A Way of Being in the Time of COVID-19
Humans were created for interdependence, touch, and community. These experiences are fundamental to our vitality. It’s difficult to live a healthy life in their absence, yet the current environment causes us to embrace physical distancing as the most logical response.
This is a time to pause and reflect on who we are and who we want to be.
A pandemic squeezes a society and exposes what’s inside. Right now, we’re seeing what it looks like when our government is pushed beyond its limitations. Soon we’ll be faced with the emotional fallout of prolonged physical isolation and losing the normal we worked so hard to uphold.
There’s no doubt we have exited our known reality and are now entering into a period of transformation that can shift our way of being. This feels like America’s heart attack.
Society tends to shift only when maintaining the status quo becomes less comfortable and convenient and perhaps more painful than participating in changing it.
This could be one of those times if we allow it. Will we be willing to let go of familiarity and commit to doing the work to change? Do we fight to “get back to normal” or do we embrace the possibility of the shift?
There are a lot of layers to navigate here. In my work as a strategist for influencers and a handful of space agencies, I’ve spent a lot of time discussing questions like, “How do we continue our mission in the time of COVID-19?” or “What can I do to help people that are suffering or contribute to a positive change?”.
The following are my thoughts on navigating the time of COVID-19, based on my 25-year journey as an activist, philanthropist, and strategist. A decade living in East Africa was certainly good training for a time like this. For that, I am grateful.
I am not offering any tactical advice, predictions, or solutions in any of this. I’m simply speaking to a way of seeing and being while it’s all happening.
My focus is less on what we do and much more on who we are as we do it.
The Crisis at Hand
We work hard to create environments where we feel like we’re in control and can predict our future. In an age of ubiquitous access to information, we aren’t fond of ambiguity or uncertainty.
The virus is a real threat, and it is already taking its toll. We have to take it seriously and stay at home, for now. And while we navigate physical isolation and the fear of the virus, we also have to deal with the fear of the unknown.
If you want to understand what we’re dealing with here, it’s America navigating what it feels like to live in complete mystery and ambiguity, separated from our lifestyles of convenience and familiarity. It’s difficult to accurately predict what it will be like just days from now, let alone months.
Navigating this level of uncertainty has forced us into a cultural crisis.
If you want to connect with people, you must recognize that this is what has our attention.
Much More Than the Flu
This is as technical as I’m going to get, but I feel it’s a fundamental element and deserves a quick discussion in order to set a foundation.
People are purporting that COVID-19 is no different or somehow less of a threat than the flu. To that, I’ll offer this 6:30 min video from Vox about the difference between the two.
Rather than stating what I believe to be facts, I’ll ask some questions. The same ones I’m asking myself. Even if this was “just the flu”, I’m faced with these same questions.
- Do I see two military medical ships docked in NYC and LA?
- Are hospitals overrun in multiple cities across America?
- Are people panic buying and hoarding resources?
- Are millions of people filing for unemployment?
- Are small businesses shutting down all across the nation?
- Has the stock market plummeted to record lows?
- Is there a pervasive “stay at home” rule across America?
- Are our borders and even state lines locking down?
- Is lower-income America being absolutely devastated right now?
- Are systems breaking to the point where they can’t recover?
- Are we giving up our civil liberties in exchange for feeling safe?
These things are all happening, regardless of what you believe about the severity of the virus or it’s likeness to the flu. To that degree, it wouldn’t even matter if it were biologically the same as the flu.
No matter the nature or severity of the virus, we have to deal with the social and economic response that is upon us.
The Root of Everything
Our response to this pandemic is the result of everything we’ve believed and carried out up until this point. War, poverty, human trafficking, climate change, starvation…they are all symptoms of a perspective that fails to fully understand or embrace our innate interconnectedness.
I have a method for getting to the root of a problem. This is my formula for addressing the maladies of the world.
Every problem we face is the cumulative result of our collective perspective and value system. That’s what allows it to exist.
My formula for getting to the root.
- We have experiences, both innate and environmental. Nature and nurture.
- Those experiences inform our perspective, the way we believe and see the world.
- That perspective forms our truths and values, and ultimately our priorities.
- Our priorities determine our faith, behavior, and overall lifestyles.
- When a lot of individual lifestyles come together, we form a culture, a collective perspective.
- This culture is the foundation of the social agreements we develop as a society, such as how we address our basic needs for education, healthcare, economics, political structure, etc.
- If you want to change a system, you have to reach all the way back to the perspective that upholds it. Otherwise, you’re fighting the symptom, not addressing the cause.
If you want to get at the root, get to the perspective that upholds the symptom.
Go back to the source and look at the environment that contributed to it. Practice extreme empathy and try to understand all the contributing elements. It is most important to understand the environment that made it all possible.
This formula works the same for individuals as it does for large groups, businesses, governments, countries, or the world as a whole.
Every country has its own relationship and expression of Economics, Politics, and Culture. In times of intense uncertainty, we tend to see a clearer picture of what a country is really made of.
When you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out, no matter what. When you squeeze something, you’ll soon see what was already inside.
This is what a pandemic looks like in America’s Economic, Political, and Cultural environment. We can also see what it looks like in Taiwan’s, China’s, Italy’s, Spain’s, and many others.
Everyone’s response is in accordance to their specific culture. So the pandemic will affect each one differently. To a large degree, it will reflect the true values, beliefs, and habits of the people.
Right now, we’re seeing who we are as a nation. Let’s pay attention and be deliberate about what’s inside our nation for the next time.
What do we want to show up when our nation is squeezed? What about when we are squeezed as individuals?
A New World
We’ve already reached a point where we will never be returning to the normal we knew only a few months ago. After 9/11, we implemented security measures and cultural shifts that seemed dramatic at the time but are now simply commonplace. We are in a time like that now.
