improving our risk profile.
In fact they may even increase our personal and communal risks by making us less emotionally able to follow through on our responsibilities.
These irrational mental acts include:
- Pollyanna belief that everything will be all right
- Blaming the scientists and truth tellers
- Insisting that what is happening must never happen
- Imagining that we are special, and should never have to suffer
- Imagining worst-case scenarios
- Focusing on the “little self” — the vulnerable individual human beings which we usually identify ourselves to be, our egos, our bodies.
- This low-level identification with the “little self” is useful in many situations — whenever we are competing in games suitable for this self: status competitions, economic competitions, personal competitions. It’s part of the fun.
- But under the menacing wave of an oncoming pandemic, or whenever “little self” ego games are creating debilitating anxiety, it’s much more useful to switch to the even more realistic meta-identification outlined under “rationality” above.
How to keep up your spirits, even your enthusiasm for the challenge
You can keep your spirits, even your enthusiasm, for this challenge, so that you can better take all the actions which will reduce risk for you, your family, and your community.
You can internalize these completely realistic, strictly rational truths:
- You, or people you know, may get sick.
- You, or your loved ones, may die.
- Many, known to you or not, will become gravely ill, and many will die.
- If you identify with the personal “me,” this risk is stressful.
- But if you identify with the larger existence which you demonstrably emerged from, you will know yourself to be eternal. Not in your personal existence, but in your only real and true existence: as the universe looking at itself from one point of view.
- You have some moral duties in this crisis. The duty to wash your hands. The duty to limit your contact with other people. The duty to comfort other people. The duty to materially help some other people.
- Performing these moral duties creates meaning in your existence as the little “me” which you are, and as the universal “I” which you also are.
- You can choose to identify with the personal “me”. To the extent you do this, you’ll be more subject to anxiety.
- You can choose to identify with the universal “I”. That is to say, with the demonstrably real, objective meta level of existence. You are the universe looking at itself from a particular point of view. You were “fruited” by this earth, which was “fruited” ultimately by the universe, just as an apple is “fruited” by an apple tree. You can identify with the part that is at risk of death. Or you can identify with the entirety — the universe. Either identification is rational. One is most rational.
- Identifying with the little “me” — your individual life — is easy.
- Identifying with the universal “I”, which is the universe itself, is also easy. It’s only slightly less easy.