A Crucial Distinction For Our Times
The global onset of the Corona Virus pandemic was not only unforeseen; it has carried with it an unprecedented and unparalleled disruptive impact upon human society. These disruptions have brought the seriousness of the situation home to all of us, which, in turn, has caused fear to run rampant even in those communities where the virus has not been a serious threat. Needless to say, it has been a strange and surreal time for all of us.
As time passes, the Corona Virus pandemic will, in all likelihood, peter out and be rendered innocuous. What will not easily pass, however, will be the legacy of our collective vulnerability when it came to responding to and dealing with this crisis.
In the aftermath of this collective human experience there is sure to be a good many questions asked, not to mention lessons for us to learn and grow from. The governing and scientific communities will be confronted with their inadequacies and insufficiencies. New potential emergency systems will be mapped out in case of similar future scenarios. We will recognize our failures as a global community, and perhaps this recognition will humble us and bring us closer together.
It is interesting that not only was the pandemic a worldwide phenomenon; the governmental responses across the globe tended to be strikingly similar. Thus it is likely that the determination to learn from our mistakes and improve upon our handling of the situation will also be shared.
This is not to imply, however, that the pandemic has affected every individual alive on this planet in exactly the same way. Though the collective response has been basically uniform, the individual responses have varied widely. For some, the fear of contracting the disease has been the dominant mindset, while for others the fear of governmental restrictions and the permanent erosion of personal freedoms has been the main concern. Some have approached the matter from a perspective of pure pragmatism, while others have seen in it deeper esoteric meanings and prophetic implications. In many ways then the pandemic has exposed a rather wide disparity in our individual value systems. What do we as individuals value most? Is it health or is it personal freedom? Or is it something else altogether?
We of the conscious community can add yet another variation to the value spectrum. For many of us, the most important issue at stake has not been our physical health or our personal freedoms; it has been our peace of mind—the upsetting of our inner equanimity. As conscious men and women trenchantly aware of our inner-psychic realm, we have perhaps been rendered even more vulnerable to the hysteria of fear than others. As individuals accustomed to practicing mindfulness, we tend to be overwhelmed by subtle wavelengths of thought and emotion that others miss altogether. And so one of the main issues we have been dealing with is how to get our calm center back—how to restore equanimity, repose, quietude, and peace to our inner world.
Fear is, of course, an ever-present factor in our human experience. But rarely, if ever, have we been confronted with an outbreak of mass hysteria, such as that which the spread of the Corona Virus has caused. And it happened so fast and without warning, thereby easily navigating its way around and through our conscious defense systems and strongholds of affirmative truth. In other words, before we even knew what hit us we found that we were being tossed about like a tiny boat on a stormy sea.
How then were we to get our calm center back in the midst of such stormy conditions? One way that is particularly effective in such situations is to remind ourselves constantly about our true identity. It is to repeatedly distinguish between our life situation in this world and our true life. The practice of this simple distinction will not only equip us to maintain our equilibrium in this present climate of unmitigated fear; it will also strengthen us to the point that we become immune to virtually all forms of distraction, disruption, and upheaval.
Fear obsession is a highly contagious irrational mindset. It tends to blind us and make us forgetful of the truth. And spiritually speaking, this forgetfulness affects us in the matter of identity more than anything else. At the source of all fear is the fear of dying. This has been plainly evident with the spread of the Corona Virus. People have been terrorized by the prospect of widespread death. Why is this? It is because they are unfamiliar with their own inner makeup, wherein there is actually a prominent part of us—every one of us—that can never die.
True, there are temporal aspects of the human psyche that can and do eventually die—aspects such as ego, intellect, emotion, and physicality. But within each one of us there is also a shining essence of eternal life that is impervious to death. Once we realize this, the burden of calming the storms of uncertainty lies with our own disciplined effort to rehearse right identification.
If we identify with the temporal aspects of our being we are sure to eventually experience the sting of death. But once we learn to identify with our eternal core we will soon find that we no longer fear death. For instead of being at death’s mercy, we will stand back and watch as our temporal aspects dissolve, while we, in fact, go on living. Thus do we come to realize that our eternal core is our true enduring self. And once we do this we become literally indestructible and impervious to fear.
