Here we are. In an instant the world turned upside down, life profoundly altered, fear and anxiety rampant, sickness proliferating, the end to all of this unforeseeable.
What I will lay out before us is a program for spiritual well-being in times of crises. We are fashioned with so many profound capacities: for acts of profound love and service, the ability to heal and recover from terrible brokenness, the imagination and intuition that can create a world of profound creativity and possibility. And yet, most often, we ignore our own gifts. We choose simple pleasures, food and money, over the hard work of meditation, self-sacrifice, and social repair. This virus is an invitation to repair ourselves and the world.
The following seven states are postures for the spirit. Just as the body strikes a pose, the flow of blood modulates, the organs and muscles are transformed by the heart opener or the back bend, so too when the spirit takes a posture, various aspects of our being are exercised and rejuvenated. Reside in each posture for three minutes per day. Extend the duration of the posture as your skillset grows.
One more thing, and it’s important! Every emotion and feeling, even the ones we deem uncomfortable, even painful — when we welcome them into our being, like messengers riding the wind, when we meet them with grace — every feeling can be a posture of prayer. When we shun and avoid and refuse prostration, the opportunity for prayer turns into suffering.
We are beings composed of water. As the moon moves the tides, so too we are affected by forces outside ourselves. We are connected by a network of wireless wires and phones. In an instant, millions of us have seen the same image, heard the same story — how could we possibly be immune to the anxiety of our species shaking?
When the anxiety comes to you, welcome it into your being with peace. If you flee from it, you will be chased, I promise. Feel its shaking quality, its fine disturbance of your halo. Now shake out your arms, and your legs and your toes, and roll your head around. Put the vibrations into song. Let the feeling which is causing your heart to tremble go out through your lips, your vocal chords. Shout if you need to.
Fear is a posture of humility. You are a tiny nothing, and there is little you have control over. Give language to your fear. Share it with a friend. I’m afraid of getting sick. I’m afraid of my parents getting sick. I’m afraid of dying. I’m afraid of being in the hospital. I’m afraid of not receiving care. I’m afraid we’ll turn on each other. I’m afraid it will not end.
When fear is welcomed, it is transmuted into awe. The God that creates all the beauties of the world is made whole by the aspect of God that is in death, disease, destruction, regeneration. Can we look upon the power of this virus with the feeling of awe? Sickness and healing, death and life — we can’t praise only the good. To be whole is to face God with love (for the good) and awe (for the next to good).
Suffering & Compassion
There is profound suffering in the world at this time, on account of this crisis, and the many tragedies and wars that were burning before this one. We go about most days by forgetting the suffering of these distant and near others. But this weighs on our spirit, and contributes to our general anxiety and unhappiness.
Feel into the suffering of those who your heart goes out to. Those who are sick, those with loved ones who are sick. Let your compassion extend to those you don’t know, those who are far from you. Let your compassion swell. A cave beside the ocean overflowing. As you breathe in, take their suffering into you. As you breathe out give them your light and love.
Do what brings you joy. The work that takes your mind away from you: watercolors, violins, mobiles, pies, books. You’ll have some time to yourself. Strike up a new hobby.
Spirit is not a casual or homogeneous substance. In some of the saddest moments, at a shiva after someone has died, joy and laughter can be the best medicine. Joy rises up out of rootedness and gratitude. Do things that root you, and shout your thank you’s for the little pleasures that abound. Let joy surprise you. When she comes, run with her.
Trust that we are in good hands. The world is composed in twos: light and dark, life and death, love and fear, sickness and healing — but the good outweighs the next to good by just a little bit. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. We evolve, we heal, we grow. These are signs of the inherent goodness of the world.
Relinquish your sense of control, and allow yourself to reside in the heart of a divinity that is good, cares for you and loves you, blesses you in ways you can’t see or imagine. Stop holding it all together. You’re not the one holding it all together anyway. Be in the bosom of the beloved. Rest there a while.
This too shall pass. Everything. Like a mandala made of painted sand, millions and millions of grains, wrecked by a child, blown by a breath. The first time Moses meets God at the burning bush he asks, what is your name? God answers, I will be what I will be. Ehyeh. The four letters of the name composed of an imbalanced jumble of was, is, will be. God is the all, nothing more or less, composed of all of us, within her, through her, our living and dying, her life.
Breathe in, breathe out. Let go of everything you know. None of it will remain for very long. This is not the mindset we inhabit most of our lives. But it’s a part of us, at our core. Stalks of grain blowing in the wind. The bed of reeds in still water.
Though the spiritual figures and traditions harp on it all the time, there’s nothing like a pandemic and a global economic crash to teach you — we’re connected! What if we chose to live our lives, move through the world, make our decisions as if we were representatives, servants of something far larger than our individual bodies?
Feel how connected you are to all the people of the world, your friends, the people you don’t like, the plants and animals and stars and planets. You are God’s magic trick. A spark, a shard, a soul, something planted at the core of your being that connects you eternally to every living thing. Feel the beauty of that ineffable thing we are, that cannot help but invite love, and peace, and joy.
(Let this deepening of connection and compassion permeate into action. There will be many people who don’t have the financial or spiritual resources to weather this storm. Dedicate your work in these hours to their well-being as much as yours).
Rabbi Zach Fredman writes and teaches from Brooklyn, NY. He is the bandleader of The Epichorus, purveyors of new Arabic folk and prayer music. Drawing from devotions in mythology and mysticism, Zach is translating Jewish wisdom from tribal roots to human futures. Connect at — zachfredman.com