“It all happened so fast.”
Feels like the blink of an eye, doesn’t it? Just yesterday, your biggest challenge was deciding what to eat for dinner. Today, it’s deciding whether to take your money out of the stock market—hoping that you can find groceries when you finally muster the energy to battle the crowds—and hoping that you can get another job if you’re forced to forfeit the one you currently have.
Most people aren’t constantly anticipating a global catastrophe, and that’s usually a good thing. From a psychological standpoint, it’s typically considered healthiest to apply one’s mental energies to the here and now, with only a “general,” all-purpose sort of preparedness plan in place for when things go “wrong.” So, what happened here? We were all approaching our lives “normally” when the coronavirus panic began to kick up in the periphery of our collective vision. Most of us have a community comprised of immediate friends and family we can rely on, and that hasn’t changed. Still more relevant, the great majority of us have lived through collective moments of tragedy and panic before—so why does this one feel different?
What about this particular event is causing us to feel suffocated, isolated, hopeless, and lost? And why is there a particularly undeniable feeling of grief in the air? Our minds reassure us that nothing tangible (in our immediate experience and vicinity) has been lost, and yet our hearts are in agony; fluttering with anxiety, weighed down with despondency.
With limited resources and an outside world that appears to be rapidly disappearing, we are left in a sort of stalemate—with ourselves.
Ways that we grieve everyday,
often without even realizing it:
- When something we want to purchase is out of stock
- When a plan we were looking forward to is rescheduled or cancelled
- When we are delayed or late to meeting a deadline or event time
- When the dynamic of a relationship ends or changes
- When someone we love drastically changes their physical appearance
- When someone we sought to impress expresses disappointment in us
- When we do not achieve a goal in the time or way we hoped to
“I feel like I’m dying.”
One common emotion that we are all facing right now is grief. For many of us, milestone events or experiences have been cancelled. Travel plans, festival dates, and summer siestas have all been postponed. Even small things like date-nights and intimate get-togethers are suddenly no longer allowed.
The things that we’ve spent time looking forward to, fantasizing about—the future pleasures that we use to get through our present-moment mundanity—have been snatched away, and with them, our sense of identity.
We must take a moment to honor ourselves and validate something very real: what we are grieving is perfectly legitimate.
We are grieving the death of ourselves; what we have built our entire mental software upon—we are grieving our identity. Those of us who are not grieving have not yet experienced a loss of identity: the things that they hold fast to and rely on to define themselves are still fully intact, and in some cases, the changes we are experiencing as a collective may be bringing them more comfort and identification than ever. For individuals who do not find intrinsic meaning in solitude and single-person (or limited-person) activities, however, this grief process is incredibly intense and necessary.
At another time, it will be appropriate to expound upon the incredibly damaging way that our culture uses activities, promises of the future, and echoes of the past to craft individual identity. For now, let us examine what it is we’ve lost, and how we can grieve honestly and healthfully.
- We use our activities to define ourselves and create purpose in our lives. When these activities are stripped away from us, our purpose is stripped away from us. Who are we if we are not our occupation? Who are we if we are no longer able to spend time engaging in or preparing for the activities that we have allowed to define us? The answer is, we don’t know, and this realization can create a crisis of identity that leaves us feeling unsure of ourselves, our values, and our role in society.
- We are grieving the self that gains meaning through specific social roles and activities. We are grieving a sense of meaning that gives us purpose.
- Without realizing it, we use our future plans to distract ourselves from what we perceive to be a very boring and meaningless present moment. If we were to apply a statistic to this habit, it might be fair to say that we spend 90% of our time fantasizing about the way we’re going to spend 10% of our time. As previously mentioned, this is a deeply ingrained cultural habit, and something to be reworked when the time is right. For now, move forward with a keen awareness of this habit, and know this:
- We are grieving the fact that our future is now uncertain. We are being forced to face our present self without distraction.
- It hurts to change our brains—truly. We have formed neural pathways in our brains by living lives of habit and routine, and for many of us, that routine is being wildly disrupted right now. As a result, our brains are being forced to create new neural pathways, which can be difficult and even akin to a physical pain sensation if we aren’t accustomed to regularly changing and challenging ourselves. Change, as frequently explored in this space, is a form of death. So, in a very real way, we are feeling emotions that are associated with death at this time.
- We are grieving the death of our old habits and routines, as we knew them—habits and routines that provided us with relationships, interaction, and connection.
Stepping into peace
Armed with a greater understanding of why we are experiencing such a keen sense of loss at this time, here are four ways you can step into greater peace as your daily experience continues to unfold:
four ways to step into greater peace
You have all you need right now.
May you experience all aspects of life and death courageously,
aware of the infinite strength within you!
“Your ego will die at the end of this life—it is inevitable. An awakened being knows this and allows their ego to die long before that.”