Right now, in the midst of the global pandemic, people around the world are feeling frightened, helpless and out of control. We have no idea what’s coming, whether on a personal, familial, economic or societal level. Here in Canada, this is a relatively new and unpleasant experience for most of us.
In our well-to-do first world country that prides itself on a robust social welfare system, many of us assume that life here includes a good measure of stability, predictability and security. Now that Covid-19 has arrived, all of those things are very much in question. We had convinced ourselves that we had control over our lives and we’re upset that this no longer seems possible.
In fact, Covid-19 is offering everyone in the more privileged parts of the world to recognize that instability, insecurity and unpredictability are the norm in human life, not the exception. Those of us living in the first world have been holding on to a false sense of security and an illusion of control.
Most people around the planet live with varying degrees of insecurity; whether with regard to food, housing, clean water or personal safety. Even in the first world, many children and spouses live in violent homes, not knowing when the next assault is coming. Many Canadians in First Nations communities live a third-world existence in a first world country.
The truth is that we human beings have never had control over anything in our lives and our security has always been relative. We’ve been telling ourselves a pretty lie about life, in order to reassure ourselves that things are more predictable than they seem. This pretty lie can be a dangerous one, though, because it fails to prepare us for the inevitable difficulties that everyone must face.
We’ve all heard the stories of the person who had an illness that wiped out all their savings or the one who made a bad investment and lost everything; we’ve heard about the person who bought a house that ended up being a money pit, or about the person who lost everything in the divorce. From one moment to the next, these individuals went from supposedly secure to extremely insecure, and it can happen to any of us at any time.
We’ve also heard the story of someone who was healthy one day and the next day had a stomach ache that turned out to be terminal cancer. We’ve heard the story of someone who was in a car accident on the way to the grocery store and was never able to work again.
We remember the actor, Christopher Reeve, who fell from his polo pony and suddenly was quadriplegic. We remember Phillip Seymour Hoffman who died of an accidental heroin overdose at the peak of his career. We’ve grieved the many shootings that have killed countless children and adults in the US and Canada over the past few years. And of course, there was the horror of 9/11. Sudden, shocking change is the norm, not the exception, but still, we continue to tell ourselves that life is stable and straightforward.
Change is the nature of reality. Everything is always in flux and if we don’t accept this, we risk being totally overwhelmed when we’re finally faced with our own personal version of sudden, shocking change. Covid-19 is teaching us an important life truth and we’d all do well to heed it. We need to give up our illusion of control and security and accept that reality is a lot more unpredictable than we’d like.
It’s also clearer than ever now that money, power and position won’t protect anyone from life’s difficulties, and especially not from falling ill with Covid-19. Movie stars and athletes have it. Even Charles, the Prince of Wales, just tested positive. No-one is immune. This should be ample evidence that life is never completely safe or secure, no matter who or where we are.
Some people will say that it’s a terrifying prospect to accept the uncertainty and instability of life. They might call this fear-mongering, but that’s far from the truth. In fact, when we accept that life is not as comfortable and controllable as we wish, we become empowered to deal more effectively with every difficulty we might face.
Pretending to ourselves that it’s all going to be fine can be a dangerous delusion. It’s like the kids running around on the beach in Miami during the pandemic who believe that nothing can happen to them. They’re in for a huge shock when they pass on the virus to their parents or grandparents and their family members start getting sick or even dying.
When we maintain the illusion of control, we become extremely anxious whenever we can’t be in control. Right now, many people are more anxious than necessary because they’re holding tight to the belief that control is possible, and this anxiety leads to stress that paradoxically, weakens our immune system.
We can’t ever be in control but what we can always do is be prepared. We can be fully present in each moment, seeing what’s actually in front of us. We can connect to our feelings and needs, which will guide us to the most appropriate actions. In this way, we’ll gain the confidence and self-trust that will support us in these ever more uncertain times.
We can take the opportunity right now to acknowledge a larger truth; that life is always uncertain and uncontrollable. We can never really know what’s around the next corner, and we can’t prevent it from coming. Covid-19 has clearly demonstrated this. We also need to give up our fantasy that living in a first-world country will protect us from harm.
Facing this truth will be better, ultimately, for our emotional and physical well-being and it will prepare us to meet whatever challenges arise in our lives, now and in the future.