Adversity quite often brings out the best and worst in people and during these past few weeks I’ve observed both light and dark within myself. I’ve experienced my ego’s sense of threat react selfishly, mainly in the form of resentment in response to the government’s restrictions upon my freedom, but I’ve also felt a sense of moral responsibility and compassion towards my ‘fellow man’ (and woman).
I’ve regularly found myself vacillating between these two states of being and felt challenged emotionally and ethically. I’ve struggled with feelings of shame and guilt, due to self-doubt in relation to my disagreement with the media and general public’s hysteria (see Lord Sumption and Peter Hitchens’ views); also self-pity, feelings of isolation and anxiety, as well as anger and a tendency to rebellion. I’m also sure that my ego has been employing various defense mechanisms that help to justify my mental outlook and behavior at times. In this respect I’ve mostly adhered to the social distancing guidance, but not absolutely, as a live by myself and feel that a balance needs to be found between the risk to others and my own emotional and mental well-being.
I’m also aware that difficult times are often an opportunity for growth and that I have some choice in how I use my time in social isolation. I’m mindful that I now have an abundance of time to practice prayer and meditation, to sit with myself and my feelings, rather than busying myself with various distractions. When I make the effort to connect within myself spiritually my mental outlook improves, often dramatically.
As a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) the fellowship’s program of recovery encourages me to… “practise these principles in all our affairs”. This includes even during times of global crisis and adversity.
My efforts to practice the 12 Steps in my daily life include embracing the virtues inherent within them, such as humility, honesty, love, gratitude, faith, acceptance and service to others. Dr Bob Smith, the co-founder of AA, suggested that “love and service” characterized the 12 Steps, and so loving service towards others seems a wise path for me to follow during “these difficult times”.
Acceptance of “life on life’s terms” is an important, albeit such a difficult principle for me to follow. Doing it for just “one day at a time” certainly helps. When I fight with the things I cannot change I cause myself even greater suffering, and the things that I rebel against have a tendency to persist ever more painfully. Surrendering to what is doesn’t change it, but makes it a lot easier and often brings me a type of serenity, even within circumstances I don’t particularly like or want.
I recently listened to a Youtube video by a Unitarian minister friend suggesting that we ‘want the life we have’, ‘do what we can’, and ‘be who we are’. Wise suggestions in relation to acceptance, backed by the wisdom philosophy of both East and West (Taoism and Stoicism for example), and encapsulated by AA’s Serenity Prayer.
In the days before listening to my friend’s Youtube recording I’d been struggling with the chronic illness that I suffer from and the limitations it places upon my life, what I want, and my capacity to be productive and helpful to others. Acceptance of my current limitations and doing what I can in my life, and in being of service to others, is essential to my health and well-being I find, and creates a sense of meaning and purpose which combats feelings of low self-esteem.
I do have skills and abilities despite my health limitations and can be useful to others in my own unique way. I can practice being grateful for who I am and what I can do, as well as look for the opportunities for growth in each situation I find myself in, no matter how difficult or unpleasant. I can ‘accept the things I cannot change, find the courage to change the things I can, and seek the wisdom to know the difference’, if I practice recovery principles daily, in all situations, and with all people. In seeking to be of service to others I help myself and strengthen my character, and ultimately I grow forward into emotional sobriety by letting go of my demands and expectations in relation to life and of others.
Another friend, who’s also in recovery, recently suggested that the current coronavirus epidemic is an important lesson in humility for many, if not all of us. I agree, it seems to be a great awakening for humanity, as is suggested in the saying ‘we are all in this together’. The pandemic has shown us that we are all interconnected, that we are responsible, that we can all suffer, and that we each need others for support and help, no matter who we think we are. It also shows us how fragile our way of life is, how easily the things we rely upon can change, and the transient nature of our existence in general.
While the coronavirus pandemic should humble us all and make us increasingly aware of our interconnection and dependency upon one another, we are not ‘all’ impacted to the same degree. However, we are all responsible for playing our part and helping others where we can. ‘Unity and Service’ are great ethical and social principles that inspire self-sacrifice and humility; which in turn makes one mindful of any privilege they may have and that some do suffer more than others.
On a more personal note, the pandemic has also shown me the divine within each of us in our capacity to love one another. There has been a great willingness by many to volunteer to help the more vulnerable in society, to be of service to the community, to co-operate and to make sacrifices for the good of all, and to follow harsh ‘rules’ for the benefit of the NHS and those who may need its care and support in the near future.
Despite my ego’s rebellious nature, I’ve found inspiration in other people’s example, particularly those in recovery who are ‘practicing these principles in all their affairs’. Thank you. I will make the effort to do the same, to connect to the good within, and to humbly realise I am but one among the many who need each other. We are all responsible, we are all connected, we all need each other, in this great existential mystery, the gift (suffering included) that we call life.