Pandemic, Panic & Paralysis

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

You could say you’ve got a reason to panic:  there’s a pandemic going on.  Especially if you’re in a high-risk group, the warning signs are clear, as are the instructions for how to protect yourself.  You’ve already developed some new skills, especially social distancing along with how to breathe and talk while wearing a mask.  You’ve even learned how to simplify your life to greater or lesser degree as well as how to spend more time at home.

Of course, panic is totally unnecessary.  All these actions are intelligent, meaning you do them simply because you make clear-headed decisions and follow through on them.  However, if you’ve previously perfected living in constant anxiety, you may not know how to pay attention unless your anxiety increases.  Thus your panic can be productive in a bizarre sort of way.

Ice Age: The Meltdown, 2006

Studies have proven that human beings go into fight or flight mode just like animals.  But there’s another instinctual response to panic — to freeze.  We call it “playing opossum.”  Opossums aren’t simply “playing dead,” they’re in a catatonic state.  Similarly, squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits freeze in fear, even some species of shark.  At this point in the pandemic, you may be like a deer in the headlights, frozen in place.  At least it’s a safe place, where you will need to shelter for some time to come. 

What’s the difference between panic-induced immobility and a deep yogic immersion?  You can use this time to make powerful spiritual progress with more meditation and yogic practices, or you can simply retreat from the world, and maybe never come out again.  I’ll ask the same question another way:  Are you retreating FROM something or retreating TO something?

Retreating from danger is a smart move.  With the danger persisting for so long, your world gets smaller and smaller.  Even walking a block or two on the street where you live can feel adventurous!  As your personal space shrinks, the tumultuous events on the news can add to your conviction that you need to hide.  One yogi said, “I don’t need to hear the sound of the human voice anymore.”  She’s been alone too long.  How will she step into the world again?

Yoga makes you stronger and healthier.  It heals your mind and emotions.  Knowing when to reach out and connect with other people is another sign of intelligence.  Yet, as a yogi, you have to avoid using other people for entertainment or escapism. 

My first yoga retreat was when I went to study with my Guru.  More than merely escaping from the world, I was retreating to a spiritual paradise.  Every day revealed more and more of the inner mystery, both because of the Ashram’s daily practices as well as the power of my Guru’s presence.  I knew I was there for a reason, to fulfill the purpose of human life — the inner knowing of my own Divinity.  That time away from the bustle of the world was essential for me, like time in an incubator.  The chants and meditations opened up an inner depth that reshaped my sense of self from the inside-outward. 

Swami Muktananda’s Ashram, Shree Gurudev Ashram (later called Gurudev Siddha Peeth)
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You have that same opportunity now.  As a Svaroopi, especially if you’ve received Shaktipat, your life is already full of Grace.  Now you have time to marinate in it, to luxuriate in it, to deepen into it more fully.  But you’re not paralyzed by fear.  There’s no reason to panic.  You may need help to get through this time, so ask for it.  And, once you’re safe, turn this time into a precious time, a sweet and deep dive inward.  Do more yoga.

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