The Chinese term for “crisis” involves two characters. One which means danger and the other, “opportunity”. “Opportune”, the root of the word “opportunity means “auspicious, advantageous, and favorable”, a set of circumstances that reveals possibilities previously hidden. A crisis is a paradox that contains two ends of the spectrum containing both fear and hopeful possibility. When we hear the word “crisis”, the tendency is to associate it with the “danger” side of the term, and neglect to recognize that crises also contain the seeds of previously inconceivable possibilities that may not have been visible in pre-crisis times. In the English language, “crisis” has its origin in the Greek “krisis” meaning “a decisive turning point in the progress of a disease.” So, according to both definitions, we do seem to be in a bonafide crisis.
A crisis is a time of infinite possibilities, both positive and negative. Associating it with its aspects is useful in preparing for possible challenges to come. There is a danger in being preoccupied with the dark perspective and neglecting to recognize the opportunities that have opened up in the transition between the old order and the new one.
While it’s true that we are experiencing a very serious threat to our personal well-being, we hope to balance the conventional view of a crisis as dangerous with a perspective of its possibilities. Being preoccupied with the dangerous aspects of a crisis promotes anxiety and stress, and inhibits our ability to respond to it with creativity and resourcefulness.
Acknowledging the presence of these opportunities in no way denies the existence of very real stressors. A pandemic that is turning billions of lives upside down and putting countless people at risk of losing their means of earning livelihood, their health and their very lives, is something that we all need to take very seriously. The answer to the question “Do we focus on the dangers of the COVID-19 crisis or its opportunities?” is “Yes!”. Like all paradoxes, it’s not an “either/or”, it’s a both/and”.
So, what are the potential benefits of living in the COVID age?
Here are a few of them:
*Slowing down. Perhaps the pace of your life has slowed. If you find yourself enjoying it, feel free to continue to do so. For many of us, the “old normal” rhythm felt excessively fast and left us feeling like we were never able to get caught up. Moving through life more slowly allows us to be more present, mindful, and relaxed. We can pay closer attention to the journey without being obsessed with getting to the destination. Slower is also better for our health than speedy.
*Distinguishing our needs from our wants. Deprived of recreation and luxuries that we may have previously mistaken for necessities is a hardship. Out of this recognition can come an awareness of the distinction between what is truly essential and what is not. Being denied our activities can help us to find out that our belief that we couldn’t live without, isn’t true. This recognition can free us from the need to keep filling our life with more experiences and stuff, to discover the pleasure of simplicity of diminished stimulation. At that point, the saying like “the best things in life are free” and “the best things in life aren’t ‘things’ cease to be concepts and become real truths.
You might even discover that cutting back on your spending doesn’t necessarily ruin your quality of life, but that you can save money and be even happier if you just shift your priorities. Imagine that!
*Recognizing our interconnectedness. One of the most powerful lessons that our current situation is affirming to us all is the inextricable interconnectedness that characterizes our relationship with other people, countries, and all sentient beings. It’s one thing to believe that we are connected, and another thing to feel that reality in our bones. To absolutely know that what happens to other people, even if they live on the other side of the planet, inevitably affects us. The evidence that this is true is becoming apparent to increasing numbers every day. This visceral awareness alters our perspective towards others in ways that intellectual understandings can’t. It also deepens our capacity for empathy and opens greater access to our own feelings, desires, and needs.
*Living from a quieter and simpler life context permits us to be more present and mindful in our lives. Driving down a freeway at eighty miles an hour causes a blurring of the scenery. When our pace is too fast to notice life’s more subtle details, the content of our experience gets obscured. We don’t get to smell or even see the flowers when we’re moving through life at warp speed. When we’re traveling by bicycle, we get to see things that we couldn’t see from inside a racecar. Most of us could use more relaxation that comes from a diminishment of acceleration.
*Noticing systemic inequities in our society can cause us to extend our field of awareness beyond our personal life and of those closest to us, to include others who in need. With a wider arena of consideration, we not only experience more concern for others, but we become more able to receive the gifts that inevitably are reciprocated when we live from a spirit of generosity. The price that we have to pay to extend our circle of care is the willingness to experience compassion, which means literally, “suffering with another.” The bright side of compassion is that we get to also feel others’ joy and celebrate their successes with them as if they were our own. This awareness can motivate us to take action to promote greater equality in society in general through our words and deeds.
*Becoming relieved of the burden of carrying the belief that my value as a human being is based upon fulfilling the expectations of others. Many of us grow up learning that we are only worthy of being loved and respected if we live up to the expectations that others have of us. We believe that I am only secure when I am being “productive,” which translates into fulfilling your expectations of me. When we find ourselves in a circumstance in which our primary means of demonstrating our value are unavailable to us, it can activate feelings of anger, frustration, insecurity or even panic. These feelings remind me that I can find out whether my loved ones are only there for what I can do for them. The fear is that if I stop fulfilling their expectations, they’ll be gone. The price that we pay is living as a human doing. Imagine what it would feel like to truly be accepted as a lovable human being!
*Promoting an attitude of gratitude. If there is one simple means of redirecting our mood from fearfulness to thankfulness, it’s to focus on what we have, rather than what we don’t have. We shouldn’t deny the pain of what we may have lost, or fear we may lose, but we can experience our grief and fear without allowing them to consume us. Even in dark times, it is possible to find aspects of our lives for which we have gratitude, those things and people that we haven’t lost that continue to bring comfort to us. Gratitude is always a choice, and it is available whenever we make a decision to experience it. Sometimes it can be even easier to find it in dark times because our motivation to seek it is stronger. In those times we can more easily see how others are struggling with experiences even more difficult than our own.
These are just a few examples of the opportunities that are available in our current situation. There are countless others that we can see if we set an intention to recognize them. We can see things from a perspective that is hopeful and grateful, rather than depressed and fearful. The choice is ours.