They say that sometimes the most important ingredient for spiritual renewal is a cataclysmic event. A three-quarter of a century down, our memories horrifically lived or relived through chapters in history books or cinematic experiences of the World Wars, its gruesome conflict and devastating consequences. Even then, those who survived those wars had to grapple with the kinds of deep profound questions that only ever arise in the aftermath of a calamity and the scorched ruins of disasters.
In the grips now of a pandemic and the imposed lockdown, never afore in modern history have so many people been sanctioned to their homes, in what one can easily attest to being ‘an enforced period of reflection’. It seems, the locks are turned and the key is thrown away. The world is witnessing a major shift from debauched consumerism to an almost ascetic way of life. It seems, ‘Fate has nudged Faith forward’ or at least for the time being in the right direction. Perhaps the novel global virus that keeps us contained in our homes – over repeatedly extended periods of time – is already reorienting our relationships to governments, the economy, our lifestyles, the outside world and even to each other… marking the end of our romance with market society and hyper-individualism.
While these changes definitely seem unfamiliar and unsettling, crises moments, as viewed in history, inevitably also present great opportunities. Coronavirus is leading us into an age of religious revival – step by step, month from month… the worse it gets, the stronger our desire to find meaning in this world now gripped in terror, as COVID -19 reminds us glaringly of life’s fragility. The pandemic has triggered a ‘historic spiritual moment’ – there is a surge with increasing numbers now turning to faith, religion and spirituality. People are leaning towards other ‘higher sources’ for comfort and an explanation during the crisis. It is forcing us to reconsider who we are and what we value, in its course it is helping us rediscover better versions of ourselves.
With nothing but time on our hands practises like Yoga, Reiki, Meditation are fast gaining favour with the masses. The need for spiritual practices helps to lessen the impact of fear and uncertainty surrounding this global health emergency. They help us deal with the stress; accept the change, the new normal, while building our resilience and immunity. These practices help build up positivity and an attitude that helps you view the glass as half full rather than half empty.
The constant barrage of reading or watching the news may water the seeds of worry and despair giving rise to feelings of negativity, frustration and anxiety that often prove detrimental to our mental as well as physical well being. Did you know that humans are wired to deal with stress and challenging situations innately? When posed with high stress situations the hypothalamus literally turns on the ‘fight or flight mode response’ and the whole body gets affected by the neurochemical changes of stress signals. After the emergency passes the body becomes calm and at rest again. Prolonged or chronic stress causes this mechanism to go awry, endangering overall health and other systems in our body. We are a generation of self-proclaimed productivity fiends. We thrive on chaos; multi-tasking believing that there is method in all this madness. The prolonged lockdown has been an enforced shift from noise to quiet, thereby taming our monkey-minds into passive bouts of stillness. The world of late has witnessed increased engagements not only in major religions but alternative medicine and fields too, much of it involving energy healing and promoting feelings of calm. Even the Harvard Medical School recommends practising yoga to combat anxiety at times of the corona virus.
Traditionally the goal of yoga is to quiet the mind and stop the mental chatter – called ‘chitta’ in Sanskrit. And then there is the meditation mania gripping our griping masses. There are many myths and misconceptions about meditation making people believe that it is nothing but a difficult spiritual practice involving sitting for lengthy amounts of time in uncomfortable positions with the end goal being to create complete emptiness in the mind. (There are people that argue that emptying a bottle of wine seated comfortable in that armchair pretty much does the same).The goal, however, of all forms of meditation is not to stop the mind but to shift our focus. This in turn effectively balances our emotions especially in trying times. While we find quiet corners to understand and throw some light on the present situation, the world is awakening to a spiritual revival painted with stokes of bold contemplation and inner exploration.
Never before have we been afforded this luxury of time, space and contemplation while gripped in the clutches of the worst tragedy the world has seen in centuries. It’s making believers of the sceptics, conformers of rebels. Our eyes are turning inward; our vision is clearing with the veil of materialism peeling away. The shift from ‘what I want’ to ‘what I need’, in the last couple of months, has been radical. The virus, unlike any predated calamity, has hijacked the global community; we are a generation of young people seemed likely to be the most religiously unaffiliated generation. Respect for it had diminished in almost ever corner of modern life. But for the first time we are moving from our quest of economic and material pursuits to promoting and ensuring the welfare and wellness of communities and societies at large.
Finding meaning to life in general, our place in the world, the role we play, questions floating around in our time compressed lives, now find the quiet that was needed in our journeys to enlighten, explore and discover all that for ourselves. While we cohesively knit the various components of our existence back into a semblance of balance, tuning into ourselves weaving with the universe at large, maybe the amazement of finding simplicity in these seemingly complex queries may change our perspectives and guide us to a path of conscious empowerment from within.
Searching for meaning, soul searching, both personal and collective, is especially important if we are to emerge from this tragedy stronger. Maybe, in its shadow we have arisen gentler, kinder, fairer, and more humane. Maybe finding your corner in the world on that yoga mat may lead you to discover your place in the world and all this ‘meaning –making’ may unfurl truths you knew but failed to recognise, like old friends in the guise of strangers. Maybe the hunger for understanding, as you sit quietly with open hands, palms turned upwards indicates your acceptance of all that you were meant to be in the stillness of calm and balance of life.