Every crisis that humanity and the world experiences — the bushfires, the drought, the famine, the floods and COVID-19, has a yang and a yin aspect. The yang aspect is the immediate, urgent, frantic response to minimise suffering. The yin aspect comes in time as we pause to contemplate the significance of the crisis. What can we learn from this experience? I would like to share with you my contemplation in the hope that it will stimulate or support yours.
There is obviously more to learn from COVID-19 than how to manage a pandemic, how to fight the virus and how to create a vaccine, although, from the perspective of science and medicine, these are enormously important endeavours. I am in awe of the dedication, courage and commitment of all the allied medical workers and deeply grateful for their compassion for humanity often at their own risk.
Yet sociologists, community health workers, mental health workers, counsellors, psychotherapists and spiritual teachers may have other perspectives and insights about this global challenge. I will present my insights as a psychotherapist, health educator and meditation/spirituality teacher, father and grandfather.
Crisis and opportunity, challenge and blessing often accompany each other like yin and yang.
Yin refers to the shady side of the hill, yang refers to the sunny side of the hill. Yin and yang are in a constantly changing interrelationship. As the day progresses, the shady side becomes sunny and the sunny side becomes shady. Everything is relative, and depends on perspective. Crisis can turn into opportunity and challenges can prove to be blessings. Yang contains within it the seeds of yin — in the midst of light are the seeds of darkness. Yin contains within it the seeds of yang — in the midst of darkness are the seeds of light. They are not oppositional, they are complementary.
For many years now, I have heard from some cancer patients that dealing with their cancer has brought positive changes into their life. In fact, some go so far as to express gratitude for the “wake-up call” of the cancer diagnosis. What an amazing shift in perspective, from being a victim of a serious illness to becoming the creator of a new outlook on life! The crisis of cancer has become a turning point in their life…an opportunity for insight and growth, change and renewal.
But this change in perspective does not come easily or cheaply. It is often accompanied by grief, commitment, setbacks, perseverance, patience, willingness to change, humility…and courage!
From a spiritual perspective, there are no mistakes, no accidents and no failures. Everything comes as the unfolding of a Divine plan for the growth/evolution of consciousness. That plan presents challenges and blessings, crisis and opportunity, light and dark, for the purpose of insight and growth, change and renewal.
Intrinsic to this plan is the law of Cause and Effect, or Karma. Actions have consequences and these consequences aren’t punishments for “bad behaviour” (and rewards for good) but opportunities to learn and grow. Without consequences, there would be no impetus for change. In this way, the Divine plan is compassionate and intelligent but not always easy and comfortable.
We have ongoing experience of the consequences of human actions on our physical and mental health, community values, family life, environment…the whole planet Earth and all its inhabitants. These consequences are meant to compel us to pay attention and contemplate: What is out of balance here? What isn’t really working here? perhaps even asking, What’s missing in my life? Have we prioritised individuality at the expense of shared humanity? Have we prioritised material prosperity and physical comfort at the expense of spiritual qualities?
As well as dealing with the physical and emotional impact of COVID-19, there is this compelling opportunity to contemplate what it means to the way we live our precious lives together on this precious planet.
The sheer scale and immediacy of COVID-19 demands that we take a good look at our attitudes, our lifestyles and their consequences. From contemplating the nature of this challenge, insights can appear in the personal, interpersonal, societal, environmental and spiritual domains.
I would like to help facilitate your contemplation in the same way that I have been compelled to do my own contemplation in the face of this crisis and opportunity.
Contemplation does not necessarily lead to immediate, rational answers, but it can help to broaden your perspective, open your mind, touch your heart and activate your inner integrity. It’s enough to simply ask the questions and allow them to percolate inside…and to be willing to be deeply honest with yourself.
Both the actual challenge of this virus and our global response to it have presented some important contemplations, see if any of the following are relevant for you:
“Have I been ‘looking outside’ too much for my happiness?”
‘Looking outside’ means looking for happiness from food, possessions, status, power, approval and recognition from others, being needed by others, sexuality, entertainment, drugs and alcohol, social media, etc. Of course, these things may be enjoyable and bring pleasure but they can’t bring a deeper sense of fulfilment, joy and peace. If we look outside exclusively for happiness, as we have been conditioned, this will lead to attachments, dependencies and addictions…and ultimately lead to suffering. ‘Looking outside’ drives consumerism, materialism and capitalism and this keeps us working excessively to keep up with our internalised expectations of “success”.
“Am I comfortable spending more time with myself, with less busyness, less distractions?”
There is a wise old saying that goes: if you can’t go within, you go without! Perhaps in these times we could ask: if you can’t go out, can you go within? Can you slow down, be more present, more connected, less distracted? Can you begin to relax and unwind? Can you make yourself more available for your life?
