During a crisis that only deepens over time, some choices become clearer than they are in normal times. The choice I’d like to present today is between thinking and awareness. Thinking is active, and we spend our lives caught up in mental activity in the form of thoughts, sensations, and feelings constantly on the move. Awareness is inactive. It is the silent background of thoughts, always present but not often noticed by most people.
The spiritual journey can be simplified by saying that it is about awareness, not thinking. When you identify with your thoughts, you become entangled with all of the mind’s conflicts and confusion. In the COVID-19 crisis, people are discovering just how much control they have over their thoughts, which is very little. In a crisis fear and anxiety start to roam the mind, and struggling against them does only a little good, which is temporary at best. This is why so many people turn to denial and distraction. They try to deny their fearful thoughts and turn to distractions to escape them thought TV, texting, bingeing on bad news, playing video games, and so on.
But there is a better way. When a crisis makes you feel stressed, meditation relieves the stress response. Fear and anxiety are forms of stress that become exaggerated when events become uncertain, when you feel a loss of control over the situation, and when the stress keeps repeating itself without letup. The thinking mind reacts to all of these conditions. It always has, even in normal times, but a crisis brings stress into high relief, making it very difficult to cope.
If you want to nurture your spiritual life today, turn away from the thinking mind and its stress response. Wake up to the reality that you cannot think yourself out of a crisis. Instead, you can use this time to expand your awareness. Fear, anxiety, stress, boredom, and helplessness constrict our awareness, making it tighten up as a form of defense. Expanded awareness isn’t defensive. It is open to new possibilities, and when you pursue these possibilities, you find healing. The feeling of being sick at heart finds relief, not by struggling against it but by finding an outlet that brings fulfillment to the heart.
Today, besides meditating regularly, think about how you can do something that brings fulfillment in the following areas:
- Having a sense of meaning and purpose
- Loving and being loved
- Self-esteem, a sense of your own worth
- Tapping into inner peace and joy
- Being of service to others
- Generosity of spirit
Make this a purposeful time; that’s the first and most important step. Take pen and paper and write down how you can perform an act of kindness today, show appreciation to someone, offer help to those in need, or bring comfort to someone feeling lonely and anxious—the simple human gestures we tend to overlook. We don’t need to apply the word “spiritual” to these modes of healing. They are based on long traditions, both East and West, that have examined and understood the value of consciousness.
More to the point, these are practical choices for escaping anxiety and stress. They give you a sense of control over your life. By expanding your awareness, these things reverse the most damaging spiritual trend in modern society: the desperate urge to flee from ourselves. Your soul is the most intimate part of you, and it isn’t found by running away.
In a time of crisis, the impulse is to go into emergency mode, fear, concern, and panic. Giving in to those impulses will engender an epidemic of soul sickness. I particularly want to underscore the issue of finding inner peace and joy, which can seem like a remote possibility just now and in the coming months. In the world’s wisdom traditions, it has been taught in every culture that inner peace and joy are available only through looking inward. The Old Testament says, “Be still and know that I am God.” The New Testament says that the kingdom of God is within. The Indian Vedic tradition says that Ananda, or bliss, lies at the heart of creation.
Universal truths don’t matter until they are true for you personally. The secret imparted by the world’s wisdom traditions is that your sense of self, the simple experience of ‘I am,” is the gateway to inner peace and joy. Meditation is nothing more than being alone in silence with yourself and letting your awareness go to the place where peace and joy are eternal. You can participate in our current free meditation series here if you like. Whatever kind of meditation you choose is fine as long as it is effortless and simple; using a simple mantra like “So hum” is effective. The point is that among all the ways to find spiritual fulfillment, getting in touch with your present awareness is the most lasting, the most satisfying, and the most meaningful to heal your spirit.