In the United States, we are five months into the Stay Home, Stay Safe aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic. At my house, we call it “The Covid”—as if it has an actual identity as an unwanted guest who won’t leave. We all want to talk about The Covid; about how our daily lives have changed, how difficult travel has become, and how worried we are about our family members and ourselves. We are swimming in anxiety, restlessness, and worry. How exhausting!
What can we practice to transform or at least limit these fraught conversations and heavy feelings? Surely there are more life-affirming alternatives to Netflix and on-going cocktail hours with friends on Zoom. (Is there any activity that doesn’t involve a screen right now?)
During these challenging times, I find it especially helpful to focus on the Four Immeasurables, also known as the Four Limitless Qualities or Heavenly Abodes. I’ve mentioned them before because they are always within us, as the blue sky is always with us, although it may be covered up by clouds. As a reminder, these qualities are loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.
Does focusing on these make the pandemic go away? No. However, when we uncover and cultivate these qualities, we can experience life as more peaceful and spacious.
Take a moment:
- How does your body feel when you feel angry? Really, how does it feel? Light and free? Tense and tight?
- How does your body feel when you feel loved? Light and free? Tense and tight?
- How does your body feel when you feel joyful or playful?
- How does your body feel when you drop the storyline of who wears a mask and who doesn’t?
- How do you want to feel at any given moment?
If you felt more at ease when focusing on the physical sensations of love, joy, and acceptance, perhaps others would, too. The aspiration practice of metta or loving-kindness prompts us to think beyond our personal difficulties and recognize that all of us are in this situation together. If each one of us loosened our grip on what we think is right, and instead wished for all of us to be more at ease, how would that feel? Maybe we would smile under our masks and wish that all beings be safe and happy, mask or not. Maybe we would send off a prayer that all could be healthy and well.
Let’s give it a try.
Let me be clear: I believe in science. Follow all the rules about wearing a mask where it’s expected and mandated. Wash your hands. Oh, and wear a mask. It’s possible to smile with your eyes.