This week I departed from my series on Reality to discuss COVID-19. But today those two ideas merge. Because never in my history have I had such a remarkable incident to help me in so clearly exposing the fact that much of what we think of as ‘real,’ is really only a collection of thought-based illusions.
Two weeks ago, a whisky distiller would be absolutely certain that the thoughts that shaped their past would continue to shape their future. So if I told them that today, they would give up making whisky and start making hand-sanitizer, they would have laughed at me.
If I told them they would choose to make hand-sanitizer, most of them would likely have bet me a lot of money that they were certain that wouldn’t happen. And they were the ones deciding what they did, so the bet would seem so safe. I would seem crazy suggesting it.
Meanwhile, this week, there are countless distillers and auto plants and food processors who have suddenly abandoned their normal production lines to shift their talents and infrastructure towards making medical supplies.
Every nation was worried about debt (strangely, theoretical future profits owed to each other). There was no money for even one more school or hospital. It was impossible. Everyone’s debt was too large. Two weeks ago.
This week, these same governments suddenly have tens or hundreds of billions to just give away, just to make sure the economy keeps moving.
How can this work? Because both ‘money’ and ‘the economy’ never were actual things. Those were always only ideas, perpetuated by our interactions with them. When we pay our phone bill, our bank doesn’t send actual money to the phone company.
Similarly, there are undoubtedly bosses out there who, only last week, rejected employee requests to work from home because it was ‘impossible.’ And yet this week suddenly the impossible is possible. Realities we often see as firm are entirely made of nothing.
If I asked someone planning a big wedding for next week, or someone who was going on their first big album tour; or if I asked the decision-makers at the NBA if they would be willing to cancel because a flu was going around, they all did or would have said ‘absolutely not.’
They would confidently say that because all of them would presume that the future was made of some solid concepts that they could confidently wake up and walk into.
In reality we live primarily in thought-based concepts that could suddenly vanish because the collective consciousness that caused them to exist suddenly just changed their minds.
It doesn’t take many people to make something big exist. To a 60 year old housewife in Perth Australia, or to a Native Indonesian cultivating coffee on some Irian Jayan hillside, the NBA probably never have ‘existed’ at all anyway.
If we choose not to live with that ego-based confidence, and instead we live with soul-based awareness, then we move from living our lives based on a presumed future, to living it in the actual present moment. Where reality really happens.
In the moments we’re living in, in this shared reality, we’re facing an nearly invisible enemy. It’s like a very weak army. It needs the protection of our bodies to survive. Even then, in 80% of the people, our immune system will kill it.
Because of that weakness, this invading army knows it needs to get from one of us to the other. We are the hills it dies on as i’s armies marches forward. And one person giving anything to two people, ensures that if no additional action is taken, everyone will catch it until there’s a vaccine. And that could be two years away.
With a world population of 8 billion, killing 2% of them would be 160 million dead people. Thanks to higher exposure, a lot of those 160 million people will be/have been the doctors and nurses that would otherwise save the rest of us from other ailments altogether, which would then raise that total.
We can get 160 million down to below 50,000 if we’re wise. This is extremely serious, but it should not be lost that this is also a remarkable opportunity. We need not panic, we just need to act calmly and with wisdom, and we need to watch for the upsides. As the Buddhists say, there are no one-sided coins.
Yes, we have very real physical bodies that live in a fairly narrow range of conditions that are currently being threatened on a mass scale. But that slap of humility is actually good for us. And we can’t cheat this math. We’re going to have to isolate ourselves for extended periods, likely in waves, for the next year or two.
We can see this as insane and impossible for a while, if we like. But eventually we’ll have to accept that this really is happening, and it was always expected. For disease specialists, this experience wasn’t an ‘if.’ This was always 110% a ‘when.’
Expert’s awareness of this potential reality was the only reason the film Contagion ended up being so accurate even though it was made a decade before the actual pandemic.
We are all being forced to change pace. Our daily environment and interactions have shifted drastically. We must learn to spend more solitary time. These facts can all be woven into a very negative and bitter narrative. Or, we could see it for what it really is: the entire world just got offered a great opportunity to meditate.
Sure, do TM or Buddhist style ‘ohm’ meditations if you like those. But the other kind are fun too. Call a friend and discuss some of the thought-based realities that you thought were realer than they’ve turned out to be. Look for the advantages hidden in these realizations. We are more flexible and capable than we give ourselves credit for.
Much of the world is made by thought. The ephemeral nature of these ideas has now been exposed to us. What does this teach us about our perspective on the world? What about our perspective on others? About ourselves and our capabilities?
Do we need someone to agree with our point of view on some ‘important’ subject, or can we love them as the doctor that saves our frail child’s life?
One thing we can rest assured of. Whether it’s about the environment, or industry, or money, or politics, or religion or any culture of ideas; the fact is, many of the differences thought into existence by virtually all of us, have suddenly given way to total cooperation.
There is suddenly a complete recognition that, as humans, our spaceship was just attacked, and we need to fight back as a united crew.
While there will be struggles to making changes, struggles pay dividends. But possibly the biggest plus we can take away from this experience is the fact that, collectively, we have just proven to ourselves that, at all times, world peace and near total human cooperation is always, literally, only one thought away. And the character from the movie Starman was right. Human beings really are their best when things are at their worst.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.