March 31, 2020
Moving Through the Coronavirus Crisis with Nobility
The Coronavirus has caused unprecedented damage — eliciting stress, panic, fear, sickness and sadly, death. Entire communities, cities, states and countries have issued “Stay at Home” mandates and in many cases, emergency lockdowns.
Global economies have crashed as the entire world has come to a grinding halt. The far-reaching effects of this catastrophe will be felt for many months and many years.
And yet, as human beings, it’s encoded in our DNA to persevere through tremendous challenges.
In this podcast, Travis offers wisdom and insights to navigate the COVID-19 crisis with grace and nobility.
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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “The BE ULTIMATE Podcast.” Please note that this is direct from Travis speaking unscripted and unedited.]
Hey, guys. Welcome to episode number 59 of the Be Ultimate podcast: “Moving Through the Coronavirus Crisis With Nobility.”
In my home state of California, right now, we’re on lockdown. And of course, this has happened in many other states, now, many other countries across the world. These are truly historic and unprecedented times.
I had a baby about two months ago. So the good thing is, I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with my beautiful wife, Lauren, and our newborn, Willa. And obviously, just spending a lot of time indoors, trying to find the balance of being aware of what’s going on in the news, and at the same time, really making the most of this global retreat that we’re all going through.
I felt inspired, in this week’s podcast, to address the challenges of what we’re all feeling and what we’re all moving through. And at the same time, these teachings that come from the wisdom traditions of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, they offer tremendous tools to help us navigate these times in history, where, truly, we are facing adversity. Just like we face adversity on our yoga mat, in a yoga pose, or we face a challenge and a difficulty in our life, you know that we’re all facing this on a global, collective level right now. The scale of this is historic. It’s huge. I’ve never seen anything like it in my lifetime.
Thank You to everybody on the front lines, the doctors, the nurses, the healthcare providers, the people in the grocery store stocking the shelves, the garbage collectors and many others. These are truly the heroes of this crisis.
I also want to send out prayers and well wishes and good vibes to everyone that’s been affected, whether it’s being sick or a loved one getting sick, maybe somebody that you know in your community that’s maybe even lost their life, people that have lost their jobs, all of you out there that are stressed out about paying your bills. Just want you to know that I’m sending you good vibes and good energy.
So you can feel it in the air, the interconnectedness of all of humanity and how this coronavirus, it doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care about your nationality or your skin color or how much money you have in the bank. You can’t build a physical wall to stop this virus from potentially impacting you.
A Sufi master was instructing his students to do these spiritual practices at the first sign of light the following day. The students woke up the following day. They were about to go do their practices, and then they realized they were a little bit unclear as to what their teacher meant when he said at the first sign of light. So they went back to go see their instructor, and they asked, “How do we know that we’ve seen the light? Is it when we can look out over the valley and we can tell the difference between an oak tree and an olive tree? Is this how we known that we’ve seen the light?” The teacher shook his head no. They said, “Well, is it when we can tell the difference between a dog and a sheep? Is this how we known that we’ve seen the light?” Again, the master shook his head no. They said, “Well, is at that moment when the sun is just rising above the horizon and that first ray of light begins to spill out across the valley? Is this how we known that we’ve seen the light?” And the master again shook his head no. And he went on to explain. “You’ll know that you’ve seen the light when a stranger walks up to you, you look into their eyes, and you realize that the spirit that exists inside of them is the same spirit that exists inside of you. This is how you known that you’ve seen the light. And until then, you’re living in darkness.”
So we’re all in this together. On a deeper level, we’re all connected. We’re all interrelated. And when we move through a crisis like this, we can feel that. We can really feel how we’re all one. And we feel the suffering of others. We feel the challenges that other people are going through. The difficulties that other people are facing, we’re also going through this. And the magnitude of a crisis is so impactful, so difficult, and so challenging. But within the challenge, are incredible opportunities for transformation and awakening.
Anytime something unprecedented happens, it causes tremendous fear and panic. A lot of us, we don’t do well when our feet aren’t on solid ground. When we’re in the midst of uncertainty, what do we start to do? We start to freak out. We start to panic, and you’ve seen this. You’ve seen this, maybe, firsthand. And you’ve seen it on the news, people hoarding food, going to get all the toilet paper, and sadly, even all the people rushing out to get guns.
Guns have exploded in sales because of this crisis. And that’s because anytime we face a stressor, it activates the alarm system in the brain, called the amygdala, and this sends out panic through the brain. We go into fight, flight, or freeze. And when we go into fight, flight, or freeze, when we become stressed out and we go into survival mode, what happens is we start to go into separation. We start to go into disconnection, when the reality is we’re all in this together. We’re all connected.
