The Coronavirus Meditation
The reason we are even talking about this new virus, Covid-19, is because none of us wants to die. Or to put it more bluntly, we fear death. Any reminder of our inevitable mortality scares the crap out of us. With the fear comes a kind of blind insanity.
So, we can either keep sending our brown trousers to the wash — or use this situation intelligently.
Meditation is always the key to intelligence, so let’s start there.
A fundamental of meditation is to see things clearly as they are, rather than seeing things through our conditioned minds, or beliefs, or prejudices, or our emotions…. In short using the mind, rather than being used by it.
So, what is the actual situation?
Talking about brown trousers, for example, the WHO reports that about 1.5 million people die every year from “diarrheal diseases.” When did you last see a frontpage headline about the death rate from diarrhea? Or a stock market crash because of diarrhea? The other way around must be quite common, but maybe we need to relax a little. So far, a few thousand people have died from this virus.
As is often pointed out, an average regular winter flu kills about 400,000 of us every year. When you look at all the other ways about 60 million of us die every year, you wonder if this is an epidemic of the mind or the body! Maybe both.
That’s nothing compared with the “4.2 million deaths every year as a result of exposure to ambient (outdoor) air pollution” or the “3.8 million deaths every year as a result of household exposure to smoke from dirty cookstoves and fuels” that the WHO reports. The World Bank calculates that this pollution drains the global economy of $5 trillion annually.
Then there are lesser causes of death like suicides at about 800,000 a year and homicides at about 400,000 a year.
At least when all else fails, the hospitals are there. Oops! “The occurrence of adverse events, resulting from unsafe care, is likely to be one of the 10 leading causes of death and disability worldwide.” The WHO also reports, “Recent evidence suggests that 134 million adverse events occur each year due to unsafe care in hospitals in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), resulting in 2.6 million deaths annually.”
One of the key understandings of meditation is not to confuse sincerity with seriousness. The latter is just a disease of the mind. Why does everyone wear black for funerals? It is just a convention to demonstrate how sad we are and how sincere we are in our sadness. How can a convention be sincere? It is just a formality. Anyway, why the sadness in the first place. Why not celebrate a wonderful life, and give the dead person a great send-off wherever he is going on the next part of his journey: a celebration of a life lived. Now we could be sincere without any pretense.
To be sure before this Covid-19 has run its course, many more of us will die. The 2009–2010 Swine Flu pandemic seems to have killed nearly 300,000. Most of us can’t even remember it.
Yes, the experts are expecting another “big one” like the 1918 Spanish flu that killed at least 50 million. They are also clear, this Covid-19 is not that “big one.” So, yes, lots of people will die from this latest virus, and maybe you or me.
While we are learning this meditators game of looking at things clearly, objectively, without our conditioned beliefs coloring the picture, it might be good to appreciate how readily we deceive ourselves about almost everything. Exactly the opposite of meditation which involves seeing things as they really are. As Osho puts it: “What is, is and what ain’t, ain’t.”
For example, if we are so disturbed by this epidemic and the number of humans dying, how come we allow some 15,000 children to die every day — that is about 5.5 million a year — from easily preventable diseases? How come we vote for politicians who supply killing machines to different parts of the world? The US and Britain are giving the Saudi’s the means to destroy women and children in Yemen. The Russians are doing the same in Syria. The result of the totally unnecessary invasion of Iraq was a death toll “easily in excess of 500,000.” And they are still dying!
When the Chinese took Tibet, the population may not have voted for the leaders responsible for this, but they beat their chests in nationalistic pride. Duterte is murdering drug addicts. The list is endless. We support “our nations” when it comes to killing “others” or selling weapons to do the same, and then complain like hell that “our” government didn’t protect us from this virus. We humans are experts at bullshitting ourselves with such hypocrisy — then we talk about authenticity?
A key component of meditation is relaxation. Something the mind knows nothing about. The mind is a tension-creating mechanism. It keeps us tense because that is what the mind does for a living.
What is the cause of the tension? Fear of death. But compared with all the other ways we die, does it make sense to panic over this one new doorway out?
