This is an edited version of an episode of Noah Rasheta's podcast Secular Buddhism:
Finding Peace amidst Chaos
It seems like there's no part of the world that's untouched by the spread of Covid-19, and I wanted to share some thoughts regarding the idea of finding peace in the midst of chaos; in the midst, that is, of our current situation.
I think the fact that we're looking for peace in the middle of all of this partly creates a mindset where we're trying to avoid discomfort but, often, our discomfort arises because we're trying not to experience it. The truth is that at times life is uncomfortable, and, as we're all experiencing now, sometimes it's very uncomfortable. But wanting not to feel that discomfort only aggravates the discomfort.
Perhaps we should look inward and reflect on where that need for peace comes from in the first place. Why am I not resilient when it comes to the discomforts that arise in life? In other words, can I become more comfortable with discomfort? The truth is that we can't control what's happening outside of ourselves, and this coronavirus is a perfect example. But, although there are things that we can do to mitigate the potential ramifications, like social distancing, I think that it's also OK to admit that perhaps we can't find peace in the midst of all of this. We always have just a little bit of peace and a little bit of chaos. Things come together and things fall apart, and that's the nature of life. Things are always jumping over that fine line between chaotic and peaceful, and that's the nature of things.
We all have the tendency to want to try to think positively or try to push away the fears and the anxiety or the uncertainty, and to try to force ourselves not to dwell on the difficulties that we're experiencing, but I don't think that's helpful. I think that, rather than pushing away the discomfort, we should allow the discomfort to be there. We should try to welcome it with open arms, acknowledging that: "Yes, things are scary. I don't know where all of this is going to end. I've never dealt with a situation like this before." But we can also, at the same time, open up our awareness to everything else that's going on by simply asking ourselves, "What am I not noticing?" A very simple thing that I may notice that I'm not noticing right now is that, for example, I don't have a toothache. Or that I have a roof over my head.
There are many things that we can bring into our sphere of awareness without negating the difficulties that we're experiencing. What we do when we start doing this is increase our awareness. That's what the practice of mindfulness is. We will start to notice that there are a lot of things that are happening and arising simultaneously with the discomfort, with the fear and with the anxiety. There are also feelings of joy, of gratitude and of safety, and these things can exist simultaneously with the others. I think that sometimes we get caught up in thinking that it's one or the other. If I have peace, then I can't have chaos. But the truth is we can have peace in the midst of chaos; we can have bravery in the midst of fear; we can have doubts in the midst of the gratitude that comes with feeling certain. These things are not mutually exclusive.
This, ultimately, is how we start to find peace in the midst of the chaos that we're experiencing. It's also how we begin to handle the anxiety that we may be feeling in the midst of all of this. We don't handle it by trying to make the anxiety go away; we handle it by recognizing that it's OK to feel anxious. There's a reason why we're feeling anxious, but what else is there? We may well notice other things that minimize the anxiety; things like gratitude or something like contentment or joy. Increasing our sphere of awareness is a powerful way of practising right now during these difficult times. You're not pretending that the scary stuff isn't there; you're allowing it to stay there, but you're attempting to see more. Everything that we're going through right now is new to all of us. So have a little bit of patience with yourself and allow yourself to embrace all the emotions that arise, all of the fears, but then open up your eyes to see more and allow more in. If there's anxiety, that's fine, but there's also gratitude. Look for that. What are you grateful for? In the midst of that, you can increase your awareness and perhaps find the peace that is already there.
Noah Rasheta is a Buddhist teacher, lay minister and author, as well as the host of the podcast Secular Buddhism. He teaches mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy online and in workshops all around the world. He studies, embodies and teaches the fundamentals of Buddhist philosophy, attempting to integrate Buddhist teachings with modern science, humanism and humour. He lives in Kamas, Utah, with his wife and three kids. You can listen to the full episode here.