Crises call for action, and the COVID-19 crisis has triggered global action, much of it motivated by alarm, fear, and the dread of uncertainty. But what about the individual person who feels afraid and uncertain? I’d like to propose an answer based on the silent mind. I realize that this approach might sound a bit alien and “spiritual” in the wrong way, but building castles in the air or retreating into yourself isn’t what silent mind is about.
Silent mind is about reconnecting to your source. Everyone relies on the top layer of the mind, which is active, constantly thinking and feeling. But when these feelings get fixated on anxiety, alarm, dread, and uncertainty, the active mind cannot pull itself out of its own spiral. Mental activity becomes useless to heal itself, just as a runaway car cannot apply its own brakes.
What is needed is a reset. The reset isn’t just mental. Your thoughts are received by every cell in your body, and in turn all kinds of processes are affected—the immune response, hormonal cycles, sleep, and overall mind-body balance, or homeostasis. If the active mind becomes confused and chaotic, balance is disrupted everywhere. What to do?
Centuries ago, in every culture, a deeper level of mind was discovered, and the usual expression surrounding this level, which is silent, calm, and undisturbed, became religious, as in the Old Testament injunction, “Be still and know that I am God.” If we replace God with “your source,” the message comes through to modern ears: Be still and know that I am your source. The most direct result of heeding this message would be to meditate, because meditation gives direct access to silent mind.
But countless modern people have tried meditation, and they do not experience the kind of reset that is needed in a crisis. Partly this is due to lack of commitment; the average person has tried meditation and left it behind, or only meditates when a sort of psychological Band-Aid is needed. Let me look a bit deeper to show what has been missed, because silent mind is truly the only healer.
In medical school homeostasis is described as basically physical. If you go for a run, your heart rate, respiration, blood flow to muscles, digestive process, etc. are thrown out of balance, but once you stop running, homeostasis is restored. At the negative end of experience, if you experience a great shock, the fight-or-flight response throws you into extreme imbalance, but when the shock ends, balance is restored. Unfortunately, under a constant threat like COVID-19, the shock doesn’t end. The usual stress response is designed to last no more than a few minutes. Extended to days and weeks, it turns on itself and begins to create damage.
The damage first appears psychologically. Under constant stress, people feel tired, grumpy, depressed, anxious, irritable, impatient, and so on. Keep up the pressure, and the next stage is fatigue, lethargy, dullness, and depression. If the stress still doesn’t abate, physical symptoms start to develop, often beginning with insomnia as the result of hormonal interactions being thrown out of whack. There is a lot more to say about this, but the bottom line is that a holistic reset is needed.
Without noticing it, you have been holistically resetting yourself for your entire life. Homeostasis isn’t just physical; it involves the whole person. The command center for resetting the whole person isn’t found in our cells, not even our brain cells, and it isn’t found in the active mind, which is just the top layer. The command center for holistic resetting is at the source. Be still and know that I am your source. The evidence for this has existed for decades. Meditation affects heart rate, respiration, brain activity, inflammation markers, and stress levels. Medical science studies each of these factors individually, but we shouldn’t miss the forest for the trees. Everything comes back to the same source.
Your source is still and silent; you come closest to it in deep, dreamless sleep. But in a crisis, everything doesn’t automatically go back into balance the way your heart rate will return to normal after you quit running. It turns out that there is useful silence and not-so-useful silence. As consciousness starts to move from its silent source, different paths open up, and the paths you have favored become your unique way of turning silence into something else.
Nobody handed you a user’s manual, but in broad terms, silent mind takes a path that is either/or. Let me map how these pathways diverge.
Fear or love
Separation or unity
Suffering or bliss
Renewal or habit
Self-esteem or self–doubt
Security or insecurity
Comfort or stress
Acceptance or resistance
Awareness or unconsciousness
These choices arise from silence; they have the same source but travel in opposite directions. If a person is fully conscious or awake, the pathways are directed toward the desirable experiences of love, security, bliss, creativity, renewal, and so on. But as things stand, we are all entangled in a web of choices that are mixed. We suffer but also feel bliss; we love but also fear; we feel self-worth but also self-doubt.
A crisis throws us into deeper confusion as it entangles us in too many wrong responses. Healing consists of allowing the silence to go in the right pathways. In every spiritual or wisdom tradition, pure consciousness unfolds, if let alone, in the direction of love, creativity, renewal, and evolution. There is no injunction that says, “Be still and let’s see what happens” or “Be still and who knows how that will work out for you?
Instead, the mindbody balance we all have relied upon since infancy is directed positively. Health and wholeness are the norm; creativity and renewal are the norm.
This is why I believe that the COVID-19 crisis can lead to healing, because without a doubt everyone feels the need for a rest. Follow this need toward your source, and it will be fulfilled. This is a time when the rest brings into play the infinite power of consciousness. All we have to do is align ourselves with that power at the level of silent mind.
Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission
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