In fact, the fear of death is an ancient topic for meditators. Tibetan meditators created a whole methodology around this called Bardo. Essentially it turns out that all our fears are related to the fear of death. Which we never look at and instead keep deceiving ourselves that it only happens to someone else. Hence Shakespeare’s proposal to “Never ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” Meaning that every death is an opportunity for us to face our own mortality openly and honestly.
In reality what choice do you have? We are bound to die one day. That is unavoidable. It turns out that the people who had thoroughly explored this area, have realized that life and death are two sides of the same coin. And unless we know how to die, we will never know how to live, and vice versa.
“From where this life is arising, from the same place death will arise. To be more accurate, life and death both are walking together. They are two wings, or two legs — side by side.
“Every day you live, every day you die.
It is not that after seventy years, one day suddenly you die. It is not possible so suddenly, for no reason — just lying in your bed and you die. And what have you been doing for seventy years? Seventy years’ training of life ends in a single moment? No, the more accurate account is that you start dying the day you are born.
“Every day you are living and dying, living and dying; both processes are together. At a certain point in the journey — seventy years, eighty years, ninety years — the energy that was carrying you is finished. The roots no longer support you, the roots no longer nourish you; you shrink, you close your eyes and you die.
“All the meditations are in fact in the search for the roots from where the life has arisen and to where the life goes back — to where? If we can find the roots, we can find from where it is getting its nourishment. And to know the universal life as your nourishment, you have gone beyond life-and-death. This is the authentic Zen experience.” 1
So, rather than running away from death, it is in fact a great opportunity to enjoy that Zen experience:
“You can use this as a great moment. We are all always in danger.
“You know the old saying: ‘Never send to ask for whom the bell tolls. It always tolls for thee.’ When somebody dies, the church bell informs the whole village. But never send anybody to ask for whom the bell tolls; it always tolls for thee. Whoever may have died right now…each death is your death, because each death is a reminder that you are not going to be here forever. Each death is an opportunity to be awake. Before death comes use the opportunity of life to attain something which is beyond death.
“It is pointless to be worried because you will be simply missing this moment and you won’t help anybody. And it is not that only your parents and your friends, your beloved, are in danger; the whole world is in danger. It is only a question….
“Somebody is in danger today, somebody else will be in danger tomorrow — but the danger is there. So learn the secret of how to transcend the danger.
“The secret is: start living more fully, more totally, with more alertness, so that you can find within yourself something that is unreachable by death. That is the only shelter, the only security, the only safety. And if you want to help your friends and family, let them become aware of this secret.” 2
So, already, we can see what an incredible opportunity is given to us when we realize that this is a chance to explore our mortality. The conventional attitude of ignoring it, is in fact repressing it. And nothing that is repressed goes away. It just sits there and festers. Then suddenly everyone is talking about a flu virus, and we freak out. Much more intelligent is to accept this reality so when death does come, whenever that is, we are ready to die. In the process, we become grateful for this amazing gift called life. A provocation to live every moment as if it were our last. A celebration of the most mysterious phenomenon there is: life.
And finally, this virus provides the perfect opportunity for us to actually meditate, and not just talk about it.
The Coronavirus Meditation: the Practicalities
We are normally persuaded, according to the traditional “Western” approach to life, that we need to set our goals in life, and then struggle and strive, concentrate and focus, on achieving those goals. The underlying assumption, which is never proven, is that then we will then live happily ever after. The inevitable result of this is that the more we struggle and strive, concentrate and focus, the more tense we become.
The “Eastern” understanding is the opposite. Even if we are interested in the future, we need to understand that the next moment comes out of this moment. The only way we have of giving ourselves the best chance of the next moment being a beautiful experience is to live this moment as beautifully as possible: receive the most out of this moment and give the most to this moment. And for that we need to be conscious, alert and aware. For that we need to be relaxed.
