The language of war has begun to permeate the national coronavirus dialogue in an effort to drive people to follow state and federal guidelines to protect us all. We’ve been here before, with the War on Poverty, the War on Cancer, the War on Drugs, the War on Terror. We’ve been fighting these wars for years and haven’t won any of them. It seems logical to try a different strategy.
If you need any evidence as to what seized most American minds at the outset of this pandemic, just take a look at the run on toilet paper throughout the country. Our knee-jerk priority in uncertain times is not so much averting the loss of our lives, it’s averting the loss of our comforts.
This is completely understandable. As reality settles in, however, we have an opportunity to be less reactive, more rational, and most importantly, to carefully choose our own mindset and language moving forward.
To be clear, being at peace with this or any crisis does not mean doing business as usual, minimizing, nor denying the severity of the suffering now and ahead of us. It does not mean being passive nor weak, nor does it mean ignoring sound, evidence-based guidelines to mitigate the impact on public health and security.
Choosing to be at peace in this crisis is an act of great personal courage and faith as waves of worry, fear, and dread envelop our human community. Actions taken from a place of peace and mindfulness produce more effective and lasting results and generate more innovative solutions that honor all life.
Make no mistake — it’s not easy to choose peace when we have been in the habit of choosing war, again and again.
We’re already at war much of the time. We’re at war with ourselves, in our relationships, with the other team, the other political party, the other church, the other country. We’ve gotten so accustomed to being at war, it feels like the safest choice when life delivers an unexpected shock, if only because of its familiarity. It’s the devil we know.
It often feels easier and more socially acceptable to join in the collective unrest, the hoarding, the hopelessness, the endless waiting for leaders and other authorities to give us direction, even as we doubt much of what we hear.
But I believe that deep inside of you, even in your most desperate moments, you know, just like I do, that this mindset doesn’t bring us real relief at all. It only brings more struggle, more lack, more fear.
There is another way.
Here’s the good news. It’s only difficult for your ego to be peaceful. You are not your ego. Despite what you’ve been told and sold, it’s completely natural for your true self, the real heart and soul of who you are, to be at peace, even when facing adversity. This doesn’t mean being in a perpetual zen state and having no ripples in your disposition. It means being willing to change, to be curious, accepting, and confident in yourself no matter what life brings.
Many of you are already practicing being at peace with the pandemic, but some of you may be hesitant to speak as openly as you’d like about it, for fear of reproach. You’re not alone. There are millions of us who feel strangely serene and hopeful even though it looks like everything is falling apart. All those meditation courses, affirmative prayers, contemplative practices, yoga sessions, and metaphysical teachings actually work when put to the test.
Choosing peace is the best strategy we have now, for ourselves as individuals, and for our global human community.
We’ve practiced enough war.
Together, let’s practice choosing peace.
Remember, it’s how you choose to think about a situation that can change it from a crisis to an opportunity, a war to a wake-up call, a curse to a blessing. It may feel weird, maybe even a little dangerous at first, like driving on the other side of the road in a foreign country. You can get the hang of it, though. You just have to practice.
Some Ways to Get Started
Be particularly careful of how you use the phrase “I am.” We take it for granted, but this the most powerful phrase in our language in terms of how we see ourselves and create our destiny. Instead of saying, “I am afraid that we will never recover,” try, “I have fears that we may never recover.” This practice helps to separate you from what is happening in your life and gives your mind a chance to observe the situation and the fears objectively, rather than jumping to subjective conclusions and being personally defined by external events and emotions.
Try adding empowering words and phrases that emphasize harmony, strength, and possibilities. For example, instead of settling with,“We are fighting for our lives,” you can add, “we are working to overcome unprecedented change,” or “we are growing stronger.” Replace “this is a colossal failure,” with “many actions have failed, others are successful. We will keep trying until we succeed.” You can absolutely acknowledge the seriousness of a situation, take urgent action, assert your opinions in compelling ways, protect yourself and those you love, and still be at peace.
See your thoughts as simply items on a huge buffet table. Just as you don’t have to eat everything offered, you don’t have to eat — or believe — all of your thoughts. We have a strong bias toward thinking our thoughts are true and must be resolved, especially those thoughts that keep us up at 3am. You do not have to believe every thought you think. You can choose which thoughts suit your tastes and bring you relief, and leave the rest at the buffet or toss them in the compost of your mind.
