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Heroes Needed. Apply Within.

In yoga philosophy we have the image of a guru, someone or something that leads one from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge, according to my (limited) understanding. Lately I’ve been asking myself if the coronavirus pandemic is acting as a guru. The case could be made that it has shed light on several areas that we were ignorant or in denial about prior to the pandemic. COVID-19 brought to light the inflexibility of our economic system and the tenuous thread that (barely) holds together our healthcare system, and has turned one billion candlepower of spotlight on America’s racial inequalities. But is this the knowledge that the guru is intending for us to discover? I don’t think so. These issues that we are faced with - if we are ready to face them, are just the first paving stone that the guru has illuminated for us. The rest of the path needs to be constructed through a tangled jungle and will lead to some unknown destination… That is, if we want to grow from all of this suffering.

In my senior year of college I took a Buddhist Studies course and any talk of suffering always brings me back to that course. I’ve forgotten more about it that I learned that year, but I do remember the professor tying Buddha’s Four Noble Truths to the formula; I was fascinated by the fact that the formula of modern medicine – disease, diagnoses, cure and treatment – existed at the time of the Buddha, and his Four Noble Truths follow this pattern as well. From Peter Della Santina’s article on DharmaNet:

  1. The truth of suffering clearly corresponds to the first element of disease

  2. The truth of the cause just as clearly corresponds to the element of diagnosis

  3. The truth of cessation corresponds to the achievement of a cure

  4. The truth of the path just as clearly corresponds to the course of treatment of a disease

As far as the pandemic goes, we are still on the first few stones and waiting for the cure or treatment. If we step away from the medical interpretation and shift focus to the civic disease I speculate that we have more of the path constructed than we realize.

Writer George Monbiot described in a TED talk what he calls the “Restoration Story,” the narrative that accompanies nearly all major political or religious transformations. Without this narrative, he asserts, transformation might not happen. You’ll recognize the plot he outlines because it is the common scheme of your favorite hero storylines:

  1. There is a disorder that afflicts the land

  2. The cause of this disorder is defined: powerful and nefarious forces are working against the interest of humanity

  3. Hope arrives in the form of a new hero

  4. The hero revolts against the disorder and fights the powerful forces to restore harmony

My next question for the COVID-19 “guru” is who is the hero in this narrative, who will restore harmony in the face of so much disorder?

I have been angry at my government for some time now and I know that the hero of this story is not to be found among politicians. We are the heroes of this narrative, we who protect each other and care for each other and support each other. We will restore harmony in ourselves through skillful awareness and in the land through civic heroism. Let’s build a new path out of this and let’s start within.

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