Being Your Best During The Worst Of Times: Solutions Born from Compassion, Generosity, and Kindness
written by, and reprinted with permission from, Lee Jampolsky, Ph.D.
The Last of Human Freedoms:
There are a multitude of responses and experiences to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from fear, anxiety, and greed to kindness, compassion, and selfless giving. Choosing how to respond with mindfulness is seldom discussed amidst the horrific daily reports of what is happening. The default is a narrowing of our focus in detail and data when it is essential to take a step back so our gaze can encompass the whole – our interconnection, our humanity. Only by doing so can we see the potential of finding a response that will serve us in the days, weeks, and months ahead. In essence, I am speaking of how to live from love and the effective results of actions when we have a dedication to a goal beyond ourselves.
Psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl tells us, “Our attitude towards what has happened to us in life is the important thing to recognize. Once hopeless, my life is now hope-full, but it did not happen overnight. The last of human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, is to choose one’s own way.”
We can transcend even the worst of atrocities, diseases, and physical hardships and choose how to respond and to find meaning even in the most painful circumstances. The COVID-19 crisis is our individual and collective opportunity to look for answers to the most profound questions about what it is to be human. Even under the unfathomable situation of this pandemic, in which we may feel we have little control over our circumstances, we can still determine what will become of ourselves both mentally and spiritually. We can choose to be our best in the worst of times through love.
In his 1959 book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl eloquently and movingly described the power of love. Observing how he and his fellow prisoners found a reason to live, he wrote: “Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire…. The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
The Need for a Cooperative Approach:
Loss of life, an overwhelmed healthcare system, and economic impact are at a magnitude that is difficult to comprehend fully. Finding a path through this challenge hinges on citizens and leaders of the world working together beyond physical borders and cognitive barriers. Global cooperation of leaders was strained before this crisis, and it appears to be worsening under stress. Within ourselves and our leaders, the pattern of blame and deflection of responsibility can shift to a cooperative and collective approach. The crisis of COVID-19 is extensive, expansive, and global, and the solution must be as well. Cooperation–even with those we have issues with–is not a weakness but a necessity and our greatest strength. Rising above differences, division, and past breaches of trust are paramount to find our way in the face of significant loss, and a world threatened on all levels. With cooperation from compassion and love, not only can we save lives, the birth of a better world can also emerge. This is the foundation of a love-based approach.
We did not choose this pandemic, but we each have the capability and responsibility to choose how we respond. If we are to be at our best during the worst of times, it will be born from consciously searching for meaning and direction rather than becoming consumed with fear. Nobody at the end of this will say, “I wish I had been more afraid, put upon, and angry,” but they may say, “I wish I had given more love, reached out more, been more productive with my time.”
The Emergence of a Stronger Self and World:
There are hard questions most people don’t think about often that are entering the thoughts of many. These are not popular questions to pose, yet they are here for many of us, and useful to explore rather than repress in hopes normalcy will return with ourselves and our love ones spared.
“Are you prepared to die?” Of the hundreds of thousands who will die from this virus, how many are ready? How many are at peace with the life they lived? What unhealed relationships did they have that they wished they had made peaceful? If you were dead a week from now, dying alone in a strange bed in isolation without the ability to have family near, would you wish you had said something to them today?
“What would you do if a loved one was isolated from you, or dies?” Would you have said all you need to and want to? Would you know of the depth of your love for them, and would they know this? Would you have a connection with a power greater than yourself, whatever that may be, that would get you through? Would the things you were upset about now matter? Would you wish you let go of such grievances long ago?
“What function and responsibility do you have in helping during this crisis?” What and how can you give? What attitude can you hold that brings connection and calm during chaos and disaster?
As more people die, as the economy continues to be in turmoil, while a return to life as we knew it remains elusive, fear and anxiety are likely to vie to take over your thinking. We are each responsible for navigating and not succumbing to our fear. With a love-based approach to the pandemic, you gradually discover that you have a remarkable capacity to love within you that can help you through the fear, be at your best, and bring constructive action. In short, we can learn and grow from this challenging period, and a stronger self and world can be born from the horrific challenge we face. See this as a moment capable of bringing meaning. In this crisis, love and compassion will hold us tenderly together. In contrast, fear and divisiveness will corrosively fracture us apart.
To this end, I put together 31 Daily Contemplations for Love-Based Living During COVID-19. I will add to these each month during the crisis and recovery, addressing specific concerns as they arise. This approach embraces the idea that during an emotionally charged and unprecedented challenging time, small doses of contemplation can lead to in-depth and life-affirming discussions. We can benefit from a few minutes each day designed to focus and direct our thoughts when confusion, despair, and fear are often at their height. Based on Inspirational Psychology and Attitudinal Healing, each of the daily contemplations includes a practical application (in italics) that can bring purpose, healing, and meaning.
