There are three levels of response to the COVID-19 outbreak: how it affects us physically, mentally and spiritually. The physical response came first, and by now everyone knows about self-isolation, social distancing and testing. The second effect, on our psyches, is being experienced personally but with only fitful answers and advice. The best advice in the mental area is meditation and yoga, relaxation techniques and paying attention every day to finding not just relaxation but joy and comfort in your life.
The virus makes the need for a positive psychological response more urgent, and the good news is that meditation and yoga are good for antistress, which is connected to a strong immune response.
But it is the third area, the spiritual effect of the outbreak, that is being neglected, even though the presence of death, whether we want it to or not, evokes concern about the state of our souls. Spiritual well-being is alien to many people's daily lives, and with the decline of organized religion, millions of people experience a sick soul, however you want to define it — weariness of heart, existential dread, a sinking feeling that nothing really matters — without finding a way out.
Don't spend more than a few minutes diagnosing these feelings; everyone is experiencing them. Nor is it necessary to enter into metaphysical speculation about what life is all about. Instead, you can improve the state of your soul in the following ways:
We don't need to apply the words "religious" or "spiritual" to these modes of healing. They are based on long traditions, both East and West, that have examined and understood the human condition. More to the point, they are practical. They give you a sense of control over your life. By bringing you closer to your soul, spirit, higher awareness or deeper self (choose any term you prefer), these things reverse the most damaging spiritual trend in modern society: the desperate urge to flee from ourselves.
Your soul is the most intimate part of you, and it isn't found by running away. Write down how you can perform an act of kindness today, show appreciation to someone, offer help to those in need, or bring comfort to someone feeling lonely and anxious — the simple human gestures we tend to overlook. In a time of crisis, the impulse is to go into emergency mode, fear, concern and panic. Giving in to those impulses will engender an epidemic of soul sickness.
I particularly want to underscore the issue of finding inner peace and joy, which can seem like a remote possibility just now and in the coming months. In the world's wisdom traditions, it has been taught in every culture that inner peace and joy are available only through looking inward. The Old Testament says, "Be still and know that I am God." The New Testament says that the Kingdom of Heaven is within. The Indian Vedic tradition says that Ananda, or bliss, lies at the heart of creation.
Universal truths don't matter until they are true for you personally. The secret imparted by the world's wisdom traditions is that your sense of self, the simple experience of "I am," is the gateway to inner peace and joy. Meditation is nothing more than being alone in silence with yourself and letting your awareness go to the place where peace and joy are eternal. That's how you test an eternal truth and make it true for you.
It doesn't terribly matter what kind of meditation you do; using a simple mantra like "So hum" is effective, but you can find meditation instructions everywhere online. The point is that among all the ways to find spiritual fulfillment, this is the most lasting, the most satisfying and the most meaningful.
—By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP
Chopra is founder of The Chopra Foundation, a nonprofit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a health company at the intersection of science and spirituality. A pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, Chopra is a clinical professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego, and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of more than 89 books translated into across 43 languages, including numerous New York Times best-sellers. His latest, and 90th book, is Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential (Harmony Books).
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