How Can We Meet the Future with Compassion?

For this pandemic, and all those to come, we must build the resilience of an open heart and mind.

How Can We Meet the Future with Compassion?
“I can feel — Eu posso sentir” by davi sommerfeld is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

When we are confronted with all the fears of the world, it is easy to become lost, to flounder like someone drowning at sea.

There are mitigating factors we can, and must, take in order to protect ourselves and one-another. But there are also serious problems at play when it comes to how we protect.

For instance: we absolutely need to encourage a culture of masking to promote safety (not merely against Covid-19, but against the myriad current and future airborne diseases our society must face). And yet, we must have compassion for the inherent problems that this presents.

A powerful social barrier is formed by wearing masks, and in many places there is even an antagonistic reaction to those who wear masks.

Psychological, physical, and social experiences blend to create our reality, and all dimensions must be cared for.

So, how can we enter this inherent space of confusion and conflict with compassion?

  • We must have compassion for those who do not take precautions.
  • We must have compassion for those who do.
  • And, most of all, we must hold a space of compassion for ourselves as we try to walk an intelligent line.

Cultivating a practice of mindfulness in life has been an in vogue experience during the last decade, but its popularity has been backed by thousands of years of experience, and modern research studies. We know, for instance, that meditation can work as well as popular drugs for curbing anxiety and depression (Fulton, 2022).

It makes sense that a philosophical practice, like that of meditation, would be helpful for the fears we experience in the middle of a pandemic. But we also know that Covid-19 itself has potent psychological consequences. Fear itself, too, has consequences.

One study showed that “anxiety and depression increase the risk of self-reported adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccine. Consequently, appropriate psychological interventions before vaccination will help to reduce or alleviate symptoms of vaccination” (Zhou et al., 2023). This means that our fear itself can exacerbate our responses to the world.

I can present you with plenty of depressing peer-reviewed evidence for the effects of Long Covid (betcha can’t wait for that, huh?), but understanding risk isn’t our strongest skill as human beings.

Long Covid: A Stark Reality, a Call to Action
The pandemic isn’t over, and its effects will be with us for decades, but information is a pathway to hope and power.

But compassion is a natural human trait, one that’s quite possible to strengthen. And the practices that can help us expand compassion can also help us build resilience in the world.

One of the Long Covid effects can be dramatic disruptions to a person’s sleep pattern. But, research also shows that there are well-established ways to secure your sleep habits against this disruption. Reviews of numerous studies have shown evidence that meditation offers benefits “ranging from improved sleep and life quality, reduction of sleep-related problems, positive interference with psychological problems, memory, and concentration” (Gobbo et al., 2023, p. 8).

It is possible to create an experience of life that allows us to survive, even thrive, in the middle of even the greatest devastation.

The “risk factors for an individual’s mental well-being” during pandemic conditions are severe, as individuals deal with circumstances “ranging from being confined to a limited space for an extended period, not having certainties about the future, the possibility of losing one’s job and being unable to reach a social environment are just a few examples” (Fazia et al., 2022, p. 11).

Despite this, a study of “high trait” anxiety sufferers during the middle of Lockdown in Italy showed something remarkable.

“Despite the impossibility to come in direct contact with the meditation group, participants showed improved outcomes on anxiety and mental wellbeing measures, even after a relatively short period of 9-week meditation training, and this happened in the high trait anxiety group.” (Fazia et al., 2022, p. 11)

I want to highlight that this is not some sort of panacea.

We cannot wish-fulfill away the pandemic, nor any of the other stressors and pains in our lives.

But we can learn to live differently within those stresses.

As the great Zen teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh wrote:

“Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural — you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.

The ancient Stoic philosophers understood this principle as well. “Often dumbed down to refer to having a stiff upper lip, or emotional reserve, Stoicism is actually a deep philosophical framework, useful in providing an ethical scaffold for both everyday life and in times of difficulty” (Delaney, 2020).

Seneca wrote, in a letter to his friend Lucilius, “There are more things … likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality. … some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow (TheStoicLife.Org — XIII — On Groundless Fears, n.d., Para. 12).

And yet, within this, framework, the stoics believed that we owed everything to our fellow human beings — that, as social creatures, we were indebted to one-another for our wellbeing. This means that we have a responsibility to try to do good and try to avoid doing harm.

This is true in the middle of a pandemic.

This is true in flu season.

This is true in life.

Therefore, going forward, we must learn to compose ourselves in such a way that we can live joyfully within, and as part of, the world. Whilst, at the same time, mindfully assessing the weight of our actions on an ethical frame: how can we do the most good and prevent the most ill?

From a Stoic mindset, decreasing the risk of spreading disease is an easy ethical choice: you have a responsibility to avoid causing harm. Yet, at the same time, this must not be a byproduct merely of fear.

If we are ruled by fear, we will spread fear.

If we are ruled by compassion, we will spread compassion.

If we are ruled by social distress, we shall be a part of that distress.

If we are ruled by reflective judgement, we shall aid others in their own reflection.

Be well!

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, a librarian, independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider subscribing!


Subscribe for my regular newsletter. No spam, just the big updates.