Guest Post by Nirit Sommerfeld
We are all going through an unusual time, at present. Most of us haven’t experienced World War II, yet we find the Corona crisis as the profound and decisive event having occurred since that global catastrophe.
Currently, we are living under largely optimal conditions here in Germany. The standard of hygiene is high, medical care is excellent and we (still) have the option of selecting the medication which we believe to be the best for us. The prerequisite for such an attitude, however, is that we must have developed a certain awareness for staying healthy and acquired an inner sense of knowing what is really good for us. But how would we be able to definitely assert the correct choice of medicine, vaccination and food in times of uncertainty?
I am convinced that the greatest obstacle to making clear-cut decisions is our fear. Fear is an extremely powerful phenomenon, it is often described as being the strongest emotion, overriding all other psychological mechanisms in humans. This is vital in life-saving situations: When someone approaches you with a knife, it is fear that will make your adrenaline shoot up, provide you with a strength never imagined possible and make you run and scream for your life. But fear can also paralyze, make you aggressive or depressive. Yet fear is our natural companion, it is part of the “inevitability of our lives”, as Fritz Riemann mentions in the foreword of his book, Basic Forms of Anxiety, 1961; even today a standard reference on psychoanalysis. Thus, the crucial question is not how to get rid of fear, but rather how we can learn to deal with it, so that our life will not dominated by it.
Riemann writes : “We can only try to develop counter-forces against fear: courage, trust, knowledge, power, hope, humility, faith and love. These can help us to accept fear, to deal with it, to defeat it again and again.”But how is this going to function in times when we are surrounded by flurries of varying points of views coming at us through the media that all the more are likely to increase our fear? Be it the fear of the virus, of disease, of death or the fear of state control, loss of freedom and democracy?
First and above all: Our subject is not about eliminating fear completely out of our lives. It is about not being determined by it, not being trapped in it. Not without reason, it is said: "Fear is not a good counselor". Rather, it is about accepting fear, i.e. becoming aware of it, dealing with it, in order to let it go, at least a little bit. Yes, but how?
I can't present you with a magic formula, but I can relate to you what works for me. It begins by accepting the fact that in this very moment, I am frightened, tormented by doubts and totally dissatisfied. I ask myself: Do I want to continue feeling like this? I have a free will, hence, I have the option of making a choice. I make my choice - that of not letting fear overrule me. Then, I lean back, sit or lie down comfortably, close my eyes and put my hands on my stomach. I watch it rise and fall with every breath. I also observe my worrying thoughts. I am grateful for my brain being powerful and I direct my thoughts to leave me and to come back later. Then, I think of all the good that surrounds me: my warm room (even if it rains outside), my cozy bed, the roof over my head, the filled fridge; my love-relationship, my job; the many possibilities my personal freedom gives me: going out into the fresh air, communicating with others, being mobile with my car (even, if that is currently somewhat restricted).
Gradually, my thoughts turn to all that I have lost in my life, how that final parting felt each time. I had to say goodbye to my youth and my fast-reacting, light body, goodbye to adventures, to other love relationships, to my homeland and to one dream or another. I picture all these situations as precisely as possible, breathe and feel into them. Sometimes, tears flow.
And then I question myself: How did it continue on afterwards? How did I go on living? Did I survive that certain loss? This question is also important, as strange as it may sound! It is also essential to observe your mind carefully, if your thoughts provide you with answers. Often an answer could begin with "Yes, but ...". Yes, but it hurt so much! Yes, but I missed her/him so much! Yes, but it has never been the same again! And then, again the question: Have you survived it?
My most important perception: Afterwards is never again like before. Things change. Everything is always moving. Also life goes on. Until it ends. Dying is inevitable. We should do well to acquaint ourselves with this banal and yet so important fact. Just as we all - without a single exception – have come into this life through the miracle of birth, so shall we – guaranteed without exception – leave this life again. Therefore, it is vitally important to me, how this life is lived in the Here and Now. I wish it for my entire environment - humans, animals and plants - that we could live in a well-tolerated and self-determined way – mainly to be free of fear and other pains. Of course, they are not avoidable, but the knowledge that things most assuredly shall continue on and the world continue to turn, even after my modest, little existence has taken on a different form, this gives me strength and confidence. And what could happen? If I fall ill, I shall most certainly get well again. I have already overcome several serious ailments. Whenever I am ill, I know that I must be sensible, protect myself from the danger of being irresponsible, eat healthy food, exercise in the fresh air as much as possible, laugh a lot and not take in too much news through the media. Listening to the radio in the morning and evening for a quarter of an hour is often adequate in keeping up with the times.
To state it bluntly: I do not want to trivialize the Covid-19 diseases. But I am convinced that we can deal better with them, if we treat them with a certain distance and respect rather than anxiety. Fear has been proven to weaken our immune system, and we cannot use that at the moment.
In keeping this in mind: Stay healthy and happy, encourage yourself and others in choosing to do so! Smile and keep breathing.