God and the Ego Mind in a Pandemic
by Brayton Shanley
Novel Corona Virus has spread from Wuhan China to 198 countries and territories around the world, an invisible disease, a soundlessly moving wildfire. It could have been a bat that infected a human, but it is like no other virus in its voracious appetite. You cannot name it until you have flu symptoms with a fever. It is galloping across the globe as I write, its deadly grip in every state in the union. New York City is once again ground zero, this time for a deadly virus pandemic with millions at extreme risk. A bewildered people, we are all agreeing: “We have never been here before.”
Grateful for the medical experts who know disease diagnosis and how to stop the coronavirus without vaccination, we are learning meticulous social distancing protocols to slow down its lethal spread, our only real strategy. Dr. Atul Gawande, award-winning medical author and doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston warns: We have two weeks to enact social isolation and distancing as our only way of flattening the bell curve. We have one month to hold to this protocol, and then see proof of slowing the virus’s spread. China, so far, has been successful in slowing the spread to near zero. But it took a full surging month after it closed down the country. If social isolation doesn’t flatten the curve, 1.2 million could die in the US alone in the months ahead.
What to Do?
We have all been instructed to go home and stay put, down to three basic necessities of life: medical care; food, and a roof over our heads. It is March 27 and “experts are now calling for a National shut down. “Our minds begin to churn: “Be safe or die.” Some may continue to deny. “Oh, it cannot be as bad as they say.”
To motivate us to knock this virus back, some politicians and medical people have called the virus, “the enemy” and the campaign to survive, “a war.” Harvard economist and professor Larry Summers said in an interview recently, “we are at war” four times and then posited: “This is the biggest challenge to our country’s test of survival since Pearl Harbor”. With warlike zeal we are moved to draw “kill or be killed” battle lines. Aggressive anger masks fear. Death hovers over us, and nothing focuses the mind like death. Now we have illness as an enemy to be hated.
An Islamic Imam was asked in an interview on National Public Radio: “What are you telling your faithful about this pandemic crisis?” He responded: “Life in God is a matter of quality, not quantity.” If life in God and from God is not a matter of longevity but of a moral caliber of being, then we need not fear death and call our suffering and death, “the enemy.” Because life is a blessed gift from God, we are meant to live.
We want to continue living and possess a strong desire to survive this pandemic virus and live on; therefore it is life-giving and life-saving to follow the restrictive, frustrating, tedious and relentless protocols for months that can save our lives. God’s desire for life in abundance topples the fear fostered by “kill or be killed” attitudes towards the coronavirus. With great conviction and determination, we can follow protocols without dreaded fright that we are seeing readily: panic buying of food, toilet paper and guns.
In survival panic, our ego minds take charge telling us: “I am under threat; the virus can kill me; desperate people will rob me of my necessities.” Ego inevitably means: “easing God out.” With God out of the way, I will have a clear path be right and everyone else… wrong. In this moment, ego’s ultimate threat is death. How does the source of all life, guide us away from virus contamination and into more life? Either/or dualistic thinking has us convinced we must be in total fear to be safe. Non-dualism offers that one can desire to remain safe from the life-threatening virus without the ego’s continual morbid fear of annihilation.
Why not treat this illness as a teacher? Our desire to survive bodily is clearly in the forefront of consciousness, so why not see the deeper illness? Are we are living in some way that needs to change and blindness to that fact contributes to this suffering? Why not go to the compassion of Jesus, and not the barricades? Let’s let go of our fear that blocks healing; then, only healing remains. Why not use this urgent and frightening time to recognize we are healers in need of healing?
Where Do We Stand?
Aware of the control that fear has over us, how can we live in a way that is safe and more importantly, help others to feel safe? Can we stand with Jesus in the tragic gap of Covid 19 pandemic? While this plague has the entire planet in lock-down, and thousands of our human companions are sick and dying, we choose to share the pain and confusion of this crisis moment spiritually and, for some, physically.
We opt to be in this tragic gap so as to soften the tragedy at least some and to pray for those who are testing positive and dying, while we break the hold of ego-centered dread by moving toward concern for those suffering the most.
Jesus instructs us: “Anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant. …Just as the Chosen One came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:27-28). Service to others as a first gesture is the self-denying love that silences the voice of “I,” “me” and “mine.” Using my life for others as a ransom, therefore, means that the cost could be great to rescue others from sickness.
Health care workers are willing to risk their health when they treat sick virus patients. Most of us may appear safe from danger, but do we just want to “play it safe?” Better to risk the ransom of suffering with and for others.
Boston Mayor, Marty Walsh, was confronted by a homeless woman at a recent press conference. She said to the Mayor: “I am homeless in Boston, and I can tell you that my homeless friends feel overwhelmed with anxiety about getting the virus. What can you do about it?” Her question seriously confronts all of us. How do we respond to the most vulnerable in this crisis? Rushing “back to work” only feeds a deluded ego.
Suzanne and I were returning from North Carolina on our book tour ten days ago. Just as many Northeastern states were closing schools and non-essential businesses, I was checking out at a Hampton Inn Motel and the woman behind the desk informed several of us that no food was to be served due to the risk of the coronavirus. Motel patrons were not happy, some demanding a discount. With pain in her eyes, she replied: “I am more worried about the motel staff who were just laid off without warning. What about them?”
Like Mayor Walsh I am sure, it occurred to me that the woman standing before me and her fellow laid-off workers were now our responsibility. Would unemployment and the $1,200 check from the Feds get to them in enough time? Who will fall through the economic cracks? I did not offer her or her people any money. Her haunting eyes have been with me ever since.
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