Reflections on Life in Turbulent Times - some thoughts by Manisha Melwani

4 min to read

Suddenly life seems surreal and dream-like. We are in the midst of a crisis; one which came on suddenly and whose scope we didn’t anticipate. 

Remaining indoors, we are stunned by the rapidly changing and shocking news of the Coronavirus pandemic as it plays out on our TV screens and electronic devices.  

When venturing outdoors, it’s perplexing to see the shutters on stores, businesses and restaurants, a handful of running cars and buses, and virtually no people.

The people at the grocery store or pharmacy are not only wearing masks but also dour expressions, making sure they are keeping at an acceptable distance from each other.

If people forget to stay reasonably apart and realise it, they immediately pull away in the same way that two like poles of a magnet repel each other.

Everywhere, people are worried about their safety, livelihood and security.

Buddha and the two arrows

The Buddha illustrates the nature of suffering as being hit by a stinging, fast-moving arrow. Even as the victim reels in shock and pain, he is mercilessly hit by a second arrow.

The first arrow represents the unexpected blows of misfortune that the world throws at us. Having to cope with the new realities of day-to-day life while being in lockdown in a pandemic such as the one we are in now, is such a blow.

The second arrow represents our internal reaction to what has happened. This expresses as anxiety, fear or depression. We may ask, Why did this have to happen? What will become of me and the children? Will I lose my job? How will I pay my expenses?

The suffering from the second arrow is self-inflicted and greater than the suffering from the first arrow. The anxiety and fear that we impose on ourselves can be debilitating. As spiritual master Sri Sri Ravi Shankar once said: Death kills you only once, but fear kills you at every moment.

Since the challenges brought on by the first arrow are external, the measures to deal with them are also external. In the case of this pandemic, governments are implementing measures to stimulate the economy, save businesses and jobs, and supplement families’ incomes. And, health authorities are recommending that we wear face masks and follow physical distancing rules when venturing outside.

The countermeasures for the second arrow are harder to find and apply. Since the suffering is mental, the remedies have to address the mind and our vision of life.

Fear persists

Many of us have started to reflect on our lives, priorities, pursuits and our future as we are confined to our homes and the world has come to a grinding halt.

This pandemic has highlighted what really matters. It’s clear that material possessions are worthless without good health to enjoy them. Staying alive and healthy, having our loved ones, adequate food, water, shelter, electricity, economic stability and peace are what matter the most. All the other stuff is simply, well, stuff.

And, many of our activities that we’ve had to put on hold are seen for what they really are—empty, pointless busyness that take up way too much time and energy.

Accepting these conclusions helps to shift and re-align our priorities. However, it doesn’t eliminate the one thing that sours our experiences even in good times—the emotion of fear.

It’s at times like these that shifting to a spiritual focus is valuable and needed. It can alleviate the suffering caused by the second arrow.

A spiritual focus helps to dissipate fear

Spirituality tells us that an unchanging blissful peace underlies all the changing, temporary things and beings of the world. This peaceful presence never dies and is the source of true happiness. It is not something separate from us but is in fact our essential spiritual nature.

While we are focused on the outer world of things and beings, we are unable to embrace this tranquil inner silence. When we shift our attention within and search for it, we find it right here, ever-present and blissful.

Vedanta, the spiritual science of life tells us that when we realise our true spiritual nature, we will find permanent happiness and fulfill the ultimate purpose of our human lives.

Our relationships and circumstances are meant to prepare us to rediscover and realise our peaceful inner essence. We are not meant to form clinging attachments to them as they take our attention away from the real purpose of life. They are the means to the goal and not the real goal.

Raising our vision in this way helps to dissipate fear. Why?

Fear arises only when we are attached to a particular person, thing or situation. When we are attached, we fear losing him, her or it. 

But if we were to see things from a spiritual perspective, we would understand that everything is changing and impermanent. Why be attached when no one and nothing will stay forever? We should enjoy, love, give and serve, but we shouldn’t allow the world to take our focus away from what we are really here to accomplish.

It’s vital that we seek out a higher purpose that transcends our human existence. Without it, life doesn’t make sense.

Why are we born to acquire knowledge, skills, relations, and possessions only to leave them all behind when we die? Are we doomed to always be struggling through life to gain temporary joys and ephemeral goals? There must be something more—something enduring behind it all.

The age-old existential questions still persist: Where did I come from? Where do I go after I die? Why life and death? What’s the purpose of suffering? How can I find true happiness? 

These are the real questions that we need to answer. Without gaining the full picture—a higher spiritual vision of life—our limited human existence will continue to weigh us down with sorrow and fear.

Understanding life from a spiritual perspective will strengthen and protect us in the same way that a good pair of shoes allows us to walk painlessly on all types of surfaces.

Embrace spirituality now

The days are flying by. The pandemic will come to an end and we will find ourselves sucked into our usual concerns and activities. But, there will also be the added pressures of uncertainty and fear about the economy and job security.

The time to embrace spirituality is now.

Fill the mind with positive vibrations. Feed it inspiration, and high, loving thoughts. Take the time to establish a regular routine of spiritual reading, reflection, self-introspection, prayer and meditation. When the mind is healthy, it’s able to handle ill health and adversity with greater calm and poise.

Spirituality will not change things for you but rather, it will change you for things. 

Namaste.

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