How to Avoid Being Infected
The one thing that is totally in our hands is to be conscious, alert, and aware. Exactly what is needed to minimize the risk of contracting Covid-19 and exactly the essence of meditation. We need to be really present to whatever is happening around us in the present moment, rather than spending about 50% of our time day-dreaming in a trance about something that happened yesterday, and is already passed, or whatever might happen to tomorrow, but hasn’t yet. While making ourselves unhappy in the process!
The only way we are going to become infected with this virus is if we allow the virus into our bodies. The virus sits in the lungs and the tubes to the lungs — the respiratory tract — of an infected individual. They pass the virus on to someone else through their exhaled breath in tiny droplets. If you inhale those droplets, or perhaps even if they land on your eyes, the virus has gained access to your body. Obviously, infected people will expel the highest number of infected droplets when they cough or sneeze.
It follows that the greatest risk of contracting this virus is to be around an infected person who is coughing or sneezing. Of course, we may have no idea who is infected so stay as far away as is practical from anyone coughing or sneezing. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that “close contact” is “within six feet.” (That is about two meters.)
If someone coughs or sneezes near you and puts lots of infected droplets in the air, and you are wearing one of those loose facemasks, when you inhale, the air will simply be pulled in from the side of the masks, so the mask won’t protect you. If you are infected and cough or sneeze, then most of your infected droplets will be caught by the mask and you will be protecting others around you from being infected. The main benefit may be protecting your face from your hands.
Once an infected person has expelled these droplets into the air, they are too heavy to stay in the air and land anywhere.
It is reported that the virus can survive outside the body on different surfaces for at least some hours. The next challenge is to avoid transferring those viruses that may be lying around into your body. The most likely way this can happen is via our hands. This is regarded as a much lower risk of infection than inhaling the droplets directly from an infected cough or sneeze.
There is no way of knowing who sneezed where or when, or where those viruses are sitting waiting for you. When you put your hands onto the surface someone has recently coughed onto, you pick up the viruses onto your hand. So, basically, whenever you touch something that other people have touched or put your hands on surfaces that other people have access to, the risk is there. It could be doorknobs, light switches, subway train handles, cash…. Could be anything.
We don’t have to be too paranoid about this. As mentioned above, infection via our hands is regarded as a lower risk than directly inhaling infected droplets from an infected cougher or sneezer.
In this paper, published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, they studied this risk and even with a five-second hand contact with a contaminated surface, sometimes only 1.5% of the viral load was transferred to the hands. With other viruses, a five-second contact could transfer a third of the load. With Covid-19, the studies are not yet done. They soon will be. Anyway, the risk is there.
Whatever the situation, being very conscious, alert, and aware of what we do with our hands is in our hands — literally! That is why the WHO advise us to wash our hands frequently. The CDC also recommends washing hands with soap and water whenever possible because handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands.
Soap and water doesn’t kill the viruses, but it does wash them off and has been shown to be an effective barrier to self-contamination with the virus.
The CDC also has lots of information on the benefits of simple soap and water and how “there is no added health benefit for consumers using soaps containing antibacterial ingredients compared with using plain soap.”
They add, “If soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.” The Journal of Hospital Infection, confirm the WHO recommendation “to preferably apply alcohol-based hand rubs for the decontamination of hands…” and particularly ones “based on 80% ethanol or 75% 2-propanol.”
Unless we live alone in a cave, we can’t totally avoid the risk of contaminating our hands. But we won’t catch the virus directly through our hands. It is not going to penetrate intact skin.
Infecting Ourselves from Our Hands
The next risk we can avoid is touching our faces with our hands after we have put our hands on a potentially infected surface. Otherwise, we may give the virus a chance to enter our nose, mouth or eyes. This study described how students touched their faces with their own hands, on average 23 times per hour, with contact mostly to the skin (56%), followed by the mouth (36%), nose (31%) and eyes (31%).
Once again, meditation is the key. We need to be conscious of where we put our hands. This is as powerful an exercise in awareness as you could imagine.
There is also apparently some evidence that the virus may be transmitted through urine or feces, so obviously it is important to wash our hands after visiting a toilet.
