“You can’t go to work, you can’t go to school, you can’t socialize, you can’t travel, you can’t do sports activities, you can’t drink, you can’t smoke, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t!!!” This kind of refrain has become the new reality across the entire planet, as the once active and resourceful human race are told to do nothing much at all, but “stay at home!”
And so we find ourselves in this strange time of the great pause, a time of inactivity, frustration and uncertainty, as we try to understand what it means for each of us, our families, our plans, and our lives going forward. Many of the freedoms we took for granted have being drastically limited, as governments across the globe become far more directive and restrictive in terms of choice.
How are we to manage ourselves in this unprecedented time in world history? This I believe will have important consequences for our health and the health of those around us. What we think, and how we think really does matter, especially in times like these. It could be suggested that things are probably going to get worse before they get better. So how resilient can we become for what lies ahead?
I think belief becomes ever more important when there are times of hardship. Each one of us carries a belief of how the world works, our personal world-view. Covid-19 is challenging our world-views, and we are all going to have to revisit and recalibrate our world-views in order to better understand and position ourselves through this time of testing.
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist found himself caught up in a dark moment of human history during the second world war. As a Jew, he was sent to Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp, along with members of his family, most of whom perished. He survived and came to realise the importance of our consciously chosen thoughts during times of crisis. He discovered what he called the last of the ultimate human freedoms, the freedom to chose how he would react to the circumstances at hand. He also realised that if you can find the why for your existence, you can live with any, how?
We each need to know our why, why are you here, which relates to the meaning of life, and your greater purpose? These are all important existential questions that you might never have taken time to properly consider. Lock down – the great pause is giving us all the opportunity to revisit our world-view and consider whether our lives make sense to us or do not. If they do not, then this could be a good time to do some deeper soul searching about the meaning of it all.
I have a favourite scripture from the Bible where Jesus says, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world, but to lose their own soul?” Matthew 16:26. I think that in the western world, and more recently with globalization, we have as a human race become just that, a race towards having the whole world, but at the real risk of losing our own souls. Covid-19 may be the benevolent hand of discipline to correct and encourage us to look again at our souls.
Soul work for me as a psychologist is to consciously consider what I think, feel and want about issues in life. It is the place of ultimate freedom, as Viktor Frankl pointed out, within each human being, where we can consider and choose what we believe. Belief formation often takes place more automatically and unconsciously than we realise. Our lives are largely determined by the programming influences of family, religion, education, economics and politics, not to mention the media. These are powerful systems that define our lives, over which we experience limited control. But there does come a time, and for many it might be now, where we can and should take back responsibility for the way we think, feel and want.
Covid-19 is a fear-provoking pandemic that has seen the entire planet go into lock down. Why, because it spreads at an alarming rate, and the mortality rate is at a level that is disturbing. Death is knocking on the door of life, a reality that we generally find very uncomfortable and hard to deal with. But perhaps it is also time for each one of us to come to terms with the fact that we are going to die one day. Having limited time on earth should help us to think deeper and harder about the meaning of life and what our why really is.
And so I encourage you to make the most of the great pause. Go and sit alone for an hour, and after settling yourself in the stillness and sounds of nature that can once again be heard above the din of human activity, ask yourself three very important questions. “Who am I? What is important to me? What do I want out of my life?” It is time for some soul work.