“What is really important to me? What nurtures me? What do I cherish?”
Perhaps you are starting to realise (after the initial panic) that in some ways less is more: less material stuff, less busyness, less stimulation. Has all the drama and stimulation of life really been making you fulfilled and joyful? Have you been working for work’s sake? Do you engage with the world from choice or obligation? On your terms or someone else’s? Have you been discriminating about who and what you engage with?
“What or who have I been taking for granted? What do I want to give thanks for?”
Are you starting to enjoy the small and simple things in life, like: going for a walk, some quiet time, having a rest, time with the family, alone time? Are you starting to enjoy what you already have rather than constantly struggling for more? Are you beginning to feel grateful for this precious and fragile life? How do you handle the resources in your life: with fear, with greed or grasping, with respect, with gratitude?
“Is there something missing for me?”
Perhaps more meaning, more spirituality, more space, more creativity, more fun, more kindness, more love? All of the above? Something else?
Be ruthlessly honest with yourself, and your truth will speak out. You will find seeds of light amidst the darkness.
Essential insights can arise from these contemplations, or from facing the reality of the COVID-19 challenge as it unfolds. I will share with you some of my insights:
Human beings have a faulty conception of Nature, the Earth and all its creatures. We think that we are at the top of the hierarchy of creation and the Earth is a resource to be exploited for our comfort and convenience. We are the masters; the Earth and all the creatures are our slaves. Greed leads us to take and hoard too much. We have been blinded by a sense of superiority and arrogance; we have been “biting the hand that feeds us”.
Our sense of superiority is associated with a thinking mind which is linear, rational and focussed. In contrast, Nature is curved and wriggly (non-linear), multi-layered and diverse.
We impose our linear thinking on Nature’s curves; we interfere in the name of progress and entitlement. Our interference may have short term benefits for some but long-term consequences for all. Things get way out of balance and Nature gives us feedback.
Some humility and reverence for Nature, as we see in indigenous people, would enable us to be guided by Nature, to listen, to watch…to learn from Her. Instead, we have been imposing our will and our desires. We are part of Nature, and the Whole is more intelligent than the part.
We are all part of a global community sharing a common humanity. We have an effect on each other: we impact each other in a multitude of ways. We are One world. We are all connected regardless of nations, races, creeds. We all suffer, struggle and die…and deep down we care about each other’s suffering.
The rational mind defines, names, classifies and separates. The mind wants to make right and wrong, to demonise and glorify, good guys and bad guys, them and us. The heart, through empathy and compassion, connects us. This is an opportunity to pray for all beings, starting from your family, friends, yourself and then all beings and the Earth itself. May all beings be well!
Charles Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest was a limited perspective. It’s not the survival of the fittest but the survival of the most cooperative. We are strongest and most wise when we work together. United we stand, divided we fall.
We have overvalued wilfulness and fierce individuality, and undervalued cooperation and connectedness.
There is so much innocence, kindness and courage inside each person. It may be buried under layers of hurt and fear, but it is still there. A crisis is often the opportunity for these qualities to shine forth. These qualities are innate aspects of our true nature, our spirit. It’s an inspiring reminder when we witness them being displayed by others even in challenging times.
It’s so important to allow ourselves some space and time to listen to the “still, quiet voice inside”. To slow down, to tune in to the yin in a busy yang world. This is the voice of our inner integrity, our inner knowing and discrimination. We all share this voice. It is the voice of our common humanity and our shared spirit.
We have all been cast from the same mould. We are all on the same journey in the evolution of consciousness. This is the journey of finding the light amongst the darkness and accepting the darkness amongst the light. The ultimate darkness is the fear of death, the ultimate light is the love of life. Life is both fragile and precious.
The more we accept and embrace our vulnerability, our sensitivity, change, loss, suffering and death as part of our everyday living experience, the more we can open to the opportunities to see the light. Yin and yang form an inseparable Oneness, and this is the rhythm, the pulse of our life. We are called to embrace this everchanging Oneness, together with all life. In this way, through God’s grace, we might be able to move more quickly through the darkness to the light. Acceptance of the yin and the yang is the key. Not grasping, avoiding and struggling, but acceptance brings flowing with the rhythm and the pulse, dancing with the darkness and light: a crazy, difficult, easy, fun dance.
I live on the western, shady side of a hill. This makes for some cool, shady mornings but also some glorious sunsets.
May we all find the wisdom and compassion to face this darkness with humility, courage, kindness and co-operation and find the seeds of light within ourselves, each other and the challenge itself.
Paul is a dear friend of many years’ standing. Both of us are members of the Moora Moora Co-operative
Paul has been the senior counsellor at Gawler Foundation for many years, and knows what he is talking about