There are no rules or time directives to follow. You can practice sequentially or randomly. You may want to spend more than one day on a particular thought or idea that you find either particularly helpful or unusually challenging. Please share this material with whoever you wish; there is power in our collective Love-Based Living.
Daily Contemplations for Love-Based Living During COVID-19
1. The COVID-19 crisis is not a time to be idle in our thinking, nor is it a time to succumb to fear. This is our moment to rise to our highest good, to stand in front of our fears, and say, “Stop! There is a better way!” Each day during the pandemic can be the beginning of learning of our interconnectedness and the healing nature of giving and receiving love.
Today I am unwavering in my commitment to see the opportunity to love in every moment.
2. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, which is a more valuable use of your time: worrying about the future, or extending love in this present moment? COVID-19 has no real power to create fear in you or to create anxiety; these are responses of your mind. Today take a step toward becoming the director of your mind and become aware of when you engage in worry.
Each hour, I stop worrying by redirecting my mind toward extending love to another person.
3. With COVID-19, we are witness to the fragility of physical life, and this can bring up fear. However, contemplation during this time can bring greater awareness of the preciousness of life and what is beyond the physical.
Though bodies can be fragile when faced with a sudden virus, what is everlasting is not fragile and can awaken me to my real strength.
4. There are many COVID-19 graphs of the number of deaths, which is devastating and can bring anxiety and helplessness. I imagine another chart beside this one, illustrating the number of people who loved more deeply today, were courageous in their giving, who took personal risks and served.
I direct my mind to see beautiful acts amidst tragedy that remind me of the strength of the human spirit and what is here, even in this time of suffering and loss.
5. In overcoming COVID-19, science is elemental, and soul is essential. Only with the awareness of love within and around us will we have a vibrancy that can carry us through this challenge in a way that brings us not only physical health but renewed purpose.
Even during this challenging time, I can find what is forever free and beautiful, waiting patiently within my heart.
6. With staying at home during the COVID-19 crisis, you may be thinking more about your current and past relationships. During this challenge, it may be time to contemplate what unhealed relationships you have. The way to prepare for living fully or dying peacefully often entails the same approach.
This is a time to release my grievances and live this moment unencumbered by my past.
7. Suffering can arise from the combination of denying what is and desiring what is not. This combination makes our thinking and actions ineffective. Today approach the COVID-19 crisis by accepting it is happening and responding with the highest good within you.
This is happening, but I can align my thoughts with love, and act with kindness.
8. Too much focus on fear inhibits your body, mind, and spirit from functioning at the highest levels. Creating optimal health during the COVID-19 crisis includes the conscious practice of letting go of fear. One such method is to increase your awareness of love by extending compassion. You can focus on someone you know or a stranger. As you do this, remind yourself that in doing so, you are setting the course for your optimal health and positively impacting others.
Every hour today, I take a couple of minutes to extend love and compassion to another person.
9. Many people want to contribute during the COVID-19 crisis but are unsure how. Whatever you can offer will be helpful, but also consider that your attitude and thoughts are the sources of your most significant contribution.
While others may be amping up in fear, I extend love, patience, and kindness.
10. Doing what we can to keep ourselves and others safe during the COVID-19 crisis is essential. Still, if we operate from a repressed fear of death, we build a house of cards and live inside of it, always afraid of the inevitable collapse.
While this crisis places death in my awareness, it also brings an increased choice of how I want to live today.
11. One day I realized that no matter the condition of health my body is in, no matter how much I may feel controlled or limited by outside forces, I can choose peace. I realized if I look for opportunities to love every day, I will find them. Freedom is no longer mistakenly believing that my body has to be in a particular state of health or that the world has to be this way or that way for life to have meaning and purpose.
Because I can choose to love today, I am healthy and free.
12. I have read some remarkable stories from people who have the COVID-19 virus. They remind me that no matter what state of health we find ourselves in, we can still find meaningful, beautiful, and tender moments.
Central to overcoming suffering is knowing I am more than my body and circumstances.
13. We did not choose the COVID-19 crisis, but we – nobody else – are responsible for every thought and action that we have in response. Imagine yourself at your best, and strive to be this, even during the worst of times.
Regardless of the condition of my body or what is happening, giving and receiving love can be my single goal.
14. Post-crisis, many cancer survivors and family members are grateful for the illness because something in them changed during the challenge. I believe that during the COVID-19 crisis if we are open, love finds ways for us to find it.
Today I am a survivor, grateful for awakening to my interconnectedness and seeing what is most important in my life.
15. I am not one to force positive thinking during difficult times because it can be disrespectful or discounting of one’s experience. I look at the practical benefits of an attitude that accepts what is happening but also seeks to reach beyond suffering and fear.
Amidst the present challenge, I see there is love to discover and share, and that every compassionate act reduces distress.
