Blog: Resisting Fear: Courage and Determination in Hard Times
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
These are difficult times for many people. Many of us have been increasingly distressed about the political situation, the destruction of the natural environment, the deterioration of social networks, and increasing financial insecurity. Now we have an invisible threat to our health in the form of the coronavirus that is spreading rapidly around the world.
Given all of the conflicting information about the virus, we are trying to discern what is real and what is not. It is difficult to make decisions about daily activities because the presence of the coronavirus and its effects are so unpredictable. It is in times like these that a spiritual practice is especially helpful because it provides a compass that is not dependent on external opinions or other people’s fears and hopes.
In the Applied Buddhist Psychology class I am currently teaching, The Enlightened Mind, we are studying the Four Immeasurables. The Four Immeasurables are equanimity, lovingkindness, compassion and joy. These states of mind characterize an enlightened approach to life. As we strive to strengthen our capacity to hold these states of mind, we also strengthen our capacity to resist what B. Alan Wallace calls “the other four immeasurables.” Those other four states are cynicism, contempt, abhorrence, and despair.
Unfortunately, these states are very present in the general atmosphere that is gripping so many people as they try to navigate the rising fear that reaches new crescendos with every newscast. This is the moment when we must really roll up our sleeves and get to work with all the optimism and effort we can muster to bring equanimity, fairmindedness, kindness, and compassion to every problem that presents itself.
If we have not already been working on fortifying ourselves with a regular spiritual practice, this is an excellent time to start to develop a more deliberate approach to life. We start by recognizing that we have a choice about how we think about things. In order to make sensible choices and maintain equilibrium, we need to recognize the danger of allowing our mindset to be swept up in the pandemic of fear that is all around. We can resist this. We don’t have to allow our minds to be taken over by this fear. We can do our best to eat healthy food, wash our hands, and stay away from large crowds and irresponsible people.
We can remember the host of natural remedies we can work with if we contract cold or flu symptoms. If we get sick and are unable to get a test, we can explore homeopathic, nutritional, and herbal solutions that have worked for people who have faced illness without western medical interventions since time immemorial. There are no western medical cures for this illness, so this is an excellent moment to begin to explore the possibilities that alternative medicines might offer.
For instance, Julian Winston reports on the success of homeopathy in treating the 1918 influenza epidemic in her article in the New England Journal of Homeopathy, “Influenza-1918: Homeopathy To The Rescue.” Another article in the American Botanical Council’s newsletter, “Traditional Uses of Boneset for Flu and Other Fevers Still Maintained in Practice,” describes how Native Americans in the eastern United States successfully used a plant called boneset to bring down fevers for thousands of years. They used this plant to counter the effect of exposure to European diseases against which they had no immunity.
The measure of our spiritual practice can best be understood by how we respond to stress. There is so much stress coming from many angles at this time, and the only thing we can really do is redouble our efforts to bring the fruits of our meditative practice to those around us. Our practices will stabilize the environment and provide alternative ways of being as we resist the contagion of fear that surrounds the spread of this virus.
If we can practice generosity when we are feeling the grip of scarcity, the grip will loosen. If we can cultivate patience as one plan after another is eroded by the fear or presence of illness, we can find stability where there seems to be none. If we can settle into problem-solving with a positive attitude rather than looking for someone or something to blame for each setback the new environment presents, we can persevere to help normalcy return.
If we do become ill, even seriously ill, all of these practices will support us as we strive to re-establish our health. As unlikely as it is that we will be asked to face our own death or the death of those we love due to this virus, these same efforts will support us so we can meet any eventuality with courage, determination, and stability.