Here is a recap of last Thursday morning. My husband and I were in our bedroom getting dressed for a walk. (Our bedroom now also doubles as the gym so that our dog Nola can’t join the workouts). My husband remarked “I think I’m coming down with something.” My (admittedly not-so-sensitive) immediate response was, “Then you have to stop drinking from the OJ carton.” His (defensive, overly-loud) reply was, “I only did that once!”
Meanwhile, my younger daughter, doing lunges to a video in our “gym,” rammed her foot into the dresser. She yelled, marched out the room and slammed her door. Our older daughter moped for the 100th time, “I miss travelling.” I didn’t even bother replying to that one yet again. Within minutes, the tension in the house was palpable and everyone (except Nola) was in a bad mood. I lost interest in walking with my husband and just wanted to be alone.
I got in the car and drove to Lake Murray, which was rumored to be open. But I was confronted at the entrance by a woman who elected herself to be a guard, told people it was closed and gave a shaming look to anyone who entered. I considered walking the lake anyway but realized I had left my mask at home. I wanted to scream.
The morning was a storm of frustration, blame, fear and cravings. Our month-long good fortune of relative peace and harmony was paused. My focus on gratitude and compassion was replaced with entitlement and craving: craving for a return to “normalcy,” craving for freedom from fear of getting sick, craving to see my 89-year-old father, craving for certainty and a serious craving for a haircut. (continued below)
In Buddhist teachings, cravings lead to suffering. And my cravings did just that. My suffering manifested as frustration and impatience. Buddha also taught that cravings are the underlying root of much of our unhappiness. Wanting things we can’t have, wanting people to be different, not wanting to lose what we do have, etc. all lead to emotional pain. Instead of accepting reality, we fight what is and crave things to be different. And when the craving doesn’t change reality, we get angry, fearful, sad, frustrated and/or self-pitying.
Right now, amidst COVID-19, we all want things to be different. And we are all suffering to varying degrees and in various ways. This is normal and expected given the gravity of our situation. But we can choose not to add an additional layer of emotional pain by indulging in cravings. As my teacher Ezra Bayda wrote, “We see our discomfort (not having what we want) as the problem: yet it’s the belief that we can’t be happy if we’re uncomfortable (don’t have what we want) that is much more of a problem than the discomfort itself.
When inevitable COVID-related cravings arise, here are a few suggestions (which I am reminding myself of as I write them):
- Notice your cravings as just that. A desire for life to be different. But rather than focusing on the craving itself, feel into the pain behind the craving – the sadness of not being able to hug an elderly relative, a grandchild, or a friend in pain; the deep disappointment of your high school seniors’ loss of their special year and milestones; the fear of not knowing if you or a loved one will get sick; the anxiety of financial uncertainty. Bringing awareness and tenderness to those feelings is facing and accepting reality.
- Do your best to stay in the present via meditation and mindfulness practices. This not only helps minimize craving but also reminds us of the many blessings we do have – family and friends even if it’s through zoom, beautiful flowers, time to sleep, time to reflect, etc.
- Refrain from catastrophic thinking, imagining the worst-case scenarios. It is truly the fast lane to suffering. When you go there, press your imaginary pause button and take three, deep slow breaths.
- Be kind and compassionate to yourself and all those who are suffering. Kindness is an antidote to suffering. And, it reminds us of our shared humanity as there are truly no boundaries to this pandemic.
Wishing you all health, presence, and freedom from cravings.