This is the ultimate paradox of our age

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Weare living in uncertain times, as the world hunkers down and navigates a novel Coronavirus that is changing our way of life. We know that the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are most at risk, but we still worry.

Not that we haven’t been here before. There have been other health scares, like Ebola, Zika, MERS, Swine, H1N1, Avian, SARS, etc.

In 2009 President Obama declared a National Emergency over the H1N1 Influenza Pandemic. Never the less, the impact of the Coronavirus has been greater. Parts of some countries, like Italy, are on lockdown. Schools are closing, and families find themselves sheltering in place at home.

While our best scientists and leaders work hard to resolve the crisis (and a vaccine trial has begun), we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. Besides staying healthy, what are we to do with this sudden downtime at home? What can we learn from this historic crisis about ourselves, and our future?

The paradox of our age

A few years back my wife traveled to Dharamshala, India to volunteer at a school for special needs kids. My wife is a registered nurse with a big heart for helping others. She also enjoys travel and so the Dharamshala trip was a perfect fit.

His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama lives at the Main Tibetan Temple in Dharamsala, India. While my wife was there, she purchased a scroll containing his writings.

Upon her return, my wife presented the scroll to me as a gift. The title on the scroll is “The Paradox Of Our Age.” I was so impressed with the scroll that I hung it in my studio office.

I found the Dalai Lama’s observations to be deeply thought-provoking, especially in these times of fear and uncertainty. Here’s what the Dalai Lama wrote:

We have bigger houses, but smaller families;

more conveniences, but less time.

We have more degrees, but less sense;

more knowledge, but less judgments;

more experts, but more problems;

more medicines, but less healthiness.

We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,

but have trouble crossing the street

to meet the new neighbor.

We build more computers

to hold more information,

to produce more copies than ever,

but have less communication.

We have become long on quantity,

but short on quality.

These are times of fast foods,

but slow digestion;

tall man, but short character;

steep profits, but shallow relationships.

It is a time when there is much in the window,

but nothing in the room.

All illustrations by John P. Weiss

I think the Dalai Lama wants us to slow down and savor life more. Do a bit more self-reflection. Evaluate the depth of our character, and make positive adjustments.

In our rush to find success, fame or attention we miss out on the deeper stuff. The important stuff. Like family, health, passion, and character.

According to Quoteinvestigator.com, the syndicated humorist Robert Quillen (in 1928) labeled “Americanism” as follows:

“Americanism: Using money you haven’t earned to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.”

Of course, chasing money, things, and prestige is not just an American pursuit. We see such behavior all over the world. It’s only when illness, war, natural disaster, adversity, or an alarming pandemic strikes that we are stopped in our tracks.

When our lives are upended we have time to think, take stock, and reevaluate who we are, what we are doing, and where we are headed.

A silver lining

The recent Coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to a kind of standstill, as more and more people hunker down in their homes.

Suddenly, the old rhythms of life have been interrupted. The places we went to for community, comfort, and personal growth have been closed off to us. Places of worship, schools, athletic gyms, concerts, movies, coffee houses and more are less available, for fear of the spreading virus.

All illustrations by John P. Weiss

What’s worse, in our grocery stores we see some people behaving badly. Panic buyers hoarding limited goods, and feuding shoppers fighting each other with wine bottles. Fear of the unknown brings out the worst in some people.

We find ourselves at home, with more time on our hands than many of us are accustomed to. The Dalai Lama wrote, “It is a time when there is much in the window, but nothing in the room.”

We tend to distract ourselves with what’s “in the window.” Our televisions, computers, tablets, and phones are windows to the outside world. But what about what’s in our rooms? In our hearts and minds?

When was the last time you looked into your spouse’s eyes, or the eyes of your children, to understand them more deeply? Their eyes, after all, are windows to the soul.

Perhaps there is a silver lining in our collective home quarantines. Maybe we can use this time to reevaluate our lives, spend more quality time with loved ones, and focus on the message behind the Dalai Lama’s “Paradox of our Age.”

Take care of each other

Writer Justin Gammill, in an article for iheartintelligence.com, reviewed the Dalai Lama’s “Paradox of our Age,” and offered the following insight:

“…take care of each other. I know this concept seems so simple and naive, but why? Why is it a stretch to assume that if people would actually abide by the simplest of mindsets, The Golden Rule, that the world wouldn’t be a better place. ‘It’s not that simple”’ people say. ‘Yes. Yes it really is”’ I say. And it starts with each of us, every single day.”

As the Dalai Lama pointed out, “We have more experts, but more problems.” Seems everyone has an opinion these days, and many expect you to adopt it.

Experts abound with advice on how we should live our lives. Sometimes they have good advice, but not always. Occasionally they miss things. Sometimes the deepest wisdom comes from common people.

Consider some of the everyday people of Italy who are sequestered in their homes. Unable to congregate and come together, many have taken to playing and singing music from their balconies. Watch the below, heartwarming video.

An article in the New York Times had this to say about these upbeat, festive Italians, who somehow found joy amidst the anxiety:

“Italians remain essentially under house arrest as the nation, the European front in the global fight against the coronavirus has ordered extraordinary restrictions on their movement to prevent contagions.

