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Remembering Compassion in Uncertain Times

Thupten Jinpa, PhD | March 18, 2020

Dear Friends,


We are living through an unprecedented time of stress, widespread anxiety and uncertainty. Already, several thousand people have lost their lives to COVID-19 and the WHO has declared the current situation as a global pandemic. Medical experts around the world are doing their best to find ways to flatten the curve of its spread and develop vaccines. On our part as individuals, we are being asked to self-quarantine and adopt social distancing. Although such behavior may seem contrary to our natural human impulse towards connection and social interaction, paradoxically, these are indeed the most altruistic things to do right now. Sometimes the wisdom of compassion calls for exactly this kind of restraint. If each one of us takes the protective measures that medical experts are advising, we will be contributing towards faster resolution of our current crisis. Let’s honor the members of the healthcare profession who are on the front lines of this global health crisis, risking their safety to save lives and serve the broader society every day.


Whilst we are in self-quarantine, some of us may be with our close family members, while some of us might be living alone. One thing is certain; we all feel anxious, stressed, and worried. What does compassion call upon us to do in such times of stress and anxiety?


Breathe to calm ourselves

First, let’s find a way to keep calm so that we are not overtaken by fear and anxiety. It might be helpful here to pay attention to how we might be feeling right now. We can breathe deeply into the areas of our body where we feel tense, our shoulders, stomach, or the areas around the heart, and imagine experiencing the release of tension in these areas. Here is a breathing exercise.


Bring awareness to our fear and anxiety

Science shows that one of the best ways to regulate our strong emotions is to bring awareness to them. Paradoxically, bringing awareness to our emotions weakens their grip on our mind. Let’s check in and ask “How am I doing?” “How anxious am I feeling?” “Where is this anxiety?” Simply, asking these questions can help disrupt the process, so that fear and anxiety do not take hold in our mind. We can then breathe fear and anxiety out, and breathe in courage and hope.


Connect with common humanity

While social distancing isolates us from each other, our shared feelings of fear and anxiety powerfully bring home our shared human condition. So let’s also remember to feel concern for others, especially those who may be less fortunate than we are. First and foremost, let’s remember those who have lost their loved ones to this virus. Also, while some of us may be fortunate to be able to work from home, let’s remember that there are many others who simply do not have such luxury and the loss of a work day will cause painful economic consequences. Let’s connect, virtually, with all our loved ones to assure them and seek assurance. If we happen to have loved ones living at home, especially as parents of school children, let’s take this opportunity to spend more quality time with our children. This opportunity to spend more time with our loved ones may be one of the few silver linings of the current crisis. Let’s avoid any impulse towards racism and blame, and directing it to those of Asian ethnicity, simply because the virus happened to originate in Asia. When viruses emerge, they have to emerge somewhere. What matters now is how to stem its spread so that we can prevent further loss of life.


Let’s help others where we can

Let’s care for those in our neighborhood who might need our attention – the elderly, the sick, and those living alone. Let’s find a way to assure each other and help prevent feelings of loneliness during this period of social isolation. Let’s pray that those who are in positions of authority and power – governments, businesses, and philanthropic organizations – feel moved to address the economic pain of those who have to stay at home because of the health advisory but cannot afford to lose the paycheck, even for a single week. Let’s pray that those who are custodians of the economy keep their nerve, so that the entire edifice of finance and economy does not suffer lasting damage during this time of uncertainty. Let’s pray especially that COVID-19 does not spread widely in the poorer parts of the world where water, basic sanitation, and access to healthcare remain a struggle for many.


Let’s not forget that this too will pass

Whilst we are in the midst of this current crisis, it is natural to feel a sense of permanence. But let’s not forget to remember the age old wisdom, “This too shall pass.” Our task as individuals is to do everything we can to maintain our calm, feel connected to fellow humans, and do whatever we can to help others in practical ways, and, of course, observe the protective measures advised by health experts. And, of course, let’s all pray that this difficult chapter of global pandemic will come to an end soon.