Reflections during a lockdown

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star 

) – March 22, 2020 – 12:00am

I find myself thinking and reflecting many times a day about the COVID-19 virus that continues to wreak havoc on everyone’s lives. I am trying to observe and understand everything I can beyond the daily reports about the sick, the dying, the dead, the recovered, the local geographical spread and projections. I wish to understand what is going on beyond the economic, political and health consequences. I am more interested in the psychological, philosophical, spiritual undercurrents that are playing here.

This will not be one coherent essay. It will be a collection of thoughts that came to me during the first few days of the lockdown.

Here they are.

March 17

COVID-19 is forcing us to physically stay away from friends, workmates, crowds, places to eat, concerts, movie houses, etc. It is forcing us to be alone, to be quiet and reflect amidst all the noise in the world. The unraveling of the virus is leading each one of us to get in touch with our inner life.

The fear is palpable. People are panic buying. And they do so because they feel helpless about the situation. They delude themselves into thinking they are empowered when they throw money at the problem. Strangely, it makes them feel that, somehow, they can and are doing something to control it. This is, of course, an absurdity, a false consolation. The truth is, panic buyers prevent other people from purchasing their own supplies. They are depriving others of the chance to protect themselves. Thus, those who buy wantonly out of fear of the virus are actually allowing the virus to multiply faster and infect other people.

March 18

God threw humanity a spiritual monkey wrench. All of a sudden, the rules have changed. The first law of life which used to be survival should now be set aside. The greater reality that we are facing runs on different rules. And the reality is, this virus can only be stopped if it is eliminated everywhere. Otherwise, it will keep spreading and may even come back. Nothing else will suffice. Only by saving everyone will this virus be eradicated. We are ALL vulnerable. And so ALL countries must be rendered virus- free. It’s an all-or-nothing scenario. There is no doubt in my mind now that the first rule of life is this: We are all one.

It is so amazing how dedicated the frontliners (doctors, nurses, hospital staff, technicians, and all those under direct exposure to the virus) are for showing up every day and risking their lives to save others. It is a sure thing that we are all going to die sooner or later. But no one wants to die voluntarily. And yet that is what they are ready to sacrifice: they are voluntarily risking their lives so that others may live. That is heroism and greatness. It is the same as what Christ did.

March 19

COVID-19 is already changing the world and life as we know it. And it is happening faster than we realize. Consider that each person alive is actually personally threatened by it. We are all forced to think about our own mortality AT THE SAME TIME. No one is exempted. Social class, race, age, nationality and any other categorization you can think of: these do not matter. This has never happened in human history. The experience is globally felt.

Do I believe that some unseen power is behind all this? Without material proof, I am willing to say yes, definitely! I feel it in the deepest part of me that God is once again entering history to alter its course. We are trapped in a historical trajectory where we are going to end up with a whole planet destroyed by greed, selfishness and alienation. This virus is hopefully getting everyone thinking about their own lives and future. It is forcing a lot of people to think of others. And people are realizing now that we can’t go on living the way we have been living. Mankind is in reflection mode, dreading what will become of all of us after this. And we as one humanity will have to make a collective decision about that.

March 20

Whatever decision we make these days, big or small, is subject to health or sanitation considerations. You can’t behave or live your life like you used to. Every action now has potentially serious health repercussions. For example, every object you touch could potentially have the COVID-19 virus. Or you could have the virus and you could be passing on the infection to something or someone. You can’t do things on a whim like visit a friend, or go to the mall, or just hang out. You must always be alert and conscious. We need to remind ourselves constantly that we now live in a world with new social protocols. What used to be paranoid thinking has become normal.

Social distancing will be especially hard for us Filipinos since we love to socialize with friends, family. We are quite touchy-feely as a people. Almost overnight, many activities, innocent as they used to be, suddenly have become potentially dangerous and threatening. We can’t “beso-beso,” “mano po,” spontaneously hug anymore and not feel we are exposing ourselves and others to COVID-19. In fact, we can’t even go now to birthday parties, baptisms, weddings, graduations, etc.

It is especially sad for us Filipinos to know that what used to be big important family events such as funerals and wakes have become devoid of relatives, friends and other mourners. As much as the immediate family and friends of the departed need people who can give them sympathy, consolation and physical expressions of condolences, they will have to be deprived of it till this pandemic is over.

March 21

We may understand the science of how we can be infected, and what the virus will do to our bodies. We may have figured out what to do to protect ourselves. But it is so hard to understand WHY it is happening.

Just a month ago, life seemed to be so different. Now everything seems bleak, tentative. Our lives are not only on hold as we stay at home to save ourselves and others from infection. Many things that we used to rely on are now uncertain. Will we still have jobs after this? How many of our friends and relatives will survive this? How many years will it take us to recover economically and psychologically?

One thing I am sure of though is once we begin to accept that the sudden decline of the world’s fortunes (including ours) is the start of mankind’s new spiritual journey, we will adapt and learn faster.

Ironically, what is threatening to kill us may in fact make us better people and ultimately save the human race.

Neale Donald Walsch, one of my favorite authors and spiritual teachers, once wrote that all our thoughts, actions, feelings and decisions come from only two sponsoring thoughts: love and fear.

We are watching fear playing out every, day and it is making everyone more fearful. Fear gives us feelings of insecurity and scarcity. And fear is highly contagious.