But the cacophony erupting over the streets, from people stuck in their homes, reflects the spirit, resilience and humor of a nation facing its worst national emergency since the Second World War.”

None of the “experts” told Italians to break out into song, play instruments, bang pans, and sing their national anthem. They figured that out all by themselves, and collectively found a way to reassure one another.

All illustrations by John P. Weiss

The Coronavirus may prevent everyday Italians from, to quote the Dalai Lama, “…crossing the street to meet the new neighbor,” but they can uplift their neighbors with songs and music.

As the New York Times article eloquently states:

“But to the extent that this is a virus that tries people’s souls, it has also demonstrated the strengths of those national characters.”

Just as a crisis brings out the worst in some people, it brings out the best in others. As the New York Times article observes:

“In China, patriotic truck drivers risked infection to bring desperately needed food to the people of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. In Iran, videos show doctors in full scrubs and masks dancing to keep spirits up.”

Rediscover your purpose

In his “Paradox of our Age,” the Dalai Lama wrote that we have “more conveniences but less time.” Except the Coronavirus has taken away some of our conveniences.

Many of our favorite coffee shops, restaurants, movie houses, and other places are closed. Seems we have lots of time at home, which is a great way to rediscover your purpose.

Certainly part of our purpose is to make a living to support ourselves and our families. But beyond this, our deepest purpose is to take care of one another and work on becoming our best selves.

If you find yourself marooned at home, here are some suggestions for how to rediscover your purpose and become your best self.

Play with your kids

When was the last time you got to hang out with your kids? In our busy lives, we often find ourselves coming and going with our kids.

All illustrations by John P. Weiss

Use this downtime to play with your kids. Take walks. Play games. Read them a great book. Part of your purpose is to be a great parent. Here’s a great opportunity to do just that. Also, for nervous kids who don’t understand what’s happening, your love and attention are just what they need. It’s what you need, too.

Whether you have kids or not, the key here is to invest quality time with loved ones. Be it your spouse, partner, parents, pets, etc. Our loved ones should be the biggest priority in our lives. Here’s a chance to connect more deeply.

Embrace your passion

Since being stuck at home, I’ve taken an online portrait drawing class with artist Robert Kelley. I’ve been wanting to take this course for a while but was too busy. I’m also about to invest in a more lengthy online painting course sponsored by the artist Casey Baugh.

Do you have a passion you’ve neglected? Maybe you love to play guitar or write short stories. There are tons of wonderful online courses you can take and watch from the comfort of your home.

The hectic nature of our work lives sometimes puts our passions on the back burner. Resist this. If a rogue virus is going to keep you at home, carve out time for the things you love to do. Rediscover your purpose, which is more than just work. Your passions are part of the joy of life.

Exercise

I seem to have exercised more since they closed my local athletic club. I’m not sure why, but I think my dogs have something to do with it. They keep coming into my art studio and reminding me it’s time to go adventuring.

All illustrations by John P. Weiss

Unless you’re not allowed outside, consider taking more walks or going for runs. You can also do jumping jacks, jump rope, pushups, and many more routines to stay in shape while at home. Not to mention, you can download and watch workouts on TV or your laptop. Staying fit and healthy is an important part of becoming your best self.

Organization

During this Coronavirus induced staycation, I finally found time to reorganize all my home files. I went through past tax documents, family medical records, and insurance files.

I ended up with a box full of documents to shred. It felt good to get organized, and doing so will save me time in the future.

I’m a novice minimalist, so I like to simplify my life and declutter. A crisis like Coronavirus gives us the chance to reflect on what’s important in our lives. We can think about the things we need and the things we don’t need.

Consider going through your closet and gathering anything you have not worn in a year. Box or bag these clothing items up and donate them to a charity of your choice. There will be people affected by the economic downturn of this pandemic, and your old clothing items will be helpful to others.

Charity and kindness

People are going to suffer as a result of this pandemic. Some will lose their jobs. Others will get sick. The elderly, particularly those under lockdown in assisted living centers, will feel isolated and lonely.

All illustrations by John P. Weiss

Consider writing random letters of encouragement to the elderly. Have your kids create colorful drawings of animals to put in the letters. Such correspondence can uplift spirits.

If you’re able, donate money, clothing or household goods to charities of your choice. There will surely be a need.

If you can, try to support your favorite local businesses who might be struggling due to the crisis. Small businesses will be hit hard, and every little bit helps.

All illustrations by John P. Weiss

There’s an old Persian adage. It has been translated into many languages, and reminds us of the temporary nature, or ephemerality, of the human condition. It goes something like this:

“This too shall pass. When things are bad, remember: It won’t always be this way. Take one day at a time. When things are good, remember: It won’t always be this way. Enjoy every great moment.”

Together we’ll get through this. Embrace the inspiration of those Italians, singing from their balconies. Use this time to invest in your family, reevaluate where you are in life right now, and what you need to do to become your best self.

Tomorrow the sun will rise, another day will begin, and with it the chance to defy the paradox of our age. Wouldn’t it please the Dalai Lama to see us slowing down more, taking care of one another, savoring life, and becoming our best selves?

Before you go

All illustrations by John P. Weiss

I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, and write about life. Get on my free email list here for the latest artwork and musings.

This article first appeared on Medium.