Related to that is the issue of eating safe food: The virus dies very quickly at 70 degrees C. It seems to prefer the cold and tolerates freezing. So, it makes sense to eat freshly cooked food. As the old adage has it: “Make sure the soup is too hot for the waiter to stick his fingers into it!”
So, the key elements of this 24-hour awareness exercise are:
Be very aware of anyone around us who may have signs of some respiratory infection, like a cough or is sneezing. And keep as far away as is practical.
Make sure we wash our hands frequently, especially after touching common surfaces, like light switches or doorknobs, coins or cash, and after going to a public toilet.
Dry them thoroughly using clean hand towels or paper towels.
Don’t touch the face with our hands. Just assume that our hands could be contaminated with viruses any time. If we don’t touch our face the virus has no entry.
If You May Be Infected
The symptoms of infection may include: a fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath, and less commonly, diarrhea, general body aches or feeling tired and confused. Or there may be no symptoms at all.
Infection is confirmed by a positive test for the presence of the virus. If you are sick and may be infected, the best advice to date is to self-quarantine yourself to make sure you infect no one else. Hospitals may already be very busy, crowded with infectious people, so, in case you are not yet infected, not a great place to visit for any purpose!
Now, meditation is again your best friend. The mind may start to freak out because currently, they say about 1–2% of those infected will die. This is just an average. The risk for older people with existing illnesses is much higher than this, and for younger people who are healthy, much lower than this.
There is nothing like the possibility of dying for helping us be aware of the value of every moment, of living totally in this moment. See how quickly many previously important issues become very trivial by comparison.
Again, the essence of meditation.
If there is any doubt, you need to apply all the practical procedures above, in reverse. So you don’t infect anyone else. Be aware not to cough or sneeze in a public place. Wear a mask to protect others from droplets you may exhale. Wash your hands frequently to minimize the chance of leaving viruses on public surfaces.
Being aware of surfaces that you touch, and others may also touch, is important whether you are infected or not!
The Journal of Hospital Infection, confirms that “analysis of 22 studies reveals that human coronaviruses… can be efficiently inactivated by surface disinfection procedures with 62–71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite within 1 minute. Other biocidal agents such as 0.05–0.2% benzalkonium chloride or 0.02% chlorhexidine digluconate are less effective.”
So, the chances are that you are not going to be infected. And if you are the chances are that you will not die. And if you, or I, do die, then at least we have given ourselves the chance to transform death — usually so frightening that we sink in fear into unconsciousness — into an opportunity to die consciously. If we don’t die now, we will one day, and every moment of this experience may be the most valuable of our lives.
P.S. After this is all over maybe we will be smart enough to see what it is we are doing that makes these kinds of epidemics, and others that could be much worse, more likely.
For example, the world’s population will increase this year by a little less than our usual annual increase of about 80 million — equivalent approximately to adding a new Germany or Iran every year.
We could reflect on this habit of cramming this planet full of people and in the process, pushing aside — and severely disrupting — the natural fauna and flora everywhere. We then eat whatever animals we can get our hands on, often with such barbaric methods of animal husbandry, that even husbands would object! Such an unaesthetic, uncivilized performance of humans and animals crowded together in some ugly, primitive, unconscious dance of survival, can only end in more tears. Unless we can really become a more conscious species, much worse is bound to happen in the future.
If we can disrupt the whole planet for this one disease, primarily of the older generation, currently mainly male, then how come it is older men who have so many excuses for not putting similar resources into tackling climate change — potentially a much bigger health and financial issue and one that is disproportionately affecting the younger generation,
If we do use this current situation as a wake-up call, and start to function more consciously, the suffering and deaths from this current epidemic will not have been in vain.
Recommended Meditation Resources:
iMeditate — You can participate here in the five primary OSHO Meditations.
Meditation: The First and Last Freedom –The essential reader on OSHO Meditations
osho.com/meditation — A full online presentation of OSHO Meditations
The Online Osho Library — The Complete Archive of OSHO Talks
And for your further entertainment: Don’t Just Sit There!