From Freeze to Flow: Transforming Your Fear in the Midst of Pandemic

The past few weeks I’ve been making fun of people who are buying up all the toilet paper. Hoarders, I thought to myself smugly, remembering the Buddha’s teachings on the dangers of greed.

“We have enough,” I told my daughter confidently when she asked about the scarce supply in stores.  I tossed some paper towels into our cart as backup, hoping it wouldn’t come to that.

This morning, however, I got up to brush my teeth and found myself instead in our bathroom closet, counting the paper products we had on reserve.  Seven rolls. Maybe two weeks if we use them wisely.

I padded down the cold hallway in bare feet to my laptop to buy some more.  Checked six online retailers. All sold out. My chest tightened. My arms went numb. What if we don’t have enough…
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Fear is a natural human response to danger.  And the spread of COVID-19 is irrefutably dangerous.  (The absence of toilet paper is not). But the point of our practice isn’t to stop feeling fear, and it’s certainly not to look down on ourselves or others when fear arises.

The point is to know fear, to know when it’s present, and to know how we habitually respond in the face of it.

The Buddha’s teachings can help us do that.  And they can also help us choose a response that is in alignment with our intentions to be of benefit to all beings.  To move in a way that actually meets the need that our fear is calling into our attention. Before we start hoarding the toilet paper.  (Or, wishing that we had.)

If you’re feeling afraid of what’s to come, afraid of not having enough, afraid of getting sick or dying or being lonely or losing loved ones or not doing enough — just know that you’re not alone.  That’s one of the unexpected gems of this particular moment — that perhaps never before has our inherent interdependence been more exposed. And with it, the revelation that so many of our social systems don’t reflect this truth.

We’ve never been alone, but our fear can make us feel that way.  And it can cut us off from our innate creativity, our compassion, and our courage.

This week if you feel afraid, don’t battle with the fear.  Don’t try to reason with it. Just do something to generate enough love and enough kindness that the fear no longer seems so big.  Water your plants. Kiss your kids. Attend a virtual town hall meeting. Sit down and offer loving awareness to your beautiful, capable, temporarily fearful mind.

This morning, after I counted our toilet paper rolls, I got back in bed.  I took a deep breath in for the world, and breathed out calm and comfort as best I could.  On my next deep breath in, my sleeping partner deepened his breath in time with mine.

I don’t know what will happen next, but I know that how we respond to this crisis will transform our world.  And I’m confident that our practice will help us to sense and seize the transformation that this world wants and needs, in our consciousness and in our systems, and to breathe, sing, rest, pray, and act that change into being.