Late-Stage Pandemic Is Not Messing With Your Brain, It Is Showing You The Nature of The Self
Late-Stage Pandemic Is Messing With Your Brain
We have been doing this so long, we're forgetting how to be normal. I first became aware that I was losing my mind in…
Having been practicing meditation on retreats and doing solo hermitages, I find there is something very familiar, and precious, in the months of social isolation due to the coronavirus. Having so few reminders of who I am, I forget to self-refer to myself. I too, like the author of the article above, find myself walking, acting, doing, letting my animal body do what it does, by habit or by instinct.
The fogginess and the disorientation were brutal in early 2021. Now, whenever this disorientation sets in, I am leaning into this not knowing.
Just not knowing.
And more not knowing.
Expressions like ‘normality,’ ‘the way things were,’ ‘going back to normal’, ‘re-opening,’ make less and less sense.
Then I remember. Wasn’t this what I was trained for? Impermanence? Study the Self? Forgetting the Self? Bringing my attention to this breath, moment after moment? My own Jewish mystical tradition, just like other paths such as Sufism and Zen Buddhism, describes the unfathomable non-dual reality when the self is no longer the central reference point to one’s being in the world. Do you experience a self? Great. No self right now? that’s fine too.
AND — If the latter, what is becoming available? Perhaps seeing the arising of the sense of self, the assigning of a ‘me’ to a thought or a feeling, constructing the sense of separation and anxiety?
What creativity becomes available from this place? Generating a wish for healing to emanate beyond this non-local experience, to another, to the entire world? What deeper embodiment can be developed? being rooted in perception so clear and simple? What insight into my suffering and others’ suffering can I glean from this? About white supremacy? About the confusion that drove a white man to kill six Asian American women in Atlanta?
How does the wisdom of the fog teach me how to re-enter engagement, rooted in a greater perspective and tenderness, love my many selves, and the selves of others, to come into a deeper, more meaningful connection with those around me?
Furthermore, can this deep spaciousness be the subject of devotion? Worship?
Can I impress it on my body so when I later rise in indignance and jealousy, I can draw on the faith of this spaciousness?
“bro, this sounds kinda, well, psychotic.” It can be. The self suffers. I suffer. If you are having a breakdown, if the distress is pressing in a suffocating way, SEEK HELP. I meet regularly with my therapist, to investigate this self in its nuances, get support in places there is no spaciousness. The dissonance can be hard. I reach out to close friends or communities I am part of more than ever.
But when paying attention, what I see is that the challenge I experience is when needing to assume ‘me’ again, be on calls, perform executive functions, navigate sensitive interpersonal interactions — that’s where the frustration and dissonance arise for me — meaning, the self-reference with no space around it. The old ways of doing and relating are socially-wired for a much faster and responsive sense of self, which is continuously perpetuating itself and self-reaffirming. Can you imagine Hebrew sage Shimon Bar Yochai or Zen’s first ancestor Bodhidharma leaving their caves every five minutes to read four screens of twenty-five sets of facial cues on a zoom screen, or check on their Bitcoin balance?
This disorientation reminds me of the dining hall at the monastery where I trained, the immediate moment following the end of a week-long silent retreat, when all began chatting and one hundred selves came online in an instant, projecting and triggering one another in a hall of mirrors and spaghetti for lunch.
Yes, the past few weeks were messy. My heart broke more often than ever. From losing a friend to suicide; challenges within communities; wishing my five-year-old nephew Happy birthday; the simple tragedy of misunderstanding a loved one. The depth of the spaciousness sometimes results in heightened sensitivity, vulnerability, and rawness, exactly because the layers of protecting self are no longer confirming themselves all the time. But the more suffering exposed, the greater insight becomes available.
So, I am taking things super slow.
I let myself stare out the window any hour of the day (or night), to watch the branches sway.
Being in Rabbi school, I have all these biblical references in my (foggy) head. Including this one about Moshe (Moses), who, in his revelation on mount Sinai, entered the fog of YHWH — the ultimate unutterable name of God. Later, he and his community were led through the desert by a column of fog, to a promised land he (his self) never entered.
Feels like March 2021 to me :)
What if the fog is calling us, has been calling us all along, yearning to be seen, to be loved by our attention? What if that is the seat of love and intimacy we wish for?
I find refuge in the fog. I pray for the fog within and without. And I stay tender with those who follow and within the column of fog, traversing unknown land of radical uncertainty, beside me.