We have to be very mindful and present as to what are the qualities that we’re carrying within our hearts and within our mind? Because we have something called ‘emotional contagion.’ ‘Emotional contagion’ is kind of like how it sounds. Emotions are contagious. If you’re stressed out, if you’re in fear and panic, then what are you doing? You’re spreading those negative, malevolent emotions throughout your community, throughout your household.
One of the most powerful things you can do right now is to take refuge in your yoga and meditation practice. Allow your practice to return the mind back to calmness, bring the heart back to openness, and calibrate the nervous system back into balance — as opposed to being dominated by the hormones of stress and survival.
I had a student that recently went to the grocery store, and she wrote the following.
“This morning at 8:00 AM, I headed to my local grocery store for my weekly shopping. They open at that time, so normally, I’m one of the first ones there. Everyone around the globe knows of the pandemic occurring. As I pulled up to the store, over 100 people were already in line to get into the store. By 8:20 AM, toilet paper and chicken were cleaned out completely. The store was mass chaos. People were rushing, were angry, were tense. It was awful, but I chose not to be a part of that. Instead, I let people ahead of me. I smiled at them, and I said, ‘We’re all going to be okay.’ I made polite conversation, helped some elderly people get some groceries off the top shelf. As I was ready to check out, we were put back in line, and the line went all the way around the perimeter of the store. People were irritated, but I said to the lady behind me, ‘There’s no sense in being angry and cutting people off. We’re all here for the same reason.’ She smiled and said, ‘You’re right.’ Then the next few people started talking and laughing. And all of a sudden, all the tension was gone. We thanked the workers, as they were doing a phenomenal job of controlling the crowd. At one point, Sweet Caroline came over the speakers, and you guessed it. We all started singing!”
I love this story because it’s so true. Had she gone there and contributed to the chaos, to the stress, it would’ve only intensified it. But just this one person had an impact through emotional contagion within all the people around her.
As yogis and meditators, this is the very moment you’ve been training for. This is why you’ve been doing all those down dogs. This is why you’ve been sitting on your meditation cushion and watching your breath and observing your sensation and noting your thoughts and your emotions.
“One person with courage is a majority.”
Or as Thích Nhất Hạnh the great Vietnamese zen master writes, “When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked, all would be lost. But even if one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.”
It’s our job to be that one person in the boat. You may see people around you freaking out. You may go to the grocery store. You may see people slipping into panic, but just the simple smile or a glance of compassion, a look of kindness on the face, can have so much impact on transforming the world around you because of the world that’s happening inside of you, based off of your practices and your training. So it’s our job to remain steady, equanimous, and calm so that we’re spreading courage instead of fear.
Now, naturally, we’re going to feel the fear. I’ve certainly felt quite a bit of it. Fears come up, stresses come up. There’s been those moments where I had too had to go grab a grocery cart full of toilet paper and soap and laundry detergent and even had the thought, “Oh, should I have a gun?” And I see that arising. I see that coming up, but then wisdom takes over. And I don’t become overly identified with the stress and the fear because of the ability to step out of that, to no longer identify with it, and to simply see it, to recognize it, acknowledge it, bow down to it. Thank you, fear. I know that you’re trying to protect me. Thank you, panic. I know this is wired into my physiology. And yet, this isn’t the only option of how I can move through life.
So with everything being shut down right now, and so many of us going through these forced retreats, things coming to a grinding halt, this is the perfect time to deepen your practice. It’s also the perfect time to deepen your relationships with the people you share a home with, the people that exist in your community.
I think about one of my students who is an inmate in a maximum security prison. At one point, he was thrown into solitary confinement due to violent and bad behavior. They put one of my 108-day yoga programs inside of his cell on this computer screen, and he started to do the program. He wrote me a letter, and he shared this really moving, magnificent story about how his jail cell completely transformed as if it were a cave deep in the Himalayan mountains. He turned his cell into a place where he could take solace within his practice. He proceeded to move through those 108 days doing yoga, doing meditation. And ultimately, it completely transformed his body, his mind, his heart, and started to transform the prison around him. The guards were shocked this inmate had completely done a turnaround. He took what could’ve been a really difficult, challenging experience, and he spun it into something that became an incredible opportunity for growth and awakening.
