The number one question that I am getting asked on a daily basis, as we try to navigate through this global crisis is this:
"It feels like everything has changed and I have no certainty about my future. Truth be told I am kind of freaking out and I honestly don't know how to move forward. How can I actually do something productive during this time while dealing with all this overwhelm, panic and fear?"
It's a great question, one that I am sure we have all asked ourselves during this time! And there are two different ways to answer this question.
The first way is the practical way, the way which allows us to deal with our emotions and still be able to function in these crazy times. And I am sure you are getting a lot of information on how you can build new routines, pivot in your business, find space to work from home, balance having the kids home, etc. All very important practical things.
But I am actually super interested in the second way we can look at this question, which is a more philosophical way. I am interested in this way of looking at things because I think it's inevitable that at some point in time we will all have to face this way of looking at things, although we as humanity try to put it off as long as possible.
There is in all of us an underlying, never-ending, gnawing fear that we do everything to pretend is not there, but actually it affects everything we do.
And that is the fear of death!
From the minute we are born we have to face the fact that we are fragile, weak, and not in control. This is a terrifying experience and it's a terrifying reality to have to face.
As a society, we do everything we can to push this fear into the background. We remove the reality of death from our everyday life, we push the elderly and the sick into homes and hospitals, the animals we eat are slaughtered somewhere far away from us, we elevate and worship the status of youth, we buy into anything that will promise us longevity.
And yet, as a humanity we stay fascinated by death - it shows up in our movies, our videogames, in the news, etc. But we have managed to take the sting out of it by giving ourselves distance from it, and making it seem like death can happen without consequences.
When something happens like the current global crisis it causes us to snap back to reality, without the distractions, and see again how fragile, weak and out of control, we are. How desperately we actually need each other to survive and thrive.
So how do we deal with this fear?
How do we deal with death?
Well, the more we repress the thought of death the stronger our anxiety becomes. And the more easily triggered! Because let's be honest, it doesn't always take a global crisis to force us to look at our own insecure and fragile place in this world - losing our job, having to move, the death of a loved one, a serious illness, these things can all cause us this same deep anxiety that we feel like we have to cover up and avoid. And so we become more dependant we become on routine and predictability, more stuck in our comfort zones, more desperate for entertainment and distractions.
Instead, we must use the power of what Robert Greene calls the Paradoxical Death Effect!
That when we experience these moments when we feel like everything is being taken away from us, that our identity is being shattered and we no longer feel balanced and grounded in ourselves, then by at that moment facing our reality, accepting the "death" we can let ourselves into its opposite result of feeling fully and completely alive and present!
Let me give you an example from my own life. I have lived with my husband for 20 years, I see him every single day. Every single day I look at his face, hear his voice, feel his presence and because of that, he has a level of familiarity to me that I love, but that also causes me to not really see him but instead, see who I assume he is in my mind.
But a while ago he had to go on a trip and we were going to be apart for 2 weeks, which for us is a big deal since we are so seldom apart. (We both work from home so are literally together almost 24 hours a day) So it was experiencing a small "death", for two weeks something was being taken away from me.
The morning of his flight I woke up knowing it was the day to say goodbye and it felt like I just couldn't get enough of him! I couldn't stop looking at his face, noticing how his eyes twinkle when he talked, noticing how he looked directly at me when he laughs, on the way to the airport we had an amazing in-depth conversation that I was just drinking up because I knew we wouldn't' have a lot of time to talk in the next while, when we got to the airport and we hugged goodbye, I cherished how it felt to have his arms around me, to feel his warmth and strength, I felt so connected to him at that moment.
All because I knew I wouldn't have him in my life for two weeks, all because I was experiencing a "little death." Everything about him became richer, more animated, I looked at him and saw things I hadn't noticed in a long time because of the familiarity I had with him.
That is the Paradoxical Death Effect! When facing the death of our time together I had never felt more alive!
We can use this power now as we face this global crisis and see our "normal" lives taken from us - we can use it to see things more clearly, to be present in new ways, to open up to creativity like we hadn't when things felt familiar! Instead of numbing ourselves with our usual routines, distractions, and entertainment, we can look at this one precious life we get to live and ask ourselves how can I make the most of it right now? What can I contribute right now knowing this is all temporary anyway? It's always been and will always be fragile and temporary, so what have I always wanted to do, to try, to participate in?
This is how anxiety loses it's debilitating power - by realizing none of this was permanent anyway. And instead, by facing the death that always surrounds us, we can lose ourselves in the mystery that is life!
We can revel in our smallness, realizing that this frees us to be and do what we want instead of being held captive by the status quo of how things are supposed to be.
This is why we love to go to the mountains or to the ocean, it reminds us that we are small, that we are free to be a part of something much bigger, that we don't have to worry about our self-importance or meeting some made-up goal that 'someone' said was what would prove we had achieved importance.
No, we are a small part of something much bigger, so let's go love each other, let's go out and play, let's go out and support each other knowing that we are together in this vast cosmo, let's look at each other for the first time in a long time, let's look at how we are living our lives for the first time in a long time, let's look at our priorities and our values for the first time in a long time and not fear what is being taken from us, but fully alive engaging in how beautifully alive death makes us!
So many of us are now connecting with family in ways we haven't before, so many of us are finding ways to contribute to our communities that we didn't think of before, so many of us are modifying our behavior so that those that are vulnerable and weak can stay healthy and safe.
Yes, these are hard times, but these are also beautiful times as well.