Let’s try to imagine how we would think, feel and act if we consciously decide to come from love. People will be calmer, more patient and giving. I am sure we can help many more people survive this. We can change the world into something better for the earth’s environment and inhabitants.

As simple as it is, perhaps love is the answer.

Covid19 gone viral

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star 

) – March 8, 2020 – 12:00am

It is the preoccupation of the entire world. It is our biggest worry, fear, and concern. I am talking about the Coronavirus. It has cast fear all over the world. Almost everywhere, people are showing signs of panic as the spread of Covid19 is racing beyond the epidemic stage and becoming a full-blown pandemic. Paranoia has begun in many places and it is manifesting in panic-buying, fear of crowds and even racial discrimination against Chinese since everyone knows that China is the origin of this deadly virus.

I do not know anyone who does not follow the stories and news reports daily about the development and spread of the virus. Many people have started to avoid crowds by shunning malls, concerts, movie houses, etc. People are washing their hands many times every day. People are wearing masks. Travel has slowed down considerably as more people just opt to be safe by staying at home.

I have been thinking about this. In many ways, this is THE virus of our particular era. In the age of globalization, it has spread and infected people on a global scale and is debilitating many nations. At this time where everything is almost communicated instantaneously, the speed of its transmission is faster than other viruses man has known. And those infected may not even show signs of symptoms; Covid19 has literally gone viral in every sense of the word.

For many years now, movies and media have exploited the themes of alien and zombie invasions. People have been consuming such themes as entertainment for a long times. Because of this, I am not surprised that their reaction to the pandemic is the way it is. In such movies, there is a sickness or a virus that is so horrible it transforms infected people into zombies or some deadly, ugly creature. Transmission is via contact with another zombie. In these stories, nobody really knows who the zombies or the monsters are since the infected look like normal, ordinary people until the infection becomes full-blown. And then they become ugly and terrorizing.

People seem to be looking at Covid19 much like a zombie infestation. It can drive people into great fear because the virus-stricken person can appear totally asymptomatic. To a nervous, fearful public, everyone in the world is suspect.

At this stage, there is still a lot we do not know about Covid19. But one sure thing is, it strikes fear in the hearts of a great number of people and causes them to be in a state of panic. Panic itself has also become a pandemic.

As I write this, it is good to know that as of RIGHT NOW, the chances of getting the virus are still lower than someone winning the lotto, except if you live in China. The other thing to know is, the survival rate so far is pretty big except for older and sickly people. Many can take temporary comfort in this until we know more about the virus and where it’s spreading.

This is certainly not merely a health issue. Covid19’s economic impact is already being felt in practically all economies all over the world. Factory closures, megacities are on lockdown; the closing down of many offices and services, travel restrictions, etc. are negatively affecting markets, companies, and trade all over. Financially, socially, psychologically and, of course, health-wise, many will suffer everywhere.

But as in every situation, there is also the bright side.

On the other hand, the closure of millions of manufacturing factories, businesses in China since the end of January has cleaned the air in many places and many cities in China. Where there used to be heavy pollution hanging in the air, the air quality has greatly improved in Beijing and many other locations. People say the haze is gone. Oil imports all over the world have slowed down considerably. Polluted rivers are showing signs of some recovery. This sudden major interruption in manufacturing and economic activity has been beneficial to the environment.

I confess I have asked myself if this virus is nature’s way of reminding us to take pause and see what we have been doing to the earth. Is nature striking back? Is she “correcting” or healing the world by releasing such a virus? I am sure I am not the only person who has asked these questions. And I really do not know the answer.

But I do know that endless march to ever-greater material progress, the obsession with an ever-growing economy, the creation and pursuit of more and more wealth has not been good for the planet. Unbridled greed and capitalism are killing it.

The past 100 years have turned people into consumers enslaved by the thought that the newest, the latest, the upgrade, the “improved,” the next generation of products, the quest for more, more, more are what we must strive for. This has defined for many what the pursuit of happiness is all about. This insatiable thirst for material pleasures has caused so much garbage, pollution, and destruction of the environment. It has also caused so much alienation, meaninglessness, and depression among many people.

And now comes Covid19, which has disrupted the chain that runs the whole mean machine of greed. It is doing severe damage to the manufacturing center of the world. It is putting great pressure on its social balance and threatens its authoritarian grip on its people. And I am not just talking about China. The impact of all this seems cataclysmic and biblical in proportions. I am not a religious man but the recent massive flooding, fires, volcanic threats and now the onslaught of viruses bring to mind the plagues of the Old Testament.

It will be quite long before things get back to normal if they ever do. The worst-case scenarios keep changing almost weekly as scientists continue to learn more about Covid19. One thing sure is, we humans are NOT in control of the situation right now. I do hope we can get a grip on it. But even if we do eventually, the human cost is already great right now.

And since the virus is a direct threat to human life, it is perhaps appropriate to reflect on the spiritual dimension of our experience of it. An Australian psychologist has pointed out the reason why people have engaged in panic buying. It is because we want to control the situation by throwing money at it. I am sorry to say that a complete stock of toilet paper, canned goods and other groceries, etc. will not save you. Depriving other people of basic needs just so you can survive is NOT the answer.

Maybe writer Joseph Campbell was right when he said that the first rule in life is not the survival of the fittest. The first rule is that we are one! As one humanity, we must solve this. If we think along these lines, maybe more of us will survive this plague.