Keeping Sane through Patience during COVID-19

Confusion, overwhelm, and maybe even depression mark the effects of this pandemic on so many of us. Cultivating 3 different types of patience with the help of her faith, suggests Phyllis Chew, helps her endure day-to-day difficulties.

It’s easy to get depressed during this season — many people have been forced to take their annual leave or no-pay leave, or otherwise lose their jobs altogether. If you are one of those who’s constantly on your mobile broadband, there is a high chance you have already been Zoomed-out by a glut of information.

It’s not unusual to be confused and overwhelmed as the number of infection cases fluctuates and as information shifts as the virus moves through different parts of the world. Worse, there are conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19 and yet there are no perfect solutions. 

So what we need really is to cultivate the patience of Job, a biblical character in the Hebrew scriptures who patiently endured all manners of hardship relating to his wealth, his family, and his health without ever losing faith in himself or his God. 

Three types of patience are needed: first, patience to deal with the information overload and the unknown. How do we move forward in the light of racism, classism, materialism and inequality, which the pandemic puts before us through the internet? Certainly, we need to be particularly selective with the information one is receiving.

Second, we need to have patience with ourselves. One way to do this is to talk to ourselves more, to reflect or meditate. We need to pay closer attention to our thoughts, to the way we communicate with ourselves. We need to catch ourselves saying things that are not productive, kind, or truthful. This will help to keep anxiety away and productive thoughts in. In this way we bring ourselves up, rather than down. When we listen to our inner voice, we become aware of what we are processing and this, in turn, makes it easier to extend patience to others, rather than falling to the temptation to lash out at others under stress. 

Once we are done with our reflective fixation on the practical implications of the lockdown, i.e. the loss of income and cancellation of events which we had been looking forward to, we can then meditate on the spiritual aspects.

Here what we learn will not come from books or any authoritative figure but rather from ourselves. Bahá’u’lláh, in the Book of Certainty (Kitab-i-Iqan, p.238) reminds us “One hour’s reflection is preferable to seventy years of pious worship,” a saying that is also known in the Islamic, especially Sufi, tradition; Hujwiri writes in the Kashf al-Mahjub that “the Prophet (s.a.w.) has said, “Tafakkaru saatin khairun min ibadati sittina sanah” (An hour’s contemplation is better than sixty years of formal/ritual worship” (trans. M W B Rabbani, p. 119). Indeed, reflection helps us gather our inner strength. 

Finally, after finding the patience within ourselves, we need to be patient with others. All religions teach us that it is easier for us to love one another when we overlook the shortcomings of others.  In other words, we must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise. When this is done, it is easy to be a friend to everyone, and the whole human race.  

This is because when we look at people or a nation from the standpoint of their faults, then being a friend is a formidable task. However, when we look at them from the standpoint of their strengths, being a friend becomes very much easier.

For example, the other day I caught myself complaining about a friend who I love but whom I think is making a major silly mistake in the current crossroads of her life. But instead of letting myself feel dejected and unhappy that she did not heed my advice but followed her own path instead, I reminded myself how sincere and kind a person she had always been and I took a few minutes to relive a happy and carefree memory of a time when I had enjoyed her companionship. This made my current complaint seem small and petty, and I felt that I was able to flood my apprehension and resentment with love and respect for her decision. 

Baha’u’llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, said: “Lay not on any soul a load which ye would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for any one the things ye would not desire for yourselves.” We hope that people won’t look at our weaknesses. In fact, we hope they will be patient and love us even when we are not our best selves. We can practice patience much more easily if we really cling to the Golden Rule — the common spiritual thread in many religions: “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.”

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