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Live and Let Risk

Some people want to wear masks all the time. Some people don’t want to wear masks at all.

Some people want to get back to work. Others don’t.

We can’t control the choices that others make.

But we have the freedom to choose what we are going to do.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that. There’s a huge collective action problem, in either direction, depending on your views.

But our individual dilemmas remain. Our lived experience of this is what we have to contend with in the immediate moment.

So we can choose to be frustrated each time we see someone not wearing a mask (or wearing a mask). Or we can just decide whether or not we’re going to wear a mask and carry on.

It is getting Sunny – a COVID poem

It is getting sunny,
but disease is in the air.

I’ve been thinking lately
’bout cutting my own hair.

But hairdresser are open,
or will be open soon.

Though I don’t think I’ll go out yet,
I need to check the moon.

We’re in a rather tricky spot.
We’re being pushed to laugh.

We’re told it’s fine to go outside.
I’m scared there’ll be a gaff.

Perhaps I’m being paranoid.
Perhaps I’m overwhelm’d.

Perhaps it’s time to get back up,
I’m feeling rather whelmed.

It is getting sunny,
And it’s rather hot inside.

But I don’t think I’ll go out yet.
Seems safer now to hide.

Make people strong through kindness

We grow stronger when we are nourished by kindness.

When people nourish us, they are helping to support us in both the short-term and the long-term. They are helping us become stronger through their kindness.

We can continue this virtuous cycle by nourishing other people.

Imagine what life would be like if even more people were actively trying to nourish others.

Kindness is an investment in strength.

We can make it a priority to do things that nourish other people. If we each do this, we will make each other stronger, through our acts of kindness.

Be Reliably Sane

We can aspire to be reliably sane, despite our fear.

Feeling fear is not weakness. We do not need to suppress our fear.

But what we choose to do with that fear is up to us.

We can follow the wisdom of Aristotle, and seek the middle point between recklessness and cowardice — courage.

If we can feel the fear, and act with courage, then we can be like a steady oak that others can rely on for shelter and stability during the storm.

We won’t always be able to be oak-like. Sometimes we will need others to be an oak for us.

But if we each strive to be an oak, to be reliably sane, to seek balanced courage despite our fear — then on average we will be able to support ourselves and we will be able to support each other.

We control how we respond. By choosing responses that lead to sanity, we make ourselves more oak-like. We do this one decision at a time — one response at a time.

Trust that others are trying to do the same. Choose to believe that we are all doing the best we can.

Strive to be someone others can rely on. Especially in difficult times, Be reliably sane.

Keep your core spinning

Our physical and mental health are the core of our being.

When they fall apart, we suddenly feel powerless. It’s hard to feel capable when you’re running on empty.

But we’re not actually powerless. Feeling empty is not a permanent and unalterable state. We just need to refuel. We need to get our engines going again.

To do this, we will have to get back up.

Getting back up is difficult, though, when your physical and mental energy is gone.

But what other choice do we have? We need to restart the engine.

CGP Grey illustrates this idea beautifully in this video. I highly recommend it.

The video proposes that we could visualize our physical health and our mental health as the twin elements at the core of our “spaceship”. Near the end of the video, CGP Grey explores the idea that there will be times where despite good habits, we will end up with an empty physical health gauge and an empty mental health gauge. At some point, finding our health gauges running near empty is almost inevitable.

When this happens, we need the courage, and the faith in ourselves (and in life) to get back up. We need to take the smallest possible first step to start rebuilding our physical and mental health.

This is the rediscovery of the unbroken. The engine is still usable.We just need to refuel.

We can also ask for help with this. We don’t have to restart our engine completely on our own. We can reach out to a friend, a family member, or a crisis line. Other people can (and will) help us restart our engine. But we have to ask. The support of others is an invaluable gift that can help encourage us as we restart our engine and begin to refuel.

Even if it feels like our spaceship’s core has stopped spinning, we can always get it spinning forward again. As long as we can breathe another breath, we have another chance to get that core spinning. We have another chance to restart our engine. We have another chance to refuel.

Tell the truth, but practice right speech

The buddhist notion of right speech is a tool that can help us navigate the process of telling the truth in an ethical way.

The truth is something that most of us value. Even more so in this questionably post-truth era. We want to tell the truth, or at least, not to lie.

But we are confronted by situations where telling the truth seems like it might not be the right thing to do.

One of the easiest example: it’s your birthday and you’re presented with a gift. It’s a god-awful ugly sweater. You know instantly that you’re never going to wear it. But you also know that your friend took the time and effort to go buy this gift for you. Let’s assume it’s not a half-hearted regift of something they knew you wouldn’t like. If your friend gets you a present because they like you and they wanted to make you happy, and the present doesn’t make you happy, how should you react?

Most of us would probably try to seem happy with the gift, and then quietly donate (or regift) it later.

In this example we have practiced right speech. The traditionally “polite” thing to do, is often also what one would do if one were operating through a lens of right speech. But that’s not always the case.

Right speech gives us a more concrete framework than what we can infer from a general deference to politeness.

The buddhist tradition of right speech (along with several other traditions) suggests that we ask ourselves a few filtering questions when we are deciding whether or not to express something. These three questions are the ones that seem to be used most frequently:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?

If we can answer yes to all three questions, then we can express our thought with confidence that we are probably doing something good.

If we can only answer yes to two out of three of those questions, then we might want to consider not expressing our thought. Perhaps we ought to express our thought anyways — context dependent. But we have reason to pause and think further.

If we can only answer yes to the first question — if something is true, but not necessary and not kind — then we should probably defer to not expressing our thought.

