Blossom Like Dust: Is ‘Covid Fog’ Revealing The Nature of Self?
I experienced two kinds of fog since Covid hit. First was the fog of disorientation from the deep uncertainty, dissolution of plans, my solitary lifestyle. All around me expressions like ‘normality,’ ‘the way things were,’ ‘going back to normal’, ‘re-opening,’ stopped making sense.
Second, In summer 2022, two years after the endemic hit USA, I finally got covid. My main symptom was a debilitating headache. It lasted five days. When it lifted I experienced what many referred to as ‘covid fog.’ Full on (or off) shut down of executive functions.
Article in the New York Times, Atlantic, CNN and NPR all shared neuroscience research, correlation to Alzheimer et el. Covid Fog has been framed as a ‘problem.’ For whom? Global GDP?
My experience was far different than a problem. I relished the fog.
Yes, I forgot things. Yes, I did not function as ‘productively’ as others may have expected me. But being a meditator for nearly twenty years, I recognized this clearest, simplest, experience. A kin to the high I’d experience following a long silent retreat or deep artistic concentration. Being trained to ease into just such experience (or any experience, for that matter) — I enjoyed it throughly. It lasted nearly two weeks. I called it my ‘covid clarity.’ It was awesome.
Is there a deeper insight though? What if this ‘disorientation’ is in fact in line with our most fundamental nature? A doorway to the nature of the universe —
Just as it is.
not at odds.
What if ‘covid fog’ is not a ‘symptom,’ but in fact revealing to us the true nature of the self?
Jewish high holidays are coming soon, communities will soon pray together:
“אָדָם יְסוֹדוֹ מֵעָפָר וְסוֹפוֹ לֶעָפָר… כְּצֵל עוֹבֵר. וּכְעָנָן כָּלָה. וּכְרֽוּחַ נוֹשָֽׁבֶת. וּכְאָבָק פּוֹרֵֽחַ. וְכַחֲלוֹם יָעוּף:”
“A person is fundamentally dust. Like a dream soaring. Like blossoming dust, like a fleeting dream.”
“וְאַתָּה הוּא מֶֽלֶךְ אֵל חַי וְקַיָּם:”,
and you are the fundamental, living and sustaining.”
Moshe entered the arafel (fog) of YHWH (god) on mount Sinai. Later, he would lead his community through the desert following a column of mist to a promised land that he will never enter. The illusion of stability ever shimmers. There is no resolution, the fog never disperses. And yet, the mist leads the way. So is fog a sign of illness — or the medicine?
The famous ending of the Diamond Sutra (Sanskrit: Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra), a Buddhist teaching from the 5th century (assumingly) reads:
“As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space / an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble / a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightening / view all created things like this.” (Translation by Red Pine)
Seems like wise folks from around the world have been trying to tell us a similar message about this ‘sense of self’ we perceive. Or do we?
The self suffers. I suffer. The two and a half years of the covid endemic have been messy. My heart broke more often. Losing a friend to suicide; challenges within communities; the simple tragedy of misunderstanding a loved one. I lost any geographic sense of home and traveled across states, countries and oceans. Whether following Covid, or the disorientation that led to it, spaciousness at times resulted in heightened vulnerability exactly because the layers of protecting self are no longer confirming themselves all the time.
A pedestrian way of relating is socially-wired for a fast and reactive sense of self, which is continuously and immediately perpetuating and self-reaffirming itself and others. At the monastery where I trained, when the monthly week-long silent period ended and participants entered the dining hall for lunch, at once everyone began chatting and one hundred selves splattered outwards, projecting, perpetuating collective mind-maps in a hall of mirrors and vegetarian bolognese.
Eighteen months into the endemic I believe less and less that the fog is a symptom of a compromised system. Quite the contrary. Now I call ‘fog’ whenever I enter what seems to be a solid communal and societal dream, a matrix, where things are ‘as they are and as they always been’, where binaries, norms and jargon are assumed absolute — and I, out of my own conditioning, trauma, or unchecked yearning — drink the cool aid. The cool aid is the fog. On its other side — the mist of Clarity — It is centerlessness itself that is the organizing experience, leading me deeper into an unknown land which my ancestors promise, I will never reach.
A voice cautions:
Do not mistake this to nihilism.
But consider the consequences,
had this been true.
Learn how to move within this mist.
Dont dismiss, don’t indulge.
A deeper sense rises:
This mist — this immanence —
it is yearning to be seen,
by simple, silent, caring attention.
By this mist
which is I.