Whenever I’m in need of guidance in life, I often turn to the myths, stories, and archetypes of the world's spiritual traditions. I turn to these sources because they speak to what is constant, even eternal, in the human experience. Whenever I’m going through a struggle or problem that feels so personal & unique to my life, I feel comforted & empowered knowing that human being have been going through similar struggles throughout all times & cultures. These ancient spiritual truths help me feel less alone.
As we go through this particular moment in history, shaped by fears & panic around the coronavirus, I was curious what ancient myths & archetypes might speak to this moment. I know this won’t seem optimistic at first, but the most obvious mythic parallel is the archetype of the the “end times": the end of the world, the apocalypse. Almost every religion & culture on the planet developed a vision of the end of the world, often accompanied by great catastrophes, deadly illnesses, and political corruption. Sound familiar at all?
But myths are not fundamentally about things that happened in the past or events that will happen in the future. Myths & archetypes speak to what is eternal, to those patterns that are always with us.
What if humanity keeps coming up with stories about the world ending for the simple fact that… it always feels like the world is ending. That to be human means to find ourselves in a moment where everything seems to be falling apart, that old systems aren’t serving us anymore, and that the world must be about to end.
Clearly previous generations have dealt with their own catastrophes, wars, deadly illnesses, corrupt governments. Our particular historical moment may feel crazier & more dire than those previous times, but that’s just because it’s our human tendency to see our own experiences as unique & novel.
But the truth is: we’ve been here before. And we’ll be here again.
One of the fundamental truths of the Buddhist tradition is impermanence: that reality is always changing, falling apart, transforming, living & dying. When we try to find solid ground to stand on - a sense of absolutely certainty and security - we never find it.
But that’s because reality isn’t like solid ground - it’s more like water. Our world is more like a rushing river - and when we try to stand on it, out of fear and panic and a demand for certainty, we’re more likely to drown. Instead, our task as human beings is to learn how to swim - how to move with the constant changing flow of reality from a place of inner calm, compassion, and courage.
In this moment of great change and confusion - when it feels like the world is coming to an end - what kind of human beings do we want to be?
Do we want to drown in panic and fear and stress, which will only make everything around us worse? Or can we choose to swim with the change, to accept that fact that we can’t be perfectly safe, but nevertheless act with dignity, wisdom, kindness, and grace?
I hope these thoughts are useful to some of you during these times. Take care of yourselves.