The global virus is teaching us all many things. Each person is receiving this teaching individually through the context of their own history and personality. And of course, we are learning hard and necessary lessons collectively. As the financial impact of the crisis causes deep concern, we are forced to ask unwelcome questions about fundamental values – are we going to continue insanely believing that GDP has to increase continuously? Will we learn to live within our limits? Can we discover what ‘enough’ means? Will we teach the next generation that being content with enough is the condition of the ‘happiness’ that we have been seeking in the wrong places and in the worst of ways.
Firstly, though, the virus is teaching us realism. We cannot control the spread of the virus by going on warm days to crowded beaches or parks. What we are seeing on the screens is real in our personal lives. With a strong dose of realism, we become ready to learn patience.
Patience is a precious virtue because it is a basic element of learning anything at all. Maybe after the crisis when schools and colleges open again, we will remember what patience means. We will not approach education as something to be heated up quickly in a microwave and delivered as a qualification. We will find it repulsive that education, even at the elementary level for young children, produces stress, anxiety and mental illness because of its competitiveness and obsession with quantified evaluation. Will we remember that the raising of children requires time spent with them because they need to be soaked in personal attention not put in front of digital babysitters. Maybe we will learn that it takes time to learn anything: that our millennial impatience to become expert at something in an overpaid fast track does not lead to good work.
Maybe we will remember that meditation was not invented and packaged to help us cope with stress; or to solve problems merely so as to continue lifestyles that cause those problems. We meditate, as John Main said, because we are made to meditate. Meditation is about opening our eyes to reality in its colourful diversity and wondrous simplicity. Meditation teaches us patience and we need patience to enjoy.
WE also need it to know how to suffer. Those who have become patients at home or in hospital, having caught the virus, learn how patience teaches, as the root of the word itself shows, that patience is the quality of suffering. Thinking that patience is just about waiting for something to come or go, only makes us finger-tappingly impatient. Patience teaches us how to accept and grow through suffering. How to endure, be resilient, be peaceful, caring for others even in our own distress.
In a hedonistic world, pursuing happiness in the wrong places, we create suffering without learning how to suffer. The inescapable secret of life is to know how to suffer. So, let’s remember this is the second half of Lent. We are preparing to contemplate the Passion of Christ. Passion, in this sense, is the deepest patience, the bridge between suffering and joy.