Spiritual Lessons in the Ebola Scare
Thich Nhat Hahn speaks from the tradition of Engaged Buddhism which I profoundly respect. But I resist the confines of any one spiritual tradition so I’ll refer to this posting as arising from Engaged Mysticism. In it I describe what I see as the spiritual lessons to be learned from this situation which could have become a worldwide catastrophe. It appears to be settling down somewhat at least in North America at this point but it may portend other disasters if we don’t hear its message.
I speak of at least seven lessons.
1. The major lesson is that we are all in it together. We, all of us on Earth are in it, that is, everything, together. Everyone, every single one of us, is affected no matter where something is happening or what is happening. Disease, climate change and political upheaval respect no governmental boundaries. Anything happening in Africa is quite likely to affect us here thousands of miles away.
2. There is no separation, no dualism or division that protects us. Americans once felt the protections of the Oceans. Oceans which once felt impenetrable now seem weak and frail. The myths of protection have collapsed. We could seal our borders. But much of what we love about our way of life would wither and die in the process. And eventually that would fail too. So what happens anywhere happens everywhere. We have a stake in it all.
3. We care not only in self-interest but because all of God’s creation matters. Every Ebola death is a death of the Divine. Not only are we closely connected but we share the Divine. Every time a human spirit is lost a piece of the Divine is lost. The loneliest death in the deepest most primitive section of Liberia is a death of the Divine. All people are not only God’s creatures but are part of Her.
4. In light of this it is important to focus not on fear but on Love, not on politics but Spirit. It is crucial to respond with love and compassion. We have the opportunity in this to change our typical national style. We can move from division and protectionism to open hearted concern for all. As the self-proclaimed greatest country in the world, we can be carriers of love. As the country that wields the greatest military might in the history of humanity, we can move to also wield the greatest compassion ever witnessed. As Gandhi said, “We will learn to live together as brothers (and sisters) or die together as fools.” We in America can contract in fear or reach out in spiritual brother and sisterhood. The lesson is in seeing the choice.
5. Much of the panic people have experienced has been a reaction to facing how vulnerable all of us really are. Shrinking in fear will not help. Reaching out and stretching our arms wide will. Embracing the vulnerability of all people everywhere including here will help.
6. Some of the fear comes from a well worn, very reasonable, skepticism about the possibility of the government and other institutions responding well. Politicians for decades have harangued that our government is incompetent and useless and too many of us have come to believe them. Unfortunately the actions of the government often plays right into the harangue. The CDC made several mind blowing errors in the beginning of this process that undermined the confidence of many people. It is time to demand better. In addition, it is important to see that many of the very politicians who now self-righteously demand improvement are the very same ones who have for decades cut the budgets of agencies like the CDC. What they sow, we now reap. These politicians need to be called out about this. Vaccines for the treatment of Ebola have been on the shelf for many years. But there is no profit in vaccines for diseases thought to be confined to Africa. “Big pharma” needs to hear about this. Engaged mystics need to be speaking truth to power with compassion and caring.
7. I am mot a medical researcher or an expert on Ebola. But, I do know that those who go to the front lines to treat people in other countries are heroes as surely as are our other first responders. It may be that we have to institute draconian forms of quarantine. I do not know but I do know panic and political fear mongering don’t help. To get it right we need to be guided by the best scientific minds in our country and on our planet. Not by hysterical politicians setting themselves up for their next elections.
In summary, the lessons in this are many. But they all begin with recognition of the depth of our interconnection. Escape from this interconnection is neither possible not desirable since it is inherent in the spiritual nature of being human.
We need to get it right. The world needs us to get it right. The opportunity of this sort of challenge will come again. It is the nature of the chaotic time in which we live. If we learn now we can choose how to engage with the challenges more wisely next time.