Practicing amidst our rapidly changing environment

We are all in the midst of a rapidly changing outer and inner landscape. I imagine your attempts to adjust to the rapid outer changes leave some of your inner frameworks feeling outdated or inadequate. This alone can lead to disorientation and heightened anxiety even leaving aside the fear that comes with the specific content.

In ordinary day to day life, it can sometimes be hard to perceive our mental models and conceptual frameworks, to realize how set and stable they are. Our view about the way things are is based to a large degree on how it was yesterday. We don’t see our frameworks because they work well enough until they don’t. We get used to the way things have been (in our concept) and experience disorientation when things change. When old expectations no longer fit and conditions are changing rapidly it can be like having conceptual jet lag.

Right now, some of the unsettledness you feel could be in part the attempt (natural and normal) of the mind to try to find a framework that makes sense of the new landscape. This desire to orient is adaptive and is what drives our search for information. There is a functionality to this as we need information to make informed decisions, but it can also lead to a restless and relentless searching that never gets enough information to make it settle. Notice when getting new information helps you feel oriented and clear and when it feels like drinking salt water, leaving you more and more thirsty. Notice when you are restlessly checking the news or just consuming the stream as a default mode.

See what it is like at times to pause, take a short break from trying to find a satisfying conceptual understanding of the way things are right now. Look around at the trees and the houses, listen to the birds, to the wind, to the traffic. Let the outer stability of the analog world help you to land. Your thoughts are moving rapidly but the world around you is just here. It is your thoughts that are moving quickly not the world or the nature of mind.

Pay attention to how many times a day you check the news. I would encourage you to read it only once or twice a day at specific times so that you are not letting yourself just be pulled along by the flow of reporting which has new and scary information coming in by the minute. This does not mean burying your head in the sand. It means paying attention to what helps you stay sane and aware in the midst of a crisis. Clear minds lead to clear action. If you don’t take responsibility for your own mind no one else will. The news cycle was not designed for your balance of mind or nervous system.

Keep one foot in the analog world or visit it regularly and stay awhile. Spend most of your time here, and then stay informed in a deliberate way. Check the news in a way that supports you rather than runs you.

Your own natural wakefulness is the true ground, the groundless ground of all “inner” and “outer” experience, of the analog and the digital, anything that we call experience. The mind-stream (thoughts, perceptions, mental formations) flows within this awareness, not the other way around. The ground does not move with the river.

When a strong mind-state, thought, or emotion arises, meet it with awareness. When you are awake to what is appearing in the mind and body, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, it becomes an aspect of experience rather than the whole of it. It becomes an object to you. It arises within something that is bigger, a space so vast that it can include whatever comes. With awareness, that which arises becomes an object “in” experience. This makes all the difference. When not witnessed in awareness, mind and body states, thoughts and feelings, views and opinions, have total shaping power. Without awareness you effectively become the experience, the experience becomes the “way things are.” It shapes your consciousness. It shapes the world.

When you meet strong mind-states with awareness you can use your feelings, your fear, anxiety, as useful information but not let them take over your mind. We need clear minds in times of crisis so that we can help each other, so that we can meet the conditions of the moment with wisdom, clarity, and love. Notice if there is a tendency to project your fear onto others or onto groups of people. Pandemics historically can lead to harmful “othering”, to racism and xenophobia. The whole world appears within your own being, your natural awareness. This is the true ground of connection and connectedness.

If you are working from home or practicing “social distancing” (as I hope you are), you can use this as a time of self-retreat. Self-retreat can include your family, housemates, partners, pets or houseplants. When awareness is functioning, whatever appears becomes the path. If you are still working out “in the world”, take all appearances as the path. If you work in a hospital or on the front lines of this crisis, arm yourself with awareness, and clear seeing, tend to your body and your tender heart. We hope you can feel our support and appreciation. Let’s all wake up to our own deepest nature and work to relieve all beings from suffering.