– staying afloat in trying times.
In this picture, «Lightness of Being», Queen Elizabeth II is photographed by Chris Levine (copyright the artist 2008-2020).
Meditation represents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect. The true contribution of meditation in our trying corona times may be something Queen Elizabeth II touched upon in her speech to her people on 5 April:
Though self-isolating may at times be hard, many people of all faiths and of none are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect in prayer or meditation.
Meditation sets the mind free and brings us in contact with its undercurrents. These layers are often disregarded in our busy everyday life, and even more so in times of crisis, when all that occupies us is whatever can save us from the immediate dangers ahead. However, these deeper layers are the parts of our minds that provide wider perspectives on the situation we are in and can make us think for the long term and see further ahead than the tip of our nose.
In moments of crisis, tunnel vision may help us focus on the challenge ahead and survive. But when the crisis lasts for weeks or months or – who knows – maybe even years, we cannot continue to stay in fight-or-flight mode but need the continued reflection that is part of meditative openness.
The corona crisis creates what for many of us is unprecedented uncertainty. “Will I live or will I die?” is only one of the questions we are up against. Even if we survive, as most of us undoubtedly will, what will tomorrow’s world look like? How long will the crisis last? Will I lose my job? Will I be able to shake hands with my friends again, or pat their backs? Or meet with them in real life, not just on a computer screen? Will society be able to return to normality? Will the economy regain its strength? What about our values? Will we become more compassionate human beings, or more self-centred and evil? Will democracy continue to be the preferred political system, or will authoritarianism end up being seen by many as a better alternative? Where will the world’s point of gravity lie? Who will rule the world – and us? Will there be war?
In such times, it is easy to spend most of our spare time browsing the news in search of someone or something that can provide reliable information, some kind of stable truth, to quash our anxieties. In times like these, however, nobody knows the truth. Usually reliable experts come up with wildly different prognoses for how long the crisis will last, how many people will die, and what other changes will follow in the wake of the pandemic. Media pundits sometimes speak as if they know, and that may provide some temporary comfort and relief, but only until their prophesies turn out to be wrong.
We will have to learn what Milan Kundera calls the “wisdom of uncertainty”: to live with our own anxieties, to steer the boat without knowing the exact direction, to make as educated guesses as possible, but be ready to re-evaluate all truths at any time. The free mental attitude of meditation does not provide the answer, but its sensitivity to underlying currents may help us discern patterns before they emerge in clear daylight. It may also help us to anchor the self in more fundamental aspects of existence, so that all the vicissitudes of life will not throw us off balance. Unless we’ve already had covid-19, we will not become immune to the havoc it may wreak to our bodies. Nor will we be immune to making mistakes in our lives. But the two daily half-hours of headspace may reduce the gravity of these mistakes and bring us on a slightly better track than we would otherwise have been. As if we had the life experience of an almost 94-year old queen!