Saturday, April 4, 2020

How to live in the time of COVID-19? Let’s not lose sight of basic principles

The current Covid-19 situation has been affecting almost everyone on the planet. Many many people are unsure how to react and behave, all the while experiencing strong emotional reactions such as anxiety, fear, and anger. It’s a new experience and requires adjustment to our perspectives on life. Because there are many tips on how to spend our days during stay-at-home orders, I am not writing to repeat those things here. Today, however, I would like to share some philosophical point of view that may be helpful for some of you. Because it is a philosophical perspective, you may disagree, and that’s totally fine. I am not talking about what should be an absolute truth or what you have to do, but to offer you some thoughts on  what may help for you to remain calm and accepting of the current situation we all find ourselves in.

In a unique wayCovid-19 has forced us all to face our death and powerlessness, which, of course unsettles and unnerves us all. At the same time, if we step back and see the bigger picture, it has always been this way: We are all moving toward our deaths which inevitably awaits us at some point in the future; maybe tomorrow, maybe in 50 years, we just don’t know the time or place, but it’s an inevitable appointment we all have to keep. The fact hasn’t changed that we don’t know when we will die, but that we will die is certain. The virus has so suddenly and vividly brought this fearful truth to our current consciousness that it has unnerved us both individually and as a society, and we are all confused and panicked. Therefore, I’d like to suggest we go back to the very basics of life in order not to lose our personal foundations for peaceful and calm existence.

When it comes to our life, I think there are three important principles to consider:

We 1) try to survive as best we can until our turn comes to die, 2) while maximizing our quality of life as much as possible, 3) in a state of fundamental acceptance of our limitations

The first one needs no explanation. We will die but until it happens, we try to stay alive. That’s a basic drive for most people.

Now let’s think about the second one. We are hoping to have a “good” life, and in order to have it, we do different things: For some people money matters; for some it’s hobbies; for others it’s family and friends, and so on. As much as possible we want to have a good time rich with experience until we die. There is no absolute right or wrong about it; we all just want something to fulfill our life. 

The biggest challenge is the third one… Essentially, we have no choice but to accept things that are out of our control. Limits are limits, and we just accept there is nothing we can do about them. When we try to deny them, fight them, or try to do something to change things that will always be out of our control, we will end up with frustration, pain, hurt, anger, sadness, and so on. In order to avoid this, it is crucial that we just accept our powerlessness, which eventually gives us some peace of mind.

Let’s apply these principles to our current Covid-19 situation. We try to live as well as possible in this tough time, and we maximize our quality of life (and reduce boredom) as much as we can, by doing a variety of things at home. At the same time, we need to choose to accept our powerlessness about the pandemic and the urge to manage it beyond our control. If you don’t do so, many emotional issues will arise. All we can do is to continuously maintain physical distance, stay at home, wash our hands, wear masks, and so on, all of which are things in our control. We continue to do it to live and maximize the quality of life. And we just accept the fact that that’s all we can do. The rest is out of our hands. We don’t struggle over things we cannot do anything about. Just let it be and have faith or hope that eventually this time too shall pass.

In the bigger picture, it has actually always been the same thing in life. We will live and one day we will die, and death is out of our control. We just accept the fact that we will all die. At the same time, how we care for ourselves is something that is in our hands and can actually delay our inevitable rendezvous with death. A healthy diet, exercise, good sleep, medical checkups, saving up money for our financial peace and physical well-being, maintaining good relationships, and so on… It’s essentially the same thing, either with Covid-19 or not: we care for our safety and health as much as we can, and the rest is up to God, the Universe, Lady Luck, Fate, or whatever you believe, isn’t it? The current situation is just something with more limitations. If you were already doing your best to achieve a long and healthy life, you can just continue doing the same thing within the extra limits currently imposed on us. If you haven’t been doing that to date, then now is a good opportunity to face your death and change your lifestyle in a way that improves your odds of a longer and healthier life. The benefits will be immediate and last until that day you die, which will hopefully be a long time from now.

Many people tend to cling to their fantasies about how things should be, be it with the virus, the government, society, other people, etc. and end up feeling defeated, angry, and frustrated. Many people tend to have catastrophic thoughts about the future, and end up feeling depressed, scared, and panicked. None of this is helpful, because it is all out of our control, and focusing on things that we have no power over does nothing but harm.

We benefit from clarifying which things are out of our control and which things are in our hands. No matter how we “feel” about it, we have no option but to accept our limitations; in fact we have no other option. We can let go of useless efforts to control everything, choosing instead to just stay focused on what we really can do. Strangely, when we fully accept our powerlessness, we are more empowered and able to maximize what power we do have over things under our control, resulting in enhancing the quality of our life. 

We are currently in an extreme situation, but the fundamental principles have always been the same. Let’s focus on what we can do and let go of the rest in order to enjoy a more peaceful state of mind to experience the joy of life. 

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