The pandemic that’s swept the globe with breath taking speed and impact has proven two things extraordinarily well — natural laws that have been taken for granted and forgotten.
But like a loving and committed parent, nature is here to bring our attention back to them .. by force if necessary.
And doing whatever it takes, it seems to me that nature is relentlessly asking us to recognize and experience these two extraordinary powerful realities.
1. We are all connected.
In The Vocation of Man (written in the 1800s), Johann Gottlieb Fichte suggests the following:
“you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby … changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole“.
You’ve likely heard of the Butterfly Effect, which is the theory that a very small and subtle change or action can ripple through and create a massive effect or reaction. The term comes from the conceptual idea that a butterfly can flap her wings somewhere, and a tornado is ultimately generated half a world away – caused by the butterfly.
In current day, this equates to a person touching a handrail on an escalator in Asia .. leading to one of your dear family members facing death at the hand of a dangerous virus. It means the decision made by a factory worker around the world is unknowingly able to create trillions of dollars of damage to the global economic system. It means that you are one of the links in the chain that determines how far the chain extends into society.
As much as people pay lip service to the idea of ’being connected’, ’staying in touch’, ’being a good friend’ .. this crisis has jolted many people’s sense of connection – and their place in it.
If you’re like me, you’re realizing not just how few people you may truly have deep connection with, but how critical this connection is in your physical health, mental wellness and overall experience and meaning in life.
Notwithstanding the incredibly destructive, painful and surreal outcomes that occurring from this crisis, if you’re going to draw any kind of lesson or silver lining from what’s going on .. it should be that we are all deeply and unquestionably connected at a level much higher than Facebook or Zoom.
This is one of the beautiful gifts in this experience that I’m taking from it. It has helped refocus my energy and attention into other people I care about in my life. It’s helped me see clearly how important other human beings are in the collective, and that we each have a responsibility and gift to share with each other.
2. Control is a complete illusion that exists only in our mind.
In what is perhaps one of most interesting lies that the human species tells itself, most people believe that they are in control of most aspects of their life. Aside from a few random or arbitrary events or experiences that might happen outside the bounds of our control, we get to decide and control most aspects of our life.
Yet when you really look at the idea of control in your life, you’ll find that you have the power to exert very little control in the grand scheme of things.
No matter how carefully you plan your days, manage your time, organize your kids and meticulously determine the minute to minute choreography of your day .. you’re misleading yourself if you think you really have any control.
At any moment, a phone call can come with devastating news about a loved one. An unexpected piece of debris could fly off the top of a building under construction, crashing down onto your car. Or even on you.
In order to go through our days, most of us need to believe that we have control, because the alternative is extremely disorienting and scary. We need to believe so desperately that we convince ourselves that we can actually control things and outcomes.
When we bump into situations where we realize we don’t have control, our brain has a difficult time processing this conflict — and usually places the blame on outside forces.
When was the last time you got frustrated because someone in your life – a partner, a child, a co-worker, a stranger – didn’t do what you were fully expecting and needing them to do?
We become exhausted trying to force our control onto other people, things and experiences .. but we continue to believe we have control.
The second truth that this crisis is reminding me of is that we actually have no control at all.
Who could have imagined that the last 3 months of school could be cancelled for virtually every student, around the world? What would you have bet me that we would never see 10 million Americans file for unemployment insurance in a span of 2 weeks?
Much of the anxiety and fear that has exploded around the world is rooted in the despair of feeling out of control. When you’re threatened with the risk of everything being taken away from you, what else is there?
While it’s a tremendously painful process through which so many are going right now, I do believe that in the long run, this experience is going to bring some of the most beautiful and life changing realizations to the human species.
At the heart of one of these awakenings for me is the sense that it’s okay to let go, and not foolishly believe that we can control everything in our life.
Understanding that a relentless need for control is rooted in not being connected to our true self, and having a deep sense of confidence and trust that things are going to be okay, and they are going to happen just as they’re supposed to happen.
Every aspect of control can be stripped away from you. For example, your physical body can be taken out of your control, at any time. Whether it’s by crippling disease, being imprisoned, being physically violated or hurt .. you can’t truly control your physical body.
In fact, there is truly only one thing over which you can exert full control and agency.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” –Victor Frankl
In his formidable book “Man’s Search For Meaning”, Viktor Frankl details his horrific experiences as a prisoner of the Nazis in Auschwitz and other camps. From his experience, he draws the conclusion that everything can be taken from us — control over every aspect of us can be stripped away — except for one thing.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This is the ultimate control you do possess — since you cannot control what happens to you or around you .. but you have complete control over the choice to attach meaning, and how to respond to what happens.
An extremely powerful habit that this crisis is giving you the opportunity to practice is to consciously and actively decide how you will respond to the things that occurring around you.
Whether you move into a scarcity or fear-based mindset as a result of things occurring is entirely within your locus of control. In fact, your response to things is the only control you have.
Practicing to soften the grip you have over controlling everything around you is one of the most important gifts that this journey is giving each of us.
Connection and control.
What I’m focusing my energy on through this pandemic boils down to those two things — increasing my energy and focus into connection, and practicing to let go and trust that things will be okay, and that there is a bigger and better purpose and meaning behind what’s happening around me.