In our practice, we access the timeless dimension beyond body, thoughts, emotions, sometimes called the ‘Loving Awareness’ dimension. Loving awareness is the vast ocean. Contained within this ocean are waves. The coronavirus sweeping across the world right now is a wave. No doubt, it’s a tsunami-like, but it’s not the entire ocean. The panic, fear, and worry, are like secondary waves. And those too are just waves in the ocean. The recognition that who you are on a deeper level, is much bigger and greater than this temporary, impermanent crisis we’re currently facing can bring you some peace, to have the wisdom that, “all things must pass.”
There was a king devoid of happiness despite having all the gold he could ever want. He heard about a wise master in the forest, and summoned his guards to bring him to the palace. He requested of the master, “Show me how to become happy and peaceful.” The spiritual master said, “Give me two weeks. I’ll come back, and I’ll show you the way.” After two weeks passed, the master came back to see the king. The king was ready give the special teacher as much gold as he wanted but the humble wiseman said, “No amount of gold is worth what I am about to teach you.” He proceeded to take a small box out of this pocket, slowly opened it up and pulled out a simple ring. He asked the king to look at an inscription carved on the underside of it. The inscription read, “This too shall pass.” The master said, ”Through the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows of life, I want you to always come back to this phrase repeating it 3 times.” The king did as he was instructed, and went on to become happy and joyful, peaceful possessing both internal and external wealth.
There’s a saying in India, ‘No Mud, No Lotus.’ You can’t have a beautiful flower without the fertile ground of mud. The mud is the current crisis. But out of the crisis of mud, comes an immeasurable opportunity for beauty and magnificence.
Right now, is a tremendous opportunity for both individual and collective awakening.
The word ‘crisis’ in the Chinese it’s made of two characters. One means ‘danger,’ and the other ‘opportunity.’ Maybe this pandemic is giving us the opportunity to awaken as a society.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if we all spent the next few weeks doing tons of yoga and meditation, and then emerged from this global crisis with a clear understanding ‘we all belong to each other?’
A person with wisdom, never asks, “Why is this happening to me?” They always ask, “Why is this happening for me?”
You’re only as good as the questions that you ask. And when you ask the question, “Why is this happening to me?” you go into Victim Consciousness. Adversely, when you ask the question, “Why is this happening for me?” you go into Empowered Consciousness. With Empowered Consciousness, you focus on the solution instead of the problem.
Viktor Frankl, who survived but lost his entire family in the Nazi concentration camps, endured immeasurable suffering. He shared, “We who lived in the concentration camps can remember those who walked through the huts, comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from us but the last of human freedoms, the freedom to choose our spirit in any circumstance.”
I think about this really moving story I heard on the news recently – maybe you heard it too – about a priest who in his 70s, contracted the coronavirus. As he lay in his deathbed, dying, next to him was a younger person also very sick. Because of a lack of resources, the priest compassionately gave his ventilator up to the younger person, even at the expense of his own life. This incredibly generous act shows us what the human spirit is capable of.
It’s stories like this that in these moments of crisis, in these moments of tremendous darkness that we see, over and over, these incredible examples of light. So much of the human experience is the dance between loss and gain, pleasure and pain, health and sickness, birth and death. Our job as yogis, meditators, and human beings is to move through the vicissitudes of life with a peaceful mind and a compassionate awakened heart.
If you look for it, you’ll see it. It’s everywhere, beauty and magnificence, can be found in the worst of times, just like the priest who gave up his ventilator, just like the people in the concentration camps giving each other a piece of bread. You see the Italians, every evening when the sun is setting, are singing out songs from their balconies, clambering on pots to give songs and music of gratitude to the doctors and the healthcare workers on the front lines. You see the teenagers using their phones to sing songs and share live music to senior citizens and nursing care facilities. You see all the people coming together online through Zoom and YouTube and Facebook and Instagram Live. It is happening all around us.
It’s times like these that really make you appreciate all the things you take for granted. I mean, when was the last time you went to the grocery store and you were stressed out about whether there was going to be toilet paper or not, or whether they were going to have pasta or rice? We take so much for granted, especially in the Western world.
When we calm the mind, we start to see the lotus rising out of the mud. We see how the air quality is greatly improving all around the world. We needed that. You can feel how the energy has settled, especially in my home city of Los Angeles. I mean, usually, Los Angeles has so much hustle and bustle and noise and pollution and activity, and I’ve never seen it like this. It’s even more settled than it is on a big holiday like Christmas.
I see the people walking around the neighborhood, and walking with no agenda. They’re just strolling. People everywhere have been forced to slow down. It’s almost like for decades, we as a society have been inhaling, inhaling, inhaling, and this is a moment where we, “aaaaaaaahhh — exhale.” We needed this time to slow down.