16. During this pandemic, if you direct your mind to do so, slowly you can look and see that there is something more, something beyond sickness and the threat of death, a pulse of peace in all of life that has an inherent beauty and infuses us with calm when we witness it: Love.
Today I see what is most important in life comes from my ability to love unconditionally, regardless of the obstacles or circumstances.
17. Love is patient and content with the smallest of efforts on our part. Even the dimmest light in a dark room transforms the darkness. Be this light during this pandemic.
Today I look for the spark of love in each of us, which is waiting to illuminate our path forward.
18. Remember that the pandemic affects us all, and getting beyond it is a collective effort. It is challenging to find eloquent solutions as long as we see separate interests or waste our time and energy solely on blame and fault-finding.
Today I dedicate myself to being part of healing and being constructive. I focus on finding opportunities to bring kindness rather than join the bandwagon of blame.
19. Throughout this day of the world dealing with a global pandemic, remember: there are no circumstances that have any control over your ability to choose a response that will make this moment a better place.
Today I will focus on one act or thought of kindness each hour.
20. Of course, I wish this pandemic was not upon us, but, like for many throughout history, the challenge we face can become the most excellent teacher we have ever encountered. Our expanded awareness of love, or lack of it, affects how we will remember this and what the outcome will be. What we fill our minds with has great impact on our stress levels and our experience of what is happening, and so we need a balance of factual news and soulful inspiration.
I will be at my best today by being aware of what I am allowing into my mind. I ask myself, Do I have a balance of media, conversations, and reading material that is helping me be well informed, centered, and calm or only increasing my fear and anxiety?
21. If you want to do your part for healing during the COVID-19 crisis, do not exclusively focus on the effects of the virus on the body. Work with your thoughts, as well, but also include going beyond both body and thought.
Beyond everything that I think, beyond the suffering and death our world is facing, in each of us is the light of Love. It is this I look for today and trust I will see.
22. Even when an individual has no control over their circumstances, that person can still determine what will become of themselves both mentally and spiritually. When we approach each day as offering lessons in how to love fully, we set the course in the right direction.
Today I devote to learning a valuable lesson of love specifically for myself. Every hour I will ask the simple question: What is here for me to learn?
23. During this pandemic, when compassion and looking for an opportunity to be kind is your goal, all interactions and thoughts during your day become a means of reaching this outcome.
Today I look with compassion into what is happening rather than only wishing for something that is not happening.
24. Along the way to finding a vaccine to COVID-19, let us also do the more in-depth work of looking into our thoughts and beliefs and how we treat ourselves and each other. Perhaps we can come out of this better able to see our interconnectedness, know what is most important to us, live unhurried and with greater awareness, and do acts of kindness each day.
Today, I am a student of kindness.
25. Though love and kindness are always available to give, it does not mean we can easily access these acts if we are being distracted by an overload of media input with endless lists of deaths and possible horrible future outcomes. The invitation within you to act from love and calmness is there, though quiet and patient. Turn in its direction and choose to listen.
Today, I keep informed, but also spend adequate time focusing on how I want to live and what I have to give.
26. The beauty of who we are—ordinary people capable of great acts of kindness— remains unharmed by COVID-19.
It would be a waste to face this challenge and learn nothing about myself and my capabilities.
27. Be aware of the mindset that continually searches for past, current, and future information to reinforce a fearful or helpless perspective. Extending compassion in our actions and thoughts rather than expending undue energy on worry will make a positive difference. Fearing what may happen with COVID-19 may give you some short-term motivation to avoid the virus, but in the long run, focusing only on this robs you of energy and the ability to help others.
Now is a time to discover the gentleness within my heart. Now is the time to hear the call for tenderness from those around me. Now is the time to see my common interest with all humanity.
28. With so much unknown about this pandemic, there are many “what if” questions swirling around. “What if the curve is not flattened and things get worse? What if the economy doesn’t come back quickly?” And so many more. Although some of these questions are important to consider, perhaps the two most important “what if” questions to ask yourself each day are:
What if I focus today on being kinder than I need to be? What if expressing my love more fully is what my part is today?
29. Accountability and responsibility are essential during a crisis. But, contrary to widespread behavior, being defensive, angry, attacking, and blaming does not solve many problems and never will create safety. Over-focus on blame limits our available energy to find solutions to the immediate problems.
Today I focus on being my best during the worst of times by being responsible for my thoughts and actions, doing all I can to live from love.
30. Surely you want to do something positive to help during this pandemic. No doubt, you want to better yourself and increase your peace of mind. To this end, ask yourself:
Is my time today best spent being upset with people and about things from the past, or on forgiveness, seeing what is most important in my life, and letting go of grievances that have been holding me back?
31. Imagine amidst all that is happening with the pandemic—all the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty—there is a quieter voice in you that says with certainty:
“None of this can stop me from giving and receiving love.”