Be this as it may, we happen to live amidst a world culture in which the identification with the temporal aspects of the human psyche is very strong. That is why the Corona Virus outbreak sparked such mass hysteria. The fear of death was bound up with the collective cultural impulse to identify with temporal realities, thereby painting death as a kind of vacuum into which we disappear in our entirety. But while this may have been the collective mindset, there is nothing stopping us as individuals from going into our rooms, shutting the door, quieting our minds, and reminding ourselves of who we really are.
Because our world is moving in the unconscious identification with the temporal aspects of the human psyche, the fear of death has become monstrously influential in the lives of nearly everyone. This fear may be unspoken and at times relegated to the back burner, but it affects us in ways that we are unaware of. In fact, it is not overstating the matter to say that in our culture the way we live is defined by the inevitability of dying. The popular philosophical orientation of getting the most out of life because we only live once is, in truth, a death obsessed notion. And such an orientation can be all-pervasive in our experience. Even if it does not result in outright hedonism, it often constrains us to erect a personal survival edifice, with security uppermost in our motives—an impulse that can act as a kind of hedge against death’s inescapable encroachment. This security impulse then comes into play when choosing the kind of home we want to live in, the kind of job we hope to find, and the makeup of our social circle.
Having psychologically built an elaborate death obsessed security edifice, it is natural for us to then make its maintenance one of our top priorities. And it is the things that we hope will shield us from death that tend to flesh out our life situation. But problems arise when, in our fear-fueled attachment, we shift our sense of identification onto these things. When this happens our life situation becomes our life, and because it is temporal in nature we are then in for trouble.
Most of us approach the enhancing of our life situation with determination and seriousness. We take great pains to build, establish, and defend it. We search and experiment until we find just the right home, land a job that we can thrive at, settle in a compatible community, etc. And over the years through these persistent efforts it is not uncommon for our situation to become full and rich, which then leads to even greater attachment. Having invested so much of our time, energy, strength, and ingenuity, we are loath to lose the ground we have gained. Thus little by little we grow increasingly fearful of our life situation’s collapse. We allow our identity to become bound up with temporal realities and suffer in the realm of inner peace as a result.
So it is that we learn the hard truth that attachment to and identification with all that is temporal in life is the root cause of suffering. As human beings this is our ultimate spot of vulnerability and weakness, like the dragon’s tender underbelly. That is why all the wise masters of our race have likened death to a great equalizer in our midst. No matter how great a man or woman may be in this lifetime, all are reduced to the same status by death. No matter how profuse the extent of one’s wealth and possessions might be, he or she can take none of it with them when they die. And often it happens that those who were great in this world are rendered shamefully graceless at death’s door. Why is this? Because they have become inordinately attached to their life situation and come to associate their identity with temporal realities.
The solution to this predicament is always before us. We need not wait until we are at death’s door to practice it. It is to consciously detach ourselves from all that is temporal and remind ourselves constantly of our true enduring identity as a spiritual being. This detachment is a strictly revelatory inward experience. It does not mean that we cannot still enjoy the things of this world. It simply means that we do not allow our identity to become bound up with them. Some have described this experience as “dying before they die.” And indeed severing strong cords of attachment does feel like death of sorts. But instead of fear this death results in liberation.
Go inside and examine yourself. Learn to distinguish between the temporal and eternal aspects of your being. Consider your present life situation with all its richness and detail. And ask yourself: Are these things and situations enduring? Are they forever? Do I feel vulnerable and afraid about losing them? Then envision yourself without them. Who would you be without your life situation defining you? What about yourself would you have left?
At first, it may seem to you that if your life situation were taken away, you would have nothing to live for. But this is and always has been one of the great slanders against the spiritual life. We have all been conditioned to believe that our eternal spiritual essence is of little earthly value—that it is too impractical and dispassionate. Thus many people would rather take their chances with nurturing a strong attachment to their temporal life situation than to shift their identification onto the spiritual essence of their being while still alive in the body.
Only when we practice identifying with our spiritual essence as a foremost priority do we make the discovery that the spiritually focused life is not only the most conducive to peace and inner well-being; it is actually the richest life that a human being can ever lay hold of. This is what Jesus meant when he said: “I am come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10).
We all have a life situation and we all have a true life-essence. Our life situation is invariably temporal, while our true life is eternal. To build your identity upon the shifting sands of temporality may seem appealing and intriguing, but in the end there will always come a time of dissolution, suffering, and pain. It has been the intent of all the spiritual masters to spare us from such needless suffering through the spurning of shortsighted indulgences and the embracing of true knowledge—to encourage us to build our identity upon the rock of eternality and thereby render the sting of death null and void.