The coronavirus emergency has put many under house “arrests.” How are we experiencing this precautionary measure? Do we simply kill time, not to go crazy, or do we consider this moment of suspension as an opportunity, not to be wasted?
To give you an example, the other day I was on the phone with my mother. She told me she was tidying up his documents: all kinds of paperwork that had accumulated over time in drawers, boxes and closets. Speaking to my sister, she also confided to me that she was doing the same. Both claimed to experience great satisfaction in that exercise of “tidying up,” which until then they never found the time to start, let alone complete. The exercise involved viewing the accumulated documents, one by one, sometimes associated with memories and emotions, and for most of them letting them go, once and for all, i.e., eliminating them, thus creating more space. Not only more physical space, in drawers and closets, but also, and above all, more mental space.
After speaking with them, by association, it came back to me the experience of the so-called “life review,” which many people report having lived during a near-death experience. This involves reviving one’s past in an accelerated way, as in a film, not only in the form of images, but also of emotions and sensations. Many neuroscientists are confident that they will be able to explain these phenomena on a neurophysiological basis, even if there is a conflict between the possibility of such perfectly conscious remembrances, and the fact that the brain is in a non-functioning condition with regard to its higher mental functions. On the other hand, just as a corpuscular view of matter is not able to describe all of its properties, in the same way, not all properties of the mind are perhaps attributable to the sole activity of our brain.
But to return to the interesting “tidying up” exercise of my mother and sister, this parallel with the near-death experiences leads me to observe a few things. The letting go of old memories is a process similar to a “little death.” Because in our memories, in our past, there is a part of our identity. This is to be understood in a dynamic sense, as something in the making, as the result of unceasing processes of discovery and creation. Of discovery, because there are deeper layers in us, more permanent, which we can only see if we realize that our personality is similar to an old dress, which we have been wearing for a long time, so much so that we forgot what it covers. Of creation, because we are evolving beings: starting from what we really are, what is under the habit of our personality, over time we can build new versions of ourselves, possibly better than the previous ones.
All this requires one to cyclically go through moments similar to “small deaths,” where we let go of a “burden” of memories that have become incompatible with our new life projects. Maybe projects not yet clearly expressed and formulated, but which we can somehow already foresee. But precisely because we identify with the content of our memories, with our past, which reverberates and conditions our present, unfortunately often not in a positive way, the tendency is to postpone these “small deaths” as much as possible. There is never time to take some time to “die to oneself” and, consequently, to “be reborn to oneself.” And if there is time, since the process worries us a little, we tend to delay it as much as possible. But death, every form of death, should not be feared, because it does not oppose life in any way: like birth, death is simply one of the many moments that mark life. There are of course small and great deaths, small and great crises, small and great renovations, small and great births and rebirths, but this is what is about, cyclical, inevitable appointments, as every transformation requires the old to die, in order for the new to be born and grow.
Again by association, this reflection takes me back to the Buddhist concept of bardo, an “intermediate state,” of transition, between death and rebirth. If I tell you this is not to convince you of the possibility of reincarnation, but to contemplate with you the powerful symbol that the idea of bardo evokes. That of a period of preparation between one moment of life and the next. It can be understood as a rest period, of course, but also as a period of study, reflection, planning, in order to maximize the great opportunity that a new life represents. And of course, to live a new life it is necessary to first undress the clothes of the previous one.
Allow me an example. Every night, when we go to sleep, we experience not only a small death (hypnagogic state), but also a small bardo, an interval between two lives, a suspension of the ordinary waking consciousness. We are so used to this process that we are not worried about it at all. Every morning, upon awakening (hypnopompic state), we blossom into a new life, that of the new day that awaits us. Sometimes our nights are like real blackouts, so on waking up, little or nothing has changed compared to the previous day, for example regarding our mood and our vision of the world. Other times instead, we discover that the night has brought us advice, that it has been full of new teachings, so we get up renewed, with new resources, new ideas and intuitions, for the new day that opens up to us.
Let me come now to the very particular period we are experiencing. The advent of the coronavirus health crisis has led many to suspend their usual activities; to suspend their lives we could say, finding themselves confined for a long time in their own home. This period of “arrest of usual activities” is like a bardo, an interval between two lives, the one before the coronavirus and the one after the coronavirus. Many in these days will have heard of the need to make a profound change in human society, that this virus is only the precursor symptom of an inevitable change of course. Obviously, this change must be made at different levels, but we can be sure of one thing: it can only take place and stabilize to the extent that it will be acted at the individual level.
At this point, a question arises. How are we going through this interval between two lives, this unexpected “intermissive” period? Are we preparing for our new life, the one after the coronavirus? Are we using the time available to revisit our “old paperwork” and eliminate the useless ones? Because to continue the journey, it is necessary to release the ballast. Have we considered the importance of abandoning the most negative aspects of our old mental habit? What will be our contribution to this great opportunity for renewal? Will we return to our usual life, without changing an iota of the same, as if nothing had happened? Unfortunately, for many, it will be just like that. For many, this period “at home” will only be the pretext to complain more, to lazy more, to dehumanize more.
The other possibility, which is worth exploring in this “intermissive period,” is to tidy up and create more space in our lives, and in this more dilated space, in this renewed quality, try to manifest something truly new. A new life project, a new “mission.” If you don’t know how to do it, I can suggest a very powerful technique, which at this particular moment assumes even greater strength and significance, because it reminds us that we are not immortal, or rather, that the duration of our life is finite, and that time it is not something recyclable. Then, of course, our journey could continue elsewhere, but that’s another story.
The technique is called one year of life. A warning: it can only be advantageously used by individuals with sufficient psychological maturity and is certainly not suitable for people who are too young, for example still in training. It is simply about asking and acting the following question:
If I had only one year left to live, what goal would be a priority for me to achieve, before leaving this plane of existence?
Then, do as if you really have one year to live and take action, in order to achieve the goal in question. All the difficulty (and power) of the technique obviously lies in diving deep enough into the simulation, and thus impart a powerful acceleration to one’s life, over the hypothetical year of life that remains. I say “hypothetical” because none of us know how much time we really have, maybe much more than a year, maybe less. In other words, the whole difficulty of the technique lies in taking the technique seriously enough.
Now, many will immediately realize that they are not yet ready to apply it. Don’t worry, it’s more than normal. As I said, it is a very powerful technique. My advice then is to keep tidying up and creating more space. In doing so, you can ask yourself the following questions: What prevents me from applying the technique right now? What are the obstacles? What are the missing resources? Am I working hard to acquire them? If I’m not, what are the obstacles?
I conclude this reflection of mine by remembering once again that we are in the pause between an exhale and a new inhale; in a phase of suspension that prelude to a new immersion. We are in a mini-bardo. If we are sufficiently lucid, it is easy to understand the importance of this moment; a perfect moment to formulate a new project, to embark on a new challenge. Provided of course we are interested in taking the reins of our life in hand, and that we are aware that we are solely responsible for our evolution.