A lesson in four letters

Classes in schools all over the country have officially been resumed, albeit virtually. But even those of us who are not in school anymore, the Covid-19 pandemic has a lesson for each of us. For me, it is the realization that we cannot control the universe. At any moment, something unstoppable can make the business of life stop so unexpectedly for all of us.  Suddenly, our lives are disrupted.

The death of so many well-known doctors, educators, professionals at the top of their respective fields, should make us stop and ponder. They had successful careers, education, recognition and money. All that has been taken away in one instance by a virus.

The wealthy are unable to do anything about the “bleeding” of their business empires, and many have lost their jobs and livelihood. Many people are selling their possessions to make it through the pandemic.

We can no longer bring out our luxury cars. We can no longer go to social functions and display our glittering diamonds and expensive watches. We cannot even show our well-groomed faces and well-coiffured hair, covered as they are by face masks and face shields. Leisure travel is still out of the question.

In effect, an uncontrollable force is stripping us all down. A friend tells me that maybe God wants to empty us before He fills us up anew. There is also the famous saying attributed to Buddhist Master Ryutan: “You are like this cup; you are full of ideas. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.”

One vital lesson comes from people who survived Covid, some virtually coming out from the dead. Their  four-letter message for all of us: LIFE. Just to be alive, and to be able to breathe freely again, is the most important gift of all.

Individually and collectively, we’re being challenged to reappreciate the value of life and reframe our perspective on what true living should be.

It is a crisis we should process internally and not squander. Instead of feeling bitter about the restrictions being imposed on us, shift your perspective on another level: The long lockdown isn’t about painful deprivation. It’s about freedom from that unsatisfying cycle of desire. Enough of bragging, enough of showing off, enough of acts of vanity. Enough of the past lifestyle that left you still unsatisfied, whether you admit it or not. What’s the use of bragging and showing off when at any moment, Covid can make it all useless and meaningless?

Consider living life on a simpler, more practical scale. Is there really a difference between a Toyota Vios and a Toyota Fortuner? Both will take you through the same roads to the same destination. Can a million peso Rolex tell you the time better than an inexpensive Timex watch? Prices are not the same as values. What we need to do is know what we really should value that would make us truly happy and fulfilled.

This quarantine is saying that it’s time to reconnect with life’s essence, put quality over quantity. It’s about valuing things that make us happy instead of chasing status symbols or societal expectations. It means living a simpler and more purposeful life, driven by what’s most important to you—not by material possessions or status. Marianne Williamson, author of spiritual books, says: “The realization of our own mortality creates a sense of urgency to use life wisely, to appreciate it fully, to love more deeply while we’re still here and we still can.” LOVE—that’s another four-letter word to reflect on.

Try to unclutter your life of non-essential possessions. The more things you own, the more responsibilities you have, the more you need to service your ego, and the less freedom you enjoy.

As someone said: “Have nothing in your life that you do not know to be meaningful and useful or believe to be beautiful.” Indeed, happy are the poor in spirit, for they are not wanting of anything. For as the poet Gary Snyder puts it: True affluence is not needing anything.

Life is now telling us that the emphasis should be on gratitude and being happy that you still wake up each morning alive and well. Let’s be contented with what we’ve got. Let’s start stripping away the nonessential and focusing our time and energy on the things and the people who matter the most.

Rather than pursuing material riches, start to focus on things that will enrich your life. Ask yourself: How can I live my life to its fullest?

For a start, do more of what makes you happy. What really makes your heart sing? What lights you up? Whatever you love to do, do it more often. What can you drop from your to-do list to allow yourself to tune into your internal joy?

To enrich your life, bring the arts into your daily life. This is something you expect from someone who has an avid interest in artistic pursuits like me. But art is like a boat that helps take us away from the superficial shores and bring us towards deeper waters. This is where we can get more meaningful catch in abundance to feed our spirits.

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” said Pablo Picasso. It turns out there’s a lot happening in our minds and bodies when we experience works of art. Girija Kaimal, a college professor and a researcher in art therapy, makes this observation:  “Anything that engages your creative mind—the ability to make connections between unrelated things and imagine new ways to communicate—is good for you.”

Going even deeper, art helps nourish our spiritual life. Paintings, music, literature are a major source of spiritual nourishment. All art forms contribute to our spiritual wealth and development. Spiritual does not have to mean religious, although it might; but I would include any piece of music or writing, a photo or a painting, capable of releasing something profoundly emotional—some deep sadness, perhaps, or great joy.

When you are entranced, delighted, and awestruck for the entire duration of a movie or a symphony and do not want it to end, you are not simply enjoying moments of pleasure; you are having a spiritual experience. And when your inner spirit is moved, you will not entirely be the same person afterwards. The eye of the artist in the service of truth and beauty has been able to expand and uplift your senses beyond your usual predisposition to settle for lesser things. You have become transformed.

So, to be able to transform and enrich your inner life, open yourself to the world of art. Immerse yourself in it. Live the creative life.

But first, empty your cup of non-essentials. Then it would be ready to be filled anew with the wisdom that lets you refocus on where true happiness lies.

To recap, let me just put here something I picked up from the net: “Don’t educate your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy so they know the value of things, not the price.” Let this guide your decisions and actions for the rest of your life.


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