A version of this article previously appeared on lionsroar.com
Last month, you might have said to yourself, “I’m worried about my knee. It hurts when I go down the stairs.” Today, much more serious worries may crowd your mind: my job is vulnerable, my investments are disappearing, COVID-19 could attack at any moment. You might look back on your knee pain thoughts and remember them fondly.
The financial market volatility caused by COVID-19 reflects the impermanent nature of reality. While we’ve always been at risk of losing everything (or gaining everything!), this universal truth of impermanence is painfully obvious today.
Ignoring or minimizing the truth of ever-changing world conditions, as well as the changing conditions of our bodies and our minds, is a source of tremendous anxiety. This leads us to grasp at and cling to things as if they weren’t supposed to change. But everything is changing all the time: our bodies, our minds, our work, our schooling, and, of course, economic conditions and the stock market. Are we so in denial to think the economy or stock market should only improve? There’s no way out of this anxiety, until we recognize the futility of grasping at impermanence.
Realizing that everything changes allows your grasping mind to relax and anxiety to abate. So, given the amount of fear and pain right now, here are some ways to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity for awakening:
Befriend Your Fear
Instead of wallowing in fear about the virus or the economy, turn your attention to where the fear shows up in your body. Befriending your emotions and thoughts and cultivating calmness are the best tools for financial ease and success. The silver lining in the panic is letting it be the catalyst to help us return to our center, let go of impulsivity, and create equanimity.
Equanimity is one of the most rewarding emotions we can cultivate. It’s the quality of being at ease with everything outside and inside yourself, a way of loosening your grip on fear. Loosening your grip on being afraid may counterintuitively bring you an experience of joy.
The pain we currently feel directs us to look, clear-eyed, at what is so upsetting. Perhaps your net worth has decreased, but what about your value as a human being? As you begin to appreciate your many facets and increase the awareness of your own intrinsic value, do money worries subside? The impermanence of market stability pales in comparison to the ever-present awareness and wisdom of our minds and hearts.
Summon the courage to sense your pain viscerally and allow your awareness around it to expand. Next, describe this pain, the nuances of sensation and temperature, and notice how it changes. Just like your finances fluctuate, so do the sensations in your body. As you grow more present and become a keen observer of changing bodily sensations, you see that the nature of impermanence extends beyond your body to all phenomena.
Now, notice that your thoughts are changing even faster than the world news and stock market. What’s the value of listening to these churning thoughts when they change so frequently? Instead, try listening to your awareness of impermanence, and let wisdom speak: “Everything is always changing. The markets have gone down before and they will rebound, just like they did after 2008, after 2002, after 1974, and even after 1929.”
As I contemplate and more fully understand the nature of impermanence—that everything arises and passes, including our money—I have become inspired to give to individuals in need and to organizations who are increasing our collective wisdom. I know this sounds crazy—to give at the very moment when your money seems to be disappearing. But it’s an effective path to dissolving fear. The amount is less important than the courage to do it. Giving is a courageous act of letting go of all your grasping and attachment.
Allow generosity to become a lighthouse for you. It’s a way to tell your brain that all will be well. It’s a way to stay connected to one another. Community is one of our greatest sources of wealth. Recognizing community lessens the focus on our separate, impermanent, small identity. The fact of our interconnectedness has never been felt more than with Covid-19. The separate self will always find a way to be fearful. Feeling connected to others, with an open and caring heart, is the path to right action, true well-being, and financial freedom.
The world is impermanent, the markets will recover, and the COVID-19 virus won’t go on forever. You could buy even more toilet paper and pasta, stay in fear and worry, and count moons until the world heals. But here’s another option: befriend and get curious about your most unwelcome emotions and thoughts with an awareness that is more spacious and vast than these hindrances. And be generous with your heart, time, and money. May this be our action rather than our re-action. As our life, finances, and work change over the coming months, we can make this a time for inner growth and serving others.