I woke up thinking about how the state of the world is affecting me and my psyche. I’m not the only one who is experiencing that these days. Lots of people are not sleeping well, waking uneasily, tossing and turning as the world seems to move from one turmoil to another. We are living in the midst of a global pandemic that has already claimed more than 200,000 lives in the United States and is approaching a global total nearing 1,000,000. There is no way to ignore it, no way to avoid it, no way for it not to seem into our consciousness on a daily basis. We are surrounded by the pandemic. The US, India, Brazil, Russia, Italy, the UK— everyone on the planet is faced with this problem.
What accompanies that is a general sense of panic. People are not sure what to do. At the beginning there were runs on the stores of all kinds. You would have thought that toilet paper was so rare that it was spun from gold! Ramen soups were not to be found on the shelves. All kinds of foodstuffs were missing. The usually dependable supply chain was suddenly displaying some weak links and people were scared of being without ‘necessities.’
I don’t know if the same thing affected financial markets as well. I’m guessing that it did, but I do not have enough capital or investments to worry much about it. My 403(b) is still there and has gone up and down, but I don’t do much to manage it actively. I guess from the drops in the global markets that some panic was present there as well. People worried about what was going on and what would happen in the days to come. People worried about getting their funds into the right instruments—ones that would be better protected and less volatile. People wanted a sense of ‘safety’ in the midst of the panic.
I’m not sure what other measures people have taken to deal with the current situation. Some deny it completely, as if it is simply a figment of popular imagination. Some want to treat it as a conspiracy theory that is seeking to control us. Some say it will go away ‘after the election’ as if all those other countries are experiencing it just for the sake of our American politics. The conspiracies are wild and wide-ranging.
Most understand that this is a real plague and that it can be understood and dealt with by science and medicine. Those who take this tact tend to be less panicked. There are things that can be done to mitigate the transmission of the virus; there are simple steps that can offer some measure of protection; there are the possibilities of better treatment; there is the hope of a vaccine that will prove successful. Knowledge tends to reduce panic. If you know what you’re up against, you have a better shot of dealing with it.
There is something else that strikes me especially in these days. I’ve been reflecting a bit on the part of permeability in this pandemic. What do I mean by that? Well, I see people who take in all the panic and misinformation and let the anxiety that goes with it to take root in their minds. We have not only a spreading virus, but we have perceptions and feelings that have gone ‘viral’ as well. We may stop the spread of the actual virus with masks and distance, but the feelings are not controlled so easily. We are ‘breathing in’ a miasma of fear, anxiety, hatred, greed, selfishness, and doubt. All kinds of things are assaulting our psyches beyond what may happen to our physical bodies.
Our psyches are permeable. We have to take in what is coming at us from the external world. We listen to the news and the radio and the gossip and chatter from others around us. We see the pictures on our screens that have been carefully edited to elicit certain emotions and reactions. We hear reports that skew the facts to one side or another—intentionally. We hear over and over again, ‘Who are you going to believe anymore?’ All the doubt, the deceptions, the disinformation—all of that enters through our senses and plants seeds in our psyche. It is nearly impossible to keep it all out. Our minds are constantly soaking up stimulus and our culture is continually packaging it and pouring it out 24-7. Some things are going to get past the filters. Some things are going to find a small crack and the information seeps in and begins its work.
We are designed to interact with others. We are social creatures. We should expect that the broader culture will affect us. To seal ourselves off completely from the world is not a sign of health or wholeness. Just as a mask has to both filter out particles and allow enough oxygen to breathe, our minds have to filter out some things but allow enough in to keep us thinking and connecting and communicating. Permeability is not a negative trait, but a necessary condition for our health.
So the question is at what point have we had enough? How much of this continual flow of ‘information’ too much? Are we benefitting from all that is coming at us?
A friend the other day was saying that he was simply overwhelmed. With everything that we have going on—pandemic, civil unrest, race relations, economic woes, politics, fires….—he was simply not sure what to do right now. He is not alone is that feeling. Lots of folks are at their limits at the moment. Lots of folks are stressed to the breaking point; sadly, many of them are indeed breaking down. Some wonder if the whole culture will break down. I get it.
Last week I took an intentional social media sabbatical. I didn’t watch the news. I did not follow a newsfeed. I didn’t get drawn into the political fray. I did not allow myself to be flooded with images and statements that will not help me to reflect and respond. I’m not sure that trying to keep up with everything that is out there, especially if it’s only coming from one source, is a healthy practice. I, for one, am ready to allow less in so that my internal, mental, and spiritual health will survive the pandemic and all the panic that goes with it.