The below is adapted from an essay published in a Johns Hopkins University newsletter by JHU Change in May 2020, which I was invited to write in lieu of a March lecture on the mind canceled due to the pandemic.
A Viral Pause for Viral Peace
As the Covid-19 pandemic swept the globe, I observed how the worlds in which I move, such as mind training, mindfulness, coaching, and leadership, offered resources and tips on how to manage stress and foster well-being. In conversations with colleagues, family, and friends, I saw how each coped with lockdowns in their own way, based on their reality.
Some were home alone, with ample, new free time. Others worked and schooled kids, utterly overwhelmed. Some viewed this moment as a spiritual pause, a chance to reflect, or a time for creative renewal. Many were concerned for loved ones far away. Others worried about finances, staring at gutted incomes and vanishing jobs. Most cycled through fear, gratitude, restlessness, and acceptance in trying to make sense of it all.
One mid-April morning, as I reflected on the state of the world, a question appeared in my mind:
“Dear Virus, what are you here to teach us?”
This is the response that followed and flowed:
“I am here to remind you that you are not alone and that you are all one. I do not see your borders and walls. I need no passports and visas. All nations, races, genders, and religions are the same to me. I speak none of your tongues, own none of your stories, take no sides, and just look for a host. I have no other motives.
Whether you see me as an agent of death, a foe to conquer, or a precious reminder of the beauty of life, is up to you. I am all of those and none of those. I have no tales to tell, no agendas to meet. How you write me into your history books, you decide.
I did not come to destroy you. I came to help you see what you have done—to yourselves and to our planet. You are the ones who cut and burn majestic forests, pollute the seas, live in congested cities, and drive other species to extinction. You want more and more and want it faster and faster. When did you last stop to ask: What are we running after? Is this the life we want? Is this the world we seek to leave to future generations?
I just made you take a pause, to reflect on this rock on which you were born, this spectacular home we share, which provides for all your needs, yet seems never enough for your greed. Why are you discontent when joy is simple and free? Why do some of you hoard vast sums while others suffer to make ends meet? Why do you eye Mars yet stay silent before the pain of your fellow beings? Why do you spend your days on screens despite Nature’s splendor all around? Why are you dying to go viral? Don’t you see what going viral does?
I am sorry for the destruction I have caused. Yet, your untenable lifestyles, stressful jobs, broken systems, divisive societies, and pointless wars, have taken many more lives from you. How have you become numb to all this? How have you come to accept it? Your indifference is your greatest foe, not I.
I hope you can see that I am not so different from you. We are both born and we both die. Sometimes, I succumb to your immunity. At other times, we pass together. Death is inevitable for us both. Yet, it is about living that I hope to teach you. This moment, like every other shadow of death on humanity, is also a gift to affirm the beauty of life and what being human means.
You are too busy to listen to and ponder this, you say. I can understand that. There are families to feed, the sick to tend to, stores to open, deliveries to make, classes to teach, the vulnerable to attend to. Yet, when it comes down to life and death, even you, with all your haste, have no choice but to take a break.
In this pause, we have a chance, you and I, to be present in the present, where the past has passed, and the future is yet to come. In this inner space you can always find peace. In its still serenity, you can hear whispers of your soul’s song rippling into the oceans of the cosmos. This space is always within you. Each time you enter it, even if for a moment, you spread its spark from heart to heart.
Unlike me, you are born with the capacity to know this. I am merely at your mercy to replicate and my destiny depends on you. Yet, I also have a secret, which I am here to share with you.
It is the power to remind you of yours. When you pause to be here now, you can make peace with the past, find calm in the present, and imagine a better future—one you want to live, not one thrust on you by the world. In such presence, you experience your true being, beyond all thinking and doing. This inner space knows when your heart sings, why it breaks, and how to mend it. It holds answers to your deepest questions and longings.
No matter who you are or where you live, Nature has given you each this gift with equal power. It is also all around you. It is in every act of selfless service, such as the kindness and compassion of caregivers, drivers, first responders, and frontline heroes around the world who get up each morning to heal, feed, and care for you. It is the source of love and the essence of your shared humanity. It reminds you that you need each other to survive.
Truth is, so do I. How our shared story will unfold, we do not yet know. Eventually, my time will come and I will pass. That, Nature has ordained. But even after I am gone, these questions will remain: How will you live the rest of your days? What do you need to be content? What can you let go? What will matter when all that matters seems lost? How will you serve your fellow beings? How will you help heal your community, your nation, humanity?
The answers are yours to find. I just came to show you clearer skies and cleaner waters, to brighten the distant stars, shine light on our shared home, and enlighten truths in your hearts. I just came to ask the questions. The answers will appear when you remember who you truly are—ever whole, never alone, and all one.”