This pandemic is the most collective experience we have been through as a generation. And yet, it is also one of the most uniquely individual experiences. Its effect on certain people, families, or businesses, and even countries is so particular to their circumstances, responsibilities, responses, and coping mechanisms. In spite of the stimulation of endless input from technology, this time has caused people to look within, into deeper places where they have not been before. A feat that was unthinkable in the old normal where we had no time to breathe, let alone reflect.
And if we have listened, within these deeper places we humans have found a playground of emotions and revelations. For me, the biggest observation has been of my own fears.
Fear is one of the most private emotions. Unlike sadness, anger, and grief it is not a very visible one. We rarely see a physical display of this deep-rooted emotion. But during this time, we have seen fear on a large and collective scale. With its seed in the fear of the virus, this mass unfolding of fear became a mirror for my own garnered fears that were unrelated to the pandemic. Shocked at this discovery and its parallels with the current world situation, I realized that if I did not address them in a healthy way, I would be paralyzed from moving forward just as the world currently is. And worse than outer lockdown is inner lockdown! In the case of my own latent fears, there is no medical research or promised cures, I had to find my own solution. Propelling me to realize that solutions even if supported by external forces, must come from within.
I have always looked at the wisdom of Indian philosophy to provide answers. As a Vedanta student of many years, when in doubt one turns to the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita or the Divine Song is known to be a text that can answer any questions. The Gita is a sermon of courage to the despondent, a manual of duty and dharma through which one can get to the goal without incurring any bondage. The Gita takes place on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra where the cousin armies of the Pandavas and Kauravas face each other in the battle to claim the throne of Hastinapur. The Pandavas have Krishna, while the Kauravas have the royal armies and all the skilled and respectable teachers. On seeing his kith and kin: uncles, brothers, and teachers, the illustrious warrior Arjuna sees the battle as pointless, he starts to think in the moment that it would be better to live on alms than to murder those that are his own. He drops his weapons and says that he will not fight. To his utter surprise, his Lord and friend Krishna says, “Yield not to this unmanliness, O Partha, it does not befit you. Casting off this mean weakness of heart, arise O Parantapa.” (Chapter 2, Verse 3, Bhagavad Gita, translated by A. Parthasarthy)
The profound message of the Gita is not to freeze, not to be paralyzed by the circumstances but to stride through them with courage, fortitude, and a sense of duty. Duty is higher than the envisioned concepts of right and wrong, likes, and dislikes. This would of course mean different things to different people according to their dharma in life. This time as I read the Gita, once again it did not fail to pick me up from the shambles and inspire me to arise against my inner obstacles.
In the same thread, I was reminded of Swami Vivekananda’s messages on courage and fearlessness. Swami Vivekananda was the first ambassador of Vedanta in the West and he became known for the bold messages that evoked a sense that we are full and complete because we are part of Atman, therefore all is well and we have nothing to fear. He said, “Freedom can never be reached by the weak. Throw away all weakness. Tell your body that it is strong, tell your mind that it is strong, and have unbounded faith and hope in yourself.”
If it were not for the pandemic, I could not have dwelled deep in my fears and allow myself to be inspired by the great leaders of my culture and faith. While we all continue to stride through the storm, may we remember that how we face this in our own lives is a choice. While being informed and precautious, may we approach our unknown New Normal with courage, acceptance of what we cannot change, and most importantly, without fear.
Featured Image by Mahavir Prasad Mishra