People are asking, “Is what I’m doing with my life, does it really matter?” When we move through crisis, it puts things into perspective. When I went through my near-death drowning experience in Kauai and then a near-death experience with the tsunami in Thailand in 2004, it put things into perspective. It made me ask those questions. “Is what I’m doing with my life, does it really matter?” Those moments of crisis changed my life.
So I’ve been taking many walks through the neighborhood. Yesterday, I heard the birds singing, and I stopped, and I looked up. I enjoyed the beautiful music of the birds. I noticed the wind blowing, leaves glistening with sunlight, and the birds were looking down upon me as if to say, ”Man, what’s going on with these humans? They’re so chill!”
All things in life, they teach us something. In India, they have the expression, “Experience is the greatest teacher.”
So if we ask the question, why is the coronavirus crisis happening, not to us but for us, then maybe we start to see the answer being revealed.
Maybe the coronavirus is happening for us to remind us to do healthy acitivities, to live a lifestyle that keeps our immunity strong, to teach us the power of slowing down, to spend more time with our loved ones, to appreciate the beauty of nature, and to look out for each other as humans.
In yoga and mindfulness practice, we ‘sit and we sweep the garden.’ The sit is symbolic of your practice. And when you practice, as my teacher Jack Kornfield so eloquently says, “we’re putting on the cloak of wisdom that provides protection.” Our practice, it provides a protection so that in these moments when there is fear, chaos, panic, disease, and sickness, we’re protected. We’re held in the medicine of the dharma. And after the sit, inevitably, the other side of the coin is that then we sweep the garden. And sweeping the garden is the metaphor for tending to the world, the affairs of life, maintaining our responsibilities, going to the grocery store to go get groceries and supplies. As we carry on we can offer the medicine of compassion and kindness.
“Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
There are many ways you can be of service right now. Here are a few.
Number One, ‘Stay engaged.’ I know some people in these times, they become hopeless. They go into despair. They go into freeze mode, and feel they can’t act. And that’s an incredibly selfish thing to do. We don’t want to be selfish in these times. We want to be selfless. Ask yourself, How can I be most of service? How can I be most helpful? What can I do in my own small way?” Even if it’s as simple as offering another person, that you’re walking by, a smile of kindness and compassion.
Number two, ‘Connect with your loved ones.’
Number three, ‘Celebrate the goodness that is present everywhere.’ And if you’re not seeing it, you might not be looking deeply enough for it.
Number four, ‘Remember, This too shall pass.’ This is a wave. Who you are on a deeper level is the ocean, and…
Number five, have faith that we will all emerge from this crisis more awakened. We will grow from this opportunity. And that is a beautiful thing and a beautiful treasure that we carry together.
I’d like to finish this podcast with a poem, that’s gone viral, called “Lockdown,” by an Irish priest, Brother Richard Hendrick, who writes,
“Yes, there is fear. Yes, there is isolation. Yes, there is panic buying. Yes, there is sickness. Yes, there is even death. But they say that in Wuhan, after so many years of noise, you can hear the birds again. They say that after just a few weeks of quiet, the sky is no longer thick with fumes, but blue and grey and clear. They say that in the streets of Assisi, people are singing to each other across the empty squares, keeping their windows open so that they, those who are alone, may hear the sounds of family all around them. They say that a hotel in the west of Ireland is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound. Today, a young woman I know is busy spreading fliers, with her number, through the neighborhood so that the elders may have someone to call on. Today, churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples are preparing to welcome and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary. All over the world, people are slowing down and reflecting. All over the world, people are looking at their neighbors in a new way. All over the world, people are waking up to a new reality, to how big we really are, to how little control we have, to what really matters, to love. So we pray. And we remember that, yes, there is fear, but there does not have to be hate. Yes, there is isolation, but there does not have to be loneliness. Yes, there is panic buying, but there does not have to be meanness. Yes, there is sickness, but there does not have to be the disease of the soul. Yes, there is even death, but there can always be a rebirth of love. Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now. Today, breathe. Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic, the birds are singing again. The sky is clearing, spring is coming, and we are always encompassed by love. Open the windows of your soul. And though you may not be able to touch across the empty square, sing.
All right. Let’s finish with the Ultimate Prayer.
“May we bring strength where there is weakness.
May we bring courage where there is fear.
May we bring compassion where there is suffering.
And may we bring light where there is darkness.
May we be ultimate.”