Buddhists say that all suffering in life comes from attachment—to whatever it is you’re attached to . The remedy is non-attachment. Hard to argue with that: get dependent on something and you could lose it and suffer withdrawal.
The way we are discouraging the spread of COVID-19 deprives us of many things that we are usually attached to, that our lives normally consist of: physical contact with friends and family you don’t live with, most stores, restaurants , cultural events and other civic life. A job.
Some of these, although not necessarily the same things for everybody, might be what makes life worth living. We’re finding out.
I’ve heard the line of thinking that the lemonade to be made from these pandemic lemons is spiritual improvement. It gives us a chance to hone our Buddhist non-attachment. It enforces a sort of Thoreauvian paring of life to its essentials. Famous for his voluntary social distancing, Thoreau might have done well these days–although he might have had trouble forgoing his frequent trips into Concord to score his mother’s cookies.
Spiritual improvement or not, we are at any rate necessarily learning what in our lives we can do without and what not so easily. What in fact might be an essential support without which the edifice of your existence might come crashing down.
Food., of course No one expects us to get along without that. Grocery stores are on all lists of essential businesses allowed to stay open, despite the dangers. Judging from the empty shelves, toilet paper is right up there on a list of sine qua nons. I’ve read that TP is a relatively recent development, although apparently most of us have a hard time imagining life without it.
Mexico’s President Obrador refused to order social distancing at first, sure that passionate Mexicans would be constitutionally unable to live without hugs and kisses. (He has since changed his mind about that.)
According to a news story, ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel are so dependent on their rituals of worship that they are risking their own and others’ lives by refusing to obey the self-isolating regimen since it interferes with those rituals. And of course God, the source of all meaning for a believer, would seem to be one essential dependency you can’t eliminate.
A friend says that he is most challenged by the closing down of gyms, to which he was addicted out of health and vanity.
Since liquor stores are considered essential stores not to be closed, those of us who drink on a regular basis but don’t think of ourselves as alcoholics may not have to find out whether our liking for a drink goes deeper than just a dispensable pleasure.
I’m glad national parks are still open for walks even if visitor centers are closed down. Walks are a big part of my life and I really don’t know how I would fare if, in addition to businesses, the powers that be shut down the Great Outdoors. I think I may be addicted to nature.
The abrupt cancellation of bigtime sport, all that vicarious fan life which normally punctuates the calendar, –the bread and circuses of our times–may have a deeper effect on the national psyche than we think.
There can be in a job not only structure, and money, but a big part of the meaning of life. How, or for how long, can you do without that? Those with work , like writing this column, that can be done at home are very lucky.
One feature of life of which we have not been deprived that makes the severe social distancing tolerable, and without which hard indeed to imagine is screens. I imagine that for many the lack of physical contact with family, friends and neighbors is considerably compensated for by online contact and shared tv series.
In fact, as as been noticed, and often lamented, people have come to prefer the digital social connection to connecting the old fashioned way. Life dominated by screens has in fact been a great rehearsal for the current crisis.
I suspect that of all our attachments, next to the loss of access to food, loss of the internet or TV would cause the most distress.