We know that we’re fragile. But we don’t usually walk around feeling like we’re fragile. At least, not this fragile.
COVID-19 has reminded us all of just how fragile we are, both on an individual level and on a systemic level.
Some people live with this acute sense of fragility all the time. But for many people — especially young, healthy, and relatively wealthy people in the western world — our fragility wasn’t really on our minds. But now it is.
During normal times we know that death could technically be just around the corner. We always know that tragedy could come our way. But it doesn’t usually feel like we could leave life at any moment.
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”
— Marcus Aurelius. Meditations 2.11
Right now, the possibility of death feels very real. It feels like death might be creeping around the corner anytime we leave our homes.
The dehumanized numbers that continue to tick upwards and the images of truckloads full of the deceased strike fear into our hearts.
Maybe it won’t happen to us, or to people who we most love, but if we let our concentric circles of care and empathy extend much further than beyond our direct circle — and despite it being painful to do so, we should — the emotional impact is visceral.
It’s terrifying when we let ourselves really feel it.
And the fear that it brings up can lead to huge waves of anxiety.
How should we respond to this anxiety?
Radical Acceptance is an antidote to anxiety
To the greatest extent possible, we should strive to meet our anxiety with Radical Acceptance.
Radical Acceptance is Tara Brach’s way of phrasing an idea that occurs throughout many spiritual and philosophical traditions. The idea is phrased in many different ways by different thinkers but it serves the same purpose — to help us move towards peace, despite the existence of suffering.
As part of our efforts towards radical acceptance, Tara Brach suggests that we attend to our fear with mindfulness and compassion:
Most of us, in some way, struggle with fear—instinctually tensing against it or becoming overwhelmed by it. Shifting our relationship with fear is central to the evolution of consciousness. While fear is a natural, intelligent emotion, when it goes into overdrive, we are in a trance that contracts our body, heart and mind. Our resistance to fear sustains this trance and perpetuates our suffering. As we learn to attend to fear with mindfulness and care, its grip loosens, and we reconnect with our full aliveness, wisdom and love.
Accepting that we are fragile will not make our fragility go away. But it can help make the fear subside.
The fragility and the fear don’t need to go hand in hand. We can be fragile and not be afraid.
Being afraid isn’t going to help us beyond a certain point. Remembering our fragility is going to help us.
“Accepting what is does not mean passive resignation; it is a courageous engagement with the reality of our experience” – Tara Brach
We can use our awareness of our fragility to help us stay conscientious about doing our part to help. Rigorous social distancing is one way that we can pragmatically respond to our fragility, for our own sake and for the sake of others. Acting based on an acceptance of our individual and systemic fragility could help us save a person’s life.
We are fragile, and that is scary. But if we can accept that we are fragile, we can move forward and we can focus on how we’re going to respond to our fragility.