When faced with the uncertainty of what a new normal might look like, I think it’s important to take a deep breath and be very intentional about how we construct this new paradigm that will determine what we normalize next.
We have a real crisis on our hands that demands immediate action, so that must be faced first. But as we develop stimulus bills and new social agreements, we must be mindful of the new world we are creating for ourselves and future generations.
- Do we cling to what was or embrace the prospect of creating something new?
- What will we let go of, lessen, or even eradicate from the new world?
- What are the examples of “our better angels” that we want to carry forward?
- What kind of culture do we want to foster, both locally and nationally?
- Will we use this moment to improve our social systems like Health Care, Education, Utility Services, and Politics?
If we are willing to allow COVID-19 to alter our behavior so dramatically now, how might we allow the threat of suicide, obesity, opioid dependency, climate change, and other chronic maladies to affect our behavior in the future?
This is a time to think like the ancient Iroquois in their Seventh Generation Principles, “that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future”.
I believe it is possible to foster a world that honors the uniqueness of everyone and prioritizes the vitality of our natural planet and every form of being that inhabits it.
No matter how dark it gets, I can never be shaken from believing that is possible. This is my faith, it’s what drives me and strengthens me when I feel like giving up.
“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”
Three Pillars of Focus
Here are three pillars of focus I have come to embrace as a result of my studies and conversations about how to navigate the time of COVID-19 with intentionality and compassion.
Mind Your Energy
- In a time of acute upheaval, it’s imperative that you be mindful of your own personal wellness and energy.
- Whatever energy you hold inside you is the energy you will emit to everyone around you.
- You can use your energy to make predictions or figure out what is going on, or you can focus your energy on being a light no matter the circumstances.
Timing is Everything
- It’s important to be ultra-sensitive to timing in a moment of intense uncertainty. This is a time when we need to allow the moment to move us, rather than trying to move the moment to the future.
- We tend to struggle when we don’t know what’s next, when our relationship with familiarity is challenged. Our foundation has been destabilized.
- If we want to connect with people, we have to speak to that feeling. Rather than making predictions, we can use this event to commit to living fully in the moment.
Know Your Role
- It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose yourself in a moment like this, and that can cause you to forget who you are and why you are here.
- Are you an evangelist? A supporter? A therapist? A doctor? A creator? What role are you most equipped to serve? What does the world need from you?
- Ask yourself, “Who am I going to be in this moment?” Because right now, it’s really going to matter. Now, more than ever, we need you to play your role with excellence.
We Are All Star Stuff
Carl Sagan has been a hero of mine since I was a kid. He certainly inspired my love affair with science and cosmology. Now my children know “we are all star stuff”. They are being raised in an environment where everyone is human, regardless of…anything.
Since I was a teenager, I’ve studied and taught the principles of ubuntu and our innate interconnectedness, both scientifically and spiritually. It is the thread throughout the fabric of my being.
Ubuntu — I am who I am because of who we all are.
In 2014, I contacted space philosopher and author of the Overview Effect, Frank White. I reached out to thank him for his influence on my work as a philanthropist. As he has done for astronauts all over the world, he also gave me language to describe the profundity and beauty of our interconnectedness. We’ve since become close friends and collaborators.
As humans, our behavior is interwoven into every element of our existence. In the midst of a pandemic, that fact is amplified dramatically. The ripple effect is turned up to eleven.
If ever there were a time to allow the interconnectedness of our existence to be ingrained into your perspective, this is a time when you can see it more clearly than ever before.
Allow it to move you.
Allow it to inspire awe.
Allow it to cultivate an unyielding reverence for our interconnectedness.
Let that perspective guide your thoughts and behavior.
Who Will You Be?
Throughout two decades of activism, I’ve realized that I’ve been most frustrated when people didn’t allow new information or a significant happening to change them. So many times I’ve been devastated because I’ve witnessed something horrible with my own eyes, but others couldn’t be bothered to allow it to affect their perspective or behavior.
In the end, all I’ve ever wanted is for people to commit to living by their values. To allow their values, priorities, and behavior to be influenced by new information, even when it challenges their commitment to maintaining the familiar status quo.
The heart attack our nation is experiencing now is the result of who we are and the way we believe and behave. If this doesn’t wake us up and unite us, I can’t imagine how much worse it would have to get to do so.
If you want to be a light in the time of COVID-19, allow this to change you.
There are lots of practical things you can do to be part of a brighter present and future like staying home, minding your hygiene, and elevating your immune system. Here are some suggestions for allowing this event to change you.
- Lean into the moment. Be fully present. Tune in, not out.
- Let go of all resistance to the discomfort and inconvenience
- Allow yourself to feel the fear of the unknown and the pain of the loss.
- Allow it to move you and affect you.
- Then allow it to move through you, and out of you.
- Breathe it in. Then breathe it out.
- Transmute that energy into a force of love and compassion.
- Let the mystery of this moment teach you patience and resilience.
- Let this very human moment strengthen your empathy muscles.
- Develop practices that foster a deep reverence for our innate interconnectedness.
- Live and lead from that perspective.
- Live your life by your ever-evolving values.
- Love yourself first and love others equally.
Then you will know what it is to be human.
We have a profound opportunity to create the world we really want. Right now. All we have to do is let go of what was and lean into what could be.
Let go and lean in.
Be the human you wish our world was full of.
Live your life in moments rather than minutes.
Choose love over all that stands against it.
Jared Angaza is a strategist, philanthropist, and brand architect. He’s been an ardent human and indigenous rights activist for over 20 years. Jared serves as a Strategist for some of the most influential commercial and nonprofit space ventures in the conscious space exploration and development movement.
To learn more, visit www.jaredangaza.com.