Linda J. Wilk, MAPC
PANDEMIC THINKING: How has your mind changed?
Updated: Apr 7
This week my attention was caught by an NPR broadcast (The Takeaway, WNYC, March 29. 2023 The Takeaway | WAMU) that spoke about the changes in work ethics caused by the last two and a half years of living under the pandemic. The announcer talked about changes in employment trends that may be altered forever by choices forced by closings, in particular the possibility of the 4-day workweek. I reflected on the way my own comfort with online work has eased, since the shutdowns. Initial anxiety at presenting classes to unknown clients has vanished, and I am completely at ease talking to strangers about anything at all, realizing that it was just my fear of the unknown that kept me away from the computer screen. A whole new world has opened to me!
VALUES MEET CAREER CHOICES
Already you have two different choices other than the 40-hour standard work week. I learned that this standard was set in the late 1800s because of industrialization and labor unions' rise, to set a standard of 8 hours labor, 8 hours sleep and 8 hours for yourself! The show raised awareness of how technology had not really freed us, but taken away our privacy at home, and decreased our freedoms.
Enter the pandemic, and the rules were suspended. People began to rethink their relationship with work. Perhaps you have had this inner dialogue yourself? I was on the cusp of retirement, and when it came time to return, I watched my anxiety rise, and I realized there might be alternatives that would be more suited to my age and lifestyle. Here I am. Where do you find yourself?
YOU AND ME VS. THE WORLD ECONOMY
I began to take some courses on running an online business. As I was learning the basics, I realized that there was a large body of people in the world that think that the economy is tanking, and there were a lot of folks who felt the economy could tank at any moment and that online entrepreneurship was the only answer!
How convenient for me! (lol) It shocked me, really, how many people were rushing into online work, selling people exactly what they are doing.
What I had hopes of doing, and still do, is teaching some of the many skills I have learned over thirty or more years of counseling others and especially helping others to find peace in the midst of what feels like a very chaotic time in our world.
As I realized that many of these economically minded people might be right, it set me thinking about the kinds of choices we all make about jobs, insurance, care of our kids and their educations, and how little others, including the government, are really thinking about any of that, the faster the world pace gets. I have the privilege of having my kids raised and out in the world, but my compassion for those who don't was really stirred.
No wonder so many people are suffering from acute anxiety and depression! Less and less resources are being allotted to the things I consider to really matter. War and an alarming economy are all around us. How do you make sound decisions in that kind of environment? I mean really, how do you? Who do you turn to for help?
HOW DO YOU LIVE AND BE HAPPY
I have noticed that fewer people are in churches, the place that people historically have turned to for values and help. In the US we are becoming a secular society. Our families are split apart by careers that take us all over the world. What is the source of inner strength? I look at my own path where I found myself leaving the church of my childhood, which lost meaning in my 20s.
When I married my husband and I looked for a faith we could agree on and found the Quakers, who encouraged us to be seekers and to seek to grow in the Light that is in all of us. People there lived their faith, which helped us see beyond what we felt was the hypocrisy of the churches of our youth. Now I have gravitated toward Buddhism, which recognizes the suffering in the world and teaches how to live in it and relieve it in ourselves and others.
I see that my faith and how I live it must match and must address the conditions of the world. This also addresses a strong calling I feel to help others. It leads me to wonder how others address their own need to live and be at peace with the conditions of the world. Surely, I am not the only one who feels this disharmony in our society.
For a long time, in my younger years, and perhaps because I lacked resources and tools, I avoided risks at any cost. I ran from conflict, and I only took risks or stepped out for justice in crowds, such as peace rallys or anti-war marches. I was frightened of being arrested or called to task for my political positions.
Someone I cared about said an interesting thing to me: "If you are going to choose to follow a spiritual path, you must be prepared that a lot of people will not like you." She said it so kindly. Through that statement I realized a few things:
that I had always been on a spiritual path
that I would never be able to avoid risks if I wanted to grow
that I could not avoid injustice and be true to myself
We all have things that matter to us. They are different things, depending on who we are. Some of us choose never to stand up for our truth, in order not to make waves. We live our lives in private, or in two or more separate phases.
As we grow older, I am sure that people who live that way suffer regret. For it means never to be truly seen for who one is. I know because I lived a part of my life that way for a time. As I have aged, I have come to see how important it is to live out who one truly is. It is the essence of one's spiritual life on earth.
LIVING IN THE MOMENT
This is one of the things Pandemic Thinking taught me. I was freed, partly by the money paid to stay home, and partly by staying home itself, to be myself. Once I felt that freedom, I couldn't go back to not being me. It's simple as that. I had to find a way to be myself, and make it work.
This has resulted in my living my truth in so many ways each day, that I never expected. At times I felt I couldn't bear it. The only way I have is with each breath, each moment, each situation. Shinge Sherry Chayat Roshi authored a beautiful article in Tricycle magazine (March 17, 2023). She uses a text from 2600 years ago, the Diamond Sutra, to help us see that when we live in this moment, we transform whatever deeds of our own or others past into virtues:
We may not think of ourselves as virtuous, but every time we refrain from callously expressing irritation, every time we restrain ourselves from consuming more than we need, and every time we offer dharma nourishment and material sustenance to one another, our minds grow in virtue.
I don't have to accomplish this for a lifetime, but if I can do this for one moment, I have overcome whatever I have run from in the past, just for today. I have acquired a new tool, and put it into practice, and I feel peace. I have made a new choice. I have taken risks, but they feel different than before.