Notice where you focus. Whatever you focus on tends to grow and multiply. Strike a balance between doom and joy. For every anxious thought, add one or more peaceful thoughts. Get creative with it. Make it a game with your friends and family. It might be hard at first, or it might be easier and more fun than you expect.
Decide that there is no enemy. There are only human beings doing what they think makes sense to them based on the information they have and their personal beliefs, experience, and flaws, just like you and me. The virus is not an enemy, either. It is just another part of nature, doing what it does. It’s not personal. Make it a goal to seek harmony, understanding, and compassion. Avoid the tendency to blame, belittle, degrade or destroy.
Being at peace is not about sugar-coating reality, spiritual bypassing, denying suffering, or limiting you in any way. Relax your judgment on all emotions that arise in you. You wouldn’t be human without your beautiful variety of emotions. It’s ok to have anger, sadness, relief, excitement, worry, delight, incredulity, serenity, frustration. Just as you are not your ego, you are not your emotions. It’s usually our resistance to emotions, rather than accepting them with peace, that makes them seem unbearable, rigid, and permanent. Emotions pass and change when we relax that resistance.
Choosing peace expands your heart and mind, increasing your energy, creativity, endurance, potential and power.
Explore alternate perspectives and exercise your imagination. There are many ways to interpret events, especially when we try looking at the same situation from different viewpoints. If you could sit down and ask them, how might the Earth perceive this situation? The moon? The penguins at the aquarium? The virus itself? How would you perceive it if you were twenty years younger, twenty years older, or if you traveled here in a time machine from the year 2120? From 1918?
Choose the images you view wisely. Set your phone and other digital screens to display images that make you feel serene, joyful, powerful, hopeful. Avoid consuming violence, misery, hatred, and brutality on television, in song lyrics, in advertising, the internet, film, or elsewhere. They don’t call it ‘programming’ for nothing.
Come alive whenever possible. Sing, laugh, dance, recite poetry, paint, do whatever makes you sparkle. While you’re at it, express yourself whenever the mood hits you, in line at Trader Joe’s, at the dog park, in your living room, doing your taxes. Do it even if you think you look stupid. You might make someone smile when they need it most, and you might inspire others to release their inhibitions, too.
Listen to uplifting music and lyrics. Words matter, and they can get stuck in our brain especially when set to a snappy beat, like a jingle. If you don’t want to live out or become what those words describe, avoid listening to them and especially don’t sing them aloud.
Make it a daily goal to notice the many ways that people are helping each other, loving each other, soothing each other, trusting each other. While there will always be plenty of reasons to have fear, there will always be plenty of reasons to have faith.
It’s ok to be real and talk about your feelings. When we name our fears and worries and share them out in the open, they tend to seem less ominous, and it’s easier to make more effective choices. You might be surprised how much relief you’ll bring to yourself and others when you are open and real about your experience. So you’re binge-watching Friends and not chanting Om? You bought a little more vanilla chocolate chunk ice cream than whole grains and lentils? Big whoop. Sometimes the path to peace is lined with sitcoms and sugar.
Above all, remember that choosing peace is a practice — you don’t have to be a master, you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to do all of it, all at once. You just have to try it, try again, and keep at it. This is how you change your world.
Start with just one new thing, and see where you it leads you. Create new ideas, beliefs, and strategies to wage your own brand of peace.
Bonus: Your immune system will get a boost as you practice peace, and you will be an integral part of creating a new and more harmonious world — perhaps better than we’ve ever seen.
Throughout our history, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, we the people have transcended unimaginable challenges, survived unspeakable horrors, and made countless impossible dreams come true. What has proved most effective is to use language and actions that inspire us to rise up in our hearts and minds and become more than we ever imagined we could be — even if it means being uncomfortable, even if it means enduring great hardships.
In times like these, it can be easy to forget that it’s the people — not the government — who ultimately hold the majority of power. We’re in this together, which is the best news of all.
I know you’ve been in despair and dark places. Perhaps you are there right now. I bet you’ve already survived things you thought you never could. It isn’t because you believed you were worthless or helpless, it’s because you finally believed in yourself, that your life and your being here on the planet matters.
You may not have known it consciously then, but you made a choice to stop resisting reality, to stop fruitlessly lamenting that “it shouldn’t be this way,” and you became willing to see things differently. You actually chose to be at peace rather than at war — to accept the reality of the circumstances you were in, and then take inspired action to move forward and make it better.
The world needs you. If anyone is up to the task, it is you.