Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Retreat to Inner Space in the Pandemic

In order to stop the coronavirus from killing us, we have to remain physically apart and confined to a single space.  It’s like being put in solitary confinement. But the pandemic is also a challenge and an opportunity. If we’re stuck in physical space, we can retreat into inner space where there’s plenty of room.  It’s an opportunity to be inventive, to use imagination, and to explore our own minds. For example:
Reading – Really an amazing way to get out of our selves, maybe even into a better place!  Reading is a way to make contact with the great minds and souls of history, to read their words and their stories, and to see them in our mind’s eye. Reading is a way to explore the universe of science, of art, of the whole human adventure.  

To read is to exercise the imagination, a way to startle you into curiosity, move you to feel things you never felt before, and even see and do things differently.  Reading can be a mind-expanding experience—and as far as I know, it’s still legal.

Reading offers two things we all need: information and wisdom.   No easy trick to fish truth out of the sea of lies that surrounds us.  The mind that reads—that reads critically and selectively—will not drown in mendacity.   But accurate information isn’t enough. 

Wisdom is needed and wisdom is knowing how to use all that information, what to reject and what to affirm, who profits and who loses, and what does it all mean?  Wisdom has to come from our lived experience; but reading itself is part of experience.  And reading can help us find our voice for the wisdom within us.  A book can be the searchlight that helps us see things otherwise invisible.

Sharpening our sensory life – Most of daily life we’re busy moving about, interacting with others, doing all sorts of things.   But suddenly all that has stopped and life as we know it has stalled.  An invisible killer is sweeping over the planet, and we have to get out of its way, hunker down and stay put. Maybe we can use this experience in ways that evolve our consciousness.

We could, for example, work on our senses. We might notice the air is better because there are fewer cars on the road.  It’s a lot quieter, too.  The increased quiet allows you to hear the varieties of bird song, the wind blowing leaves, the few passing cars, all the creaks and groans in your house late at night.  Normality can numb us  to the possibilities of perception.  How much do we really savor our food and drink? There are tastes and odors and colors and textures all around us that we never notice.  So let’s wake up to the wonders of our sensory life. And then there’s this.

Self-observation and mindfulness—we normally don’t do it—but we can do it.  Keep an eye on ourselves—our moods, our reactions, what turns us on, what ticks us off.  Summon the fair ‘witness.’  Take time out and practice observing yourself, calmly and without judgment.  Notice everything you do, feel, think.  Check yourself out.    

View yourself as a character in a movie you’re watching.  What kind of a character are you anyway?  Notice how mechanical or touchy your responses are.  Go easy on yourself  and try to see the comical side.  Notice your various deficiencies with good humor.   The ability to observe yourself with detachment can be a liberating experience. It takes practice, though.  Most of the time we’re lost in ourselves, not detached or self-observing. Get to know the most interesting person in your life.

Drawing and doodling – Henri Matisse was planning to be a lawyer when he got sick and was bedridden.  So he began to fiddle with pencil and paper and before long discovered he was an artist! He discovered he was--Matisse!  A drawing pad and a few pencils and pens are all you need to play with the latent creative forces we all have within us.  Make art while you avoid the pandemic, and discover the artist inside you.  

As to how, the key is being semi-automatic—and carefree about results.  Think but don’t think, make a gesture, a mark on a sheet of paper, and go for it! Doodle, sketch, shade, draw, make some lines dance, try color, see what happens, follow the associations.  Allow yourself to discover your flash of inspiration.  See where it leads.  Push it until you feel it come to life.  It’s good for the soul, and maybe an immune booster.  Now something very practical.

Meditation and anxiety –The imminent prospect of mass death and economic collapse is bound to cause much anxiety.  But meditation, by calming mind and body, can loosen the grip of anxiety, and with practice, keep it in tow.  This can be of help,  especially if  we find ourselves alone, and have to rely on ourselves.

You’re alone in some room, house, hotel. You have two weapons to use against anxiety or panic—your lungs and your mind.   You can use your own mind to breathe deeply, slowly and rhythmically, and that will reduce the anxiety. You can also use your mind to scan all the muscles of your body and consciously relax them, and that too will dissipate if not extinguish your anxiety.  The good news: we have a mini-hospital inside us we can visit any time—our own mind and body.  But that’s not all we seem to have inside us.

Dialogue with the Subliminal Mind --  Being alone, quarantined from normal society, is a chance to get in touch with ourselves. We’re also feeling the need to communicate with others--dear friends, departed souls, spiritual beings.  So, if you have religious beliefs, you can pray.  Or you can be guided by psychology and think of ways of tapping into your creative unconscious.  This mysterious but vast part of our mental life is subliminal—below the threshold of our normal everyday awareness.

There are things we can do to cross the threshold. We can start a dialogue with our subliminal self. There is a hidden dimension to our mental life whose boundaries and powers are limitless. Accept this as a working hypothesis, and then try to dialogue with your subliminal mind. A simple way is by posing questions to your self before sleep, asking for answers in dreams or in the first thoughts upon awakening.  You may not get a meaningful response at once, but keep trying, keep trying to evoke a reply from your subliminal self.  You may be surprised by the results.


Dare_Devil said...

Just wanted to say thanks. Just reading this made me feel
a little better.

nick herbert said...

Practicing that musical instrument or exercising your singing voice. Now you've got time for it. Some people here in Boulder Creek, CA, are breaking out of their isolation by howling to one another as the sun goes down, imitating coyotes. Thanks for the reminder, Michael, that this crisis is also an opportunity.

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