With the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic rocking much of the country, mental health is taking a serious toll across the nation. A recent NBC News report found that nearly 1 in 4 individuals reported feeling anxious more than half of the previous seven days, and 1 in 5 reported feeling depressed.
But according to the Buddkyo Dendo Kyokai (BDK)-Fujitani Interfaith Program at Chaminade University, it’s okay to not feel okay right now.
The program, part of the School of Humanities, Arts and Design at Chaminade, recently invited three guest speakers to share tips on how to stay grounded when things are not okay—the virtual workshop was titled “I’m Not Okay, But It’s Okay: Finding a Middle Way.”
Aunty Kehaulani Lum, president of Ali’i Pauahi Hawaiian Civic Club, began the workshop by sharing the Native Hawaiian perspective of the current coronavirus pandemic.
“Today’s theme, ‘I’m not okay but it’s okay,’ are words that resonate deeply to Native Hawaiian people,” shared Lum. “They speak with wisdom and experience of generations of people who have survived great epidemics in these islands over the course of 200 years or more.”
Lum explained how in 1840, less than a century after British seafarers had landed in Hawai’i, nearly 84% of the Hawaiian population had died from diseases from which they had no immunity.
To Lum, the greatest answers in explaining our current situation come from looking at the source of the coronavirus pandemic. The virus is believed to have originated in bats in Wuhan, China—and ironically, bats are a symbol of health and longevity in Chinese culture. Specifically, says Lum, the virus was from a bat that was taken from a cave and brought to a market where humans coveted it as a delicacy. She believes there is a lesson there.
“We looked to guidance from the Kumulipo and found in the seventh era, just after the birth of the dog and the speckled bird, the springing forth of the bats,” explained Lum. She continued to share that right after the bats, the very last life form to be noted in the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian creation chant, is the man and the woman. “Can it be that by harming our older siblings through the destruction of their habitat and over consumption, we have invited harm upon ourselves?”
Lum believes that the best medicine right now is to commit our hearts and resources to bringing peace and restoration to the natural environment. To her, doing so is “an act of grace, of holiness and total devotion to divinity—not just to ourselves, but to all of our familiar relationships.”
Reverend Noriaki Fujimori, the resident minister of Palolo Hongwanji, believes we can use this crisis as an opportunity to change our way of life.
“The Buddhist Master teaches us that encountering adversity is not always a bad thing,” says Fujimori. “It’s a chance to discover a treasure that we never knew we had.”
For Fujimori, anxiety and depression tend to stem from fear, and in most cases, we’re afraid of the unknown. But Buddhism guides people to live their life in the present—right here and right now—rather than worrying about an unknown future.
“The fear I create so easily in my mind is a preoccupation with what is going to happen in the future,” explains Fujimori. “This way of thinking has nothing to do with reality. No one knows what will happen in the future. We must find the joy in living right here and right now.”
He shared Lum’s belief that nature is healing, and explained that working in his garden at home has been very helpful in bringing him back to the present moment and finding joy at home.
Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo, a Buddhist nun and professor at University of San Diego, offered several Buddhist truths that may bring comfort during these times of uncertainty.
The first, said Tsomo, is that life is inherently uncertain. “Life is never satisfactory,” says Tsomo. “Why are we surprised? Whoever said that life was supposed to be a bowl of cherries? It cannot be. But we live in an illusion, we live in a dream world.” The more we can embrace the uncertainty of life, the sooner we will be able to find peace, says Tsomo.
The second truth is that of impermanence. Nothing in life is permanent, yet we continuously grasp for happiness outside of ourselves. We rely on things that are continuously changing, continuously evolving to keep us happy.
Acknowledging impermanence is a very important step to finding happiness, believes Tsomo. “It asks us to acknowledge our own frailty,” she explains. “As human beings, we are actually very fragile. At any moment, it can be ‘poof’ and we’re off to the next life. This body is actually very fragile.”
When we can come to that harsh realization and be honest with ourselves about our own vulnerabilities, it frees us up to rest content in the present moment and set aside all of our fears.
Despite the hardships, there are many silver linings to come out of this pandemic, offers Tsomo.
“It’s a disaster, and it’s especially a disaster for the poor,” says Tsomo. “But it also has the benefit of making us reframe our lives, stepping back and taking a closer look at our priorities. All of the things we’ve been wrapped up in, maybe they’re not as important as we thought. This pandemic can be a teacher.”
Tsomo believes a good first step in shifting priorities is to focus on love.
“Everyone loves to talk about love, now all we have to do is practice it,” says Tsomo. “We may sometimes get so wrapped up in our own pursuits that we forget about the other 7.5 billion human beings out there, not to mention the billions of fish and insects and animals. We can send loving kindness to all of them. This helps us feel love in our hearts, and this love overcomes so much of our anxiety and depression.”