The path to enlightenment; Buddhism teaches the eight-step path while others have boiled it down to a more refined path. I once read that true enlightenment is equilibrium in thought, word, and deed and that true balance is not given, it is attained – earned. I’ve found my personal balance far off center of late, due of course, to this virus. A piece of my imbalance is due to the news media sensationalism I have written about (probably too much) and another piece due to the same thing we are all feeling – our own personal impact of the loss. It may be your job, your friends, your favorite bar or restaurant, store, park, or some other place now lost to you due to the virus. Or an activity taken from you: going to the movies, playing sports, bowling, and even getting a haircut – all forms of loss. Take one alone and it would barely be noticeable, but take so many at once? The cumulative effect can be staggering for many folks.
Balance is an extraordinary thing. Consider the physical aspect of controlling your balance on a beam, a slack line, a tree limb, or some such thing. Stop for a moment and picture what we do to establish and maintain our balance: feet square and perpendicular to our body’s center of gravity, arms extended far out, eyes focused on the line, and heart pounding all the while. As we teeter side to side the hips swivel, the torso twists, the head rolls, and the arms wildly flail up and down in an attempt to compensate. It is a most miraculous and wondrous mechanism that we all possess to some varying degree and one that can be developed and improved with practice. Now imagine how on earth we might manage the same with our mental balance!
Frankly, there are a myriad of ways to reestablish your personal balance when it has been thrown askew; you can sit and ponder it, roll it around inside your head and try to examine each of the various facets of what is bothering you. You talk about it with someone, discuss it and try to gain a different perspective on the issue. Or you can do one, or both, while doing something: hiking, walking, bicycling, chatting over a cup of coffee, having a beer with a friend, or even just sitting on a park bench with someone. But this virus, its repercussions, have taken all that away; restaurants and bars are closed, as are parks, coffee shops, museums, playgrounds, and libraries. All the places you would once have gone to sit with a friend to talk things out are now gone. And beyond that, people have all been told to stay in their homes except for essential things such as food and medical care. And you are to limit your interactions to just five people – and only the same five people each day.
Most every method people once used to help twist their mental torso, swivel their spiritual hips, and flail their emotional arms to regain inner balance have been stripped from us all in the name of wellness. Necessary no doubt, but the ramifications to mental wellbeing are profound. We are all already under great stress due to the virus, compounded exponentially by the panic inducing hyperbole of the news media – people are terrified. Taking away all the usual means of restoring one’s spiritual balance in the midst of all this fear and distress is at best, trying for most and is devastating to more than a few, leaving it difficult to find ways of finding your internal equilibrium.
I find my feet still well planted on the ground, but I do find my patience is thin. I am aware of it, and try to compensate for it, correct it before I lose patience, but am not always successful. I haven’t hiked in several months, I haven’t been to a restaurant in well over a month (two?), and in fact I haven’t done much of anything else outside of my property. But I am lucky in that the land I own is wooded and diverse and affords me much to do in the yard; keeps me occupied in other words. But even with that, I am feeling the effects – I truly cannot imagine having to stay inside an apartment in a city: the stress has to be suffocating. And that is what I tend to feel – I feel claustrophobic at times. I suspect it is knowing that I can’t go have a beer and a steak at a nice restaurant or go see a movie and then grab a burger and beer afterwards.
There is that feeling of being trapped, unable to move. If you’ve ever been pinned or immobilized inside something somewhere, you know exactly what I mean; you go to move and can’t. You stop, reassess, and try again – nothing. So you try going backwards and can’t. A wiggle to the left, one to the right – nothing. And the panic sets in; you begin to sweat. You also swell which does absolutely nothing but make the situation worse. There are a lot of incredibly tight places inside submarines and I ended up stuck more than once during my career, so I know of what I speak. What I found worked best was to stop and become completely still, even close my eyes. Just stop and breath and not think of anything except my breathing. And it always, I was always eventually able to slither my way back out. It was restoring my mental balance. And that is part of what I have been working on here lately – working on my balance. Not quite there yet though. How about you dear reader, how are you restoring and maintaining your equilibrium? And I am curious if it is an intentional cognitive act, or if you find that you are doing it unconsciously, instinctively such as I did when stuck inside a boat.
Despite the intermittent claustrophobic feeling, this is a delightful time of year; the advent of spring, the rebirth of nature. The crocuses have come and gone, the daffodils are almost gone, and the next waves of the cadence of growth are in process. The ferns are now coiled up ready to unfurl themselves to the sky and the thousands of leaves in the oaks, maples, and hickories are all forming and poking out to test the air. This slower and sedentary version of life has allowed a much more leisurely look at how nature opens her doors for business after the winter. A hidden gift of this virus. If you are feeling stuck and trapped in all this, feel yourself panicking, swelling – stop. Stop and closes your eyes and breath. And then open your eyes to really see the advent of spring that is taking place right in front of you. It is a rare chance to do so; next spring we may all be back running at 100MPH again. Enjoy your own spring dear reader and I hope you can restore some internal balance in doing so!