This is a high-barrier of filtering and questioning to do on every thought that we are considering expressing. Perhaps it is too much of a burden. It depends on the context, and on our relationships with the people we are considering expressing something to, and on other incalculable elements of interpersonal calculus.

These filtering questions are also subject to the wishy-washy-ness of our own subjectivity. Maybe we’re an extremely disagreeable person and believe that many things are necessary to say, while others might believe that much of what we have to say was not quite necessary to say.

But we can still benefit from keeping these three questions of right speech in mind as a reference point, for moments in which we are genuinely torn about whether or not to express something. It’s not the be-all and end-all of communication decision-making, but it is a pragmatic micro-level tool to help us navigate tricky interpersonal territory.

We want to tell the truth, but we want to do so in a way that makes things better, not worse. We also don’t want to be disingenuous. We want to feel as though our outer existence is congruent with our inner life.

Practicing right speech can help us navigate the deceptively complicated process of trying to tell the truth while also trying to be kind.

Life is beautiful when you’re living in line with your intentions

The experience of being alive feels beautiful when we are doing what we intend to do in any given moment.

If we’re playing on our phone and that’s what we intend to be doing in that moment, it feels like pure and lovely leisure.

But if we’re playing on our phone and we intend to be studying or working in that moment — there’s dissonance. We’re at war with ourselves.

I was reminded of this recently, by one of my favourite Youtubers, Ali Abdaal. He described the way in which he feels aligned when, “at any given time of the day, I am doing what I want to be doing.”

We feel a lot better when we are doing what we intend to do.

That doesn’t mean that life feels better with non-stop leisure. Life feels better if we’re doing what we feel like we ought to be doing in any given moment.

So, if we feel like we ought to work, and we’re working, it feels great. But if we feel like we ought to work, and we’re not — it doesn’t feel so great.

The opposite is true as well — if we feel like we ought to be relaxing, but we can’t stop thinking of work… it’s a bad time. But when we’re fully relaxing, and not thinking about work in the back of our minds, the joy of the relaxation can feel like utter bliss.

In moments where we feel an internal tension, we can consider checking in with ourselves. We can ask ourselves whether or not we’re doing what we intend to be doing in any given moment. And if we’re not doing what we intend to be doing, without beating ourselves up, we can gently adjust towards doing what we intend to do in that moment.

That doesn’t mean that we can always do exactly what we want to do. What we want to do isn’t the same thing as what we intend to do. We may not want to work, but we may still intend to work anyways, because the future exist.

Most of us don’t have the privilege to spend our days doing the things that we truly want to do in every single moment. But most of us do have several hours a day of discretionary time. During those hours of the day, especially, we can make the most out of the time that we truly control by adjusting towards doing what we actually intend to do.

By keeping this framing in mind, we can spend more of our time doing what we actually want to do — what we intend to do.

What we intend do, with the time that we control, is up to us.

Play for tomorrow

There are days when we decide to push ourselves. On those days, we are playing for tomorrow.

It’s hard to keep showing up everyday and doing the work when it feels like you’re in a loop.

But if we don’t show up often enough, nothing gets done. That just makes us feel worse.

When we play for tomorrow, we show up and do the work, even when we’re not feeling it. We show up, and we do what we’re capable of doing on this day, in this moment.

It’s a balancing act. We don’t want to ignore how we’re feeling, but we also don’t want to give in to how we’re feeling. We want to be kind to ourselves, but we also want to live in line with our intentions.

We know that if we’re too easy on ourselves, too often, nothing will get done.

So, we can accept that we don’t want to work, and still go to work.

We do this, by playing for tomorrow.

Scared of going back

I’m scared of going back outside.
To face the open wound.

I’m scared of being scared inside.
I feel impending doom.

I’m scared of causing others fear.
And so I shut my face.

I’m scared of being paranoid.
I’m scared with every case.

I’m scared of being terrified,
I want to hide away.

I’m scared of being far too scared,
I’m scared of open day.

I don’t know when things will go back,
I don’t know what I’ll do.

I wish I wasn’t really scared,
But I’m scared, and that’s the truth.

Notice when you’re judging

We are judging each other a lot more often during the pandemic. Maybe it’s because there’s more to judge. Maybe it’s because the stakes are high. Maybe it’s because we’re bored and frustrated and want to feel like we’re taking action in some way. Maybe it’s because the social etiquette of the quarantine is kind of like the wild west.

But judging, broadly, is a blunt force. It’s not very useful in its generalized and unarticulated form.

Getting frustrated by how other people are behaving or not behaving during the pandemic seems pretty futile.

If we actually do something based on our judgement then maybe it could be useful. It depends on what we do. But if we just get upset and make ourselves more anxious, then we’re not helping.

Once we investigate our judgements we can decide whether or not there’s something to do in response. Maybe we can do something with our feelings of judgement. Maybe we can have an uncomfortable but potentially meaningful conversation with somebody who we love about something they are doing (or not doing). Maybe we can write to our representatives and express our concern about a specific public policy. Or maybe we’ll realize that what we’re judging is something (or someone) that is — realistically — completely out of our sphere of influence.

In order to get to the point where we can decide what to do about our response, we first need to notice that we are judging.

So we should keep an eye out for it.

Once we notice that we are judging, we can begin to investigate our judgement and we can decide whether or not it’s connected to something that we can control or something that we can’t control.

But until we notice that we’re judging, we’re not helping anybody.

When we notice that we are judging we can break out the trance-like state of just being annoyed, and we can decide what to do about what we’re feeling.