The Wisdom of the Virus
We have been here before: the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1917, the Stock Market crashes of 1929 and 2008, the Tsunami of 2004 were all devastating. As the Great Depression was worsening in 1933, the first words President Franklin D. Roosevelt said at his inauguration were: “The only thing we have to fear is...fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” But we don’t even have to fear fear itself; it is a primitive, instinctive response to perceived dangers, a response to a perception of danger, a response that need not happen. The focussed still silence available to us through our meditation knows no danger, fears no emptiness, welcomes love. Hazur said:
We should never feel frightened within ourselves. We are never alone. We always have somebody with us, watching us and guiding us and helping us. You mustn’t get depressed. You just continue with your meditation. Let anybody appear - don’t bother about anybody. You continue with your meditation, and nobody can do you any harm at all.1
The things we fear are concepts, dragons of our own making. The current fear of abrupt and massive change, of financial ruin, of living much closer to death than usual, all this is the work, the creation of the mind. The mind analyzes and makes judgments; it is what the mind does, what the mind has to do, so it can navigate through the dense fog of time and illusion. But focussing on the still calm within requires no navigation, just discipline and devotion. Make contact with the love that is within us, hiding in the darkness, and fear, loneliness and depression are dissolved.
Change is an essential manifestation of time: without time (and space) there is no change and, obviously, without change there is no time. The huge yet invisible changes that have happened to us all in the last few weeks are incomprehensible, yet the physical world around us appears unchanged. The birds are singing louder than usual, the grass and wildflowers are more beautiful than ever before, as nature continues to ignore our human tribulations.
The quiver of words useful in these circumstances is limited to the likes of “unprecedented”, “difficult”, “crisis”, “uncertain” and “frightening”. This drought of language is indicative of the apparent depth of the crisis – it is unprecedented, in our lifetimes, so we have not previously had to find words to talk about such things. We are left stuttering to each other at a safe distance of two metres. Sure, it certainly is a huge wave of karmic happenstance, where the very foundation of the human race could seem to be under threat, but it is even more clear that we could instead be stuttering those five words of remembrance, simran. That is the way we discover, yet again, that, actually nothing has changed. We simply have a stronger imperative to withdraw from space and time.
The law of karma applies to individuals. It is the specific load we have accrued that we must burn off, ourselves, in the privacy of our own struggle with the mind. Although it might seem that most of mankind is suffering the same karmic Coronavirus disaster, it is each one of us separately that must undergo our part, our version of it. Hazur said:
There is no such thing as group karma, but definitely people’s association with each other forms a type of group. A thousand people are fighting together and trying to kill another thousand people in the army, so each side has made a group. They have a karmic relationship with each other, but everybody will have individual karma, and any individual can escape from that group. It’s not that the whole group has to escape or be condemned.
Any individual can escape from that group according to his own karma. So, there is no group karma, but they have an association with that group; they are all interconnected in relation to that group.2
Love takes all our anxiety into its arms. The Master leads us through our confusion to the calm of his balmy shores. It is abundantly clear that love is the solution. The way we go to our balconies to clap our loving support for nurses and doctors. We are locked down in our bubbles of love with our families. We have nothing to do but meditate; the silence is sometimes deafening! The skies and roads are clear of traffic. We have nowhere to go but in. There is nothing to fear but fear itself and meditation makes short work of that!
In his book The Wisdom of Insecurity, Alan Watts wrote: “If happiness always depends on something expected in the future, we are chasing a will-o’-the-wisp that ever eludes our grasp, until the future, and ourselves, vanish into the abyss of death.”3 Our anxiety is about the imagined unknown on the horizon, as if there is a wisp of material happiness that is somehow being denied to us.
The fact that the crisis is global, that no one is immune, not even prime ministers, and that no one knows how or when it will end, these all indicate the fragility of the human experience. It seems like a massive upheaval of the karma machine, an upheaval as big as any so far seen on planet Earth but brought about by something so small it is invisible even under optical microscopes. These tiny, invisible things – coronavirus virions – are transmitted from one of us to another of us humans thereby making their new hosts ill whether mildly or terminally. And these virions are tiny: 20 nanometres where a nanometre is one billionth of a metre. The diameter of a human hair is at least a thousand times bigger.
Invisible things with a diameter of 20 nanometres are at the root of an upheaval that is affecting the entire human race, changing how we live, and this in the space of just a few weeks! Surely, we have every right to be extremely scared! And yet there is nothing to be scared of, nothing, not a thing.
Alan Watts wrote: “Running away from fear is fear, fighting pain is pain, trying to be brave is being scared. If the mind is in pain, the mind is pain. The thinker has no other form than his thought.”4 A spiritual master gives us the way to get beyond thinking, beyond pain, beyond fear. His love reminds us that we are spiritual beings going through an, albeit testing, human experience. The point is to get us home.
Alan Watts concludes: “To put it still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beetroot.”5
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, Q#436
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, Q#89
- Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for the Age of Anxiety; Vintage Books, 1951, 2011, p. 15
- The Wisdom of Insecurity, p.55
- The Wisdom of Insecurity, pp. 77–78