Even as the pandemic becomes endemic, two words frequently show up in conversations even as people begin to express more hope: anxiety and depression.
My husband has regular calls with a group of old friends now scattered across the country. Age and health conditions have put everyone into the “high-risk” category, so they come together virtually. They are all very accomplished and, prior to Covid, were physically and socially well-connected through work and volunteer activities; community, church, family.
During the past three Covid years, many found themselves sadly in unfamiliar territory: isolation meant they were not “out there doing good.” Even as more of them now venture out with increasing frequency, they seem a little less sure of their place in this changed world.
One young Zen student recently became very ill with Covid. She had to rest so much just to make it through the day. As the family’s primary caregiver, she felt helpless, resulting in great anxiety as she wondered how her family could manage without her.
The virus taught her a hard-earned lesson: As conditions – including her own – change, she must accord to them. Failure to do so will only make things worse. In her case, not resting would have meant a longer recovery period. Meanwhile, she learned that by asking for, and accepting help, her family found ways to carry on in the changed circumstances.
Current conditions are different from those of three years ago, three days ago – or even three hours ago. No sense in wishing circumstances could return to the way they were. That is not going to happen. Instead, we must adapt. In the course of adapting, we change and can begin to contemplate what that change may lead to.
Even then, though, we must not become attached to our hopes of what we envision because conditions are always changing. All existence is based on interconnected conditions: change one, others change simultaneously. Cause is effect is cause, and so on.
Depression often comes from hanging onto things from the past, things that have already happened. The past cannot be changed, however; it no longer exists. Anxiety comes from anticipating tomorrow’s events, things that may or may not happen. Tomorrow does not exist. Past and future exist only in our imagination. They are not real.
Only by living here and now can we find a measure of contentment about our lives. But even this present moment is already gone.
Yes, today may not be ideal, but the challenge before all of us is to respond to life even as change happens, including seeing a friend’s smile on a screen rather than in person or enjoying a dinner your family made while you rested.