Let's take enforced social distancing for what it is: A life intervention

While I see the pandemic as a disruptive force, I also try to see it through the rose-colored prism of chardi kala, the ...

(RNS) — I live with my family in Manhattan, now the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States. As is true of many Americans, our lives have changed dramatically since going into self-quarantine last week — we're well but are social distancing.

None of these changes has been easy. We have young kids at home who require constant attention. My partner is a physician, so she has been busy preparing for the pandemic in a way that most others haven’t. We spend a vast majority of our time in our tiny apartment, only stepping out occasionally for short bursts of exercise or fresh air...

...While I see the pandemic as a disruptive force, I also try to see it through the rose-colored prism of chardi kala, the Sikh teaching of ever-rising optimism. Sikh wisdom offers chardi kala as an antidote to suffering. We all encounter various difficulties in life, and we can’t control everything that comes our way. But we can always choose how we perceive these events — and it’s far more empowering and inspiring to find the silver linings in the difficulties we experience.

It’s not an easy practice, especially in times like these. But engaging chardi kala has helped me in a number of ways throughout my life: to see the humanity of those who hate people who look like me (or who look different at all), to find goodness in moments of darkness and to find hope in seemingly hopeless situations.

Employing the outlook of chardi kala, I have tried to view this moment as something more than a deadly and inconvenient disruption. And over the past week, I have come to see it as a helpful intervention...

...For me, this past week has been a remarkably clarifying intervention. It has revealed to me who I am at my core and what is truly most important to me. In normal times, of course, I enjoy spending time with my girls every day, but if I’m being honest, most of my time every day goes toward my job; if our lives are a sum of what we do every day rather than what we say, then anybody watching me from above would say my number-one priority is work.

And the sad reality is that I’d have little evidence to prove otherwise.

The pandemic's disruption to our lives has forced me to choose what’s most important. And every moment of every day has reinforced for me what that is — the health and safety of my family. Focusing on these priorities these past weeks has helped me live by my priorities in a way that I haven’t for far too long.

The remarkable thing I’m noticing is that this isn’t just true for me. As I look around a world in crisis and watch how people are responding similarly, it tells me something about our shared humanity, a set of fundamental desires that ties us all together. We all want to be safe. And we all want our families to be safe.

Sometimes, life’s greatest lessons are the most obvious. Jarring moments like these can jolt us back into reality and help us regain perspective. They can also force us to ask ourselves how we’re doing in relation to how we want to be as people.

This is the intervention baked into the crisis ensuing from COVID-19. It’s a silver lining available to us all. The question that remains is how willing we are to see it. 

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