Mentally Coping with a Pandemic: Lessons from the Celestine Prophecy
How adopting an us-first instead of a me-first attitude will get us through this crisis and help design life afterwards
“We’re here on this planet not to build personal empires of control, but to evolve.” — James Redfield
Most of us have been in lockdown for about two months or more. Some countries are slowly coming out of it. How are you holding up? Are you overwhelmed or angry? Or have you been taking this as an opportunity to reflect or work on goals you never had the time for? Everyone’s process is different. Can you mentally cope with this pandemic?
I live in the Netherlands and restrictions are slowly being alleviated. Although it’s become more than clear that society will not go back to normal anytime soon. But while we long for the good old days, there’s something else we can do with this newfound time. We can think about life post-corona. Who do you want to be after this? What’s more, how do we want the world to look like after this?
The School of Life, a global organization that helps people lead more fulfilled lives through philosophy, has been using this period to help people reflect on what we’re all going through. They organize Zoom webinars and dive into topics like how to cope with being around your partner in isolation or how to turn to the Stoics to grapple with everything that’s happening. Recently, I joined a talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and ‘Big Magic’. The latter is my favorite book on creativity — ever.
Elizabeth shared a profound story about someone she met who went to prison. During his time, he was put in an isolation cell for weeks. He remunerated that he had never felt so scared in his life. He was on the verge of becoming mad until he realized he could also take the time to truly reflect on his life and do some soul searching. He later said: “suddenly I found myself in isolation and that’s where I found myself.” I love the expression and the sentiment but I get it’s not everyone’s mentality to find the light in even the darkest of places.
What I want to illustrate is that we’re all mentally coping with the effects of this pandemic. What works for me, is to reflect, to discuss, and to search. How can we get back stronger from this? What do we need to learn about ourselves and our past behavior? As individuals, but also as nations and a global civilization.
I’m a big believer in books finding you at the right time. For years, I’ve been wanting to read ‘The Celestine Prophecy’ by James Redfield. Early March, when life wasn’t disrupted by a pandemic yet, I visited Ghent in Belgium with a friend. One of my city trip rules is to always visit a bookstore or a book market. At a book market, I found the book for €2,-. Sold.
A week later, the first cases emerged in the Netherlands. Another week later restrictions were put in place until an ‘intelligent’ lockdown was announced on the 17th of March. I opened the book. Have you ever read a book at a time that precisely reflected what you were going through? Well, you might want to consider picking up this book now you’re coping with the effects of lockdown. It will put life in perspective. Let’s dive into the lessons.
Lesson 1: We need to change our attitude
While the book was published in 1993, it’s relevant whenever you pick it up. Considering the state of the world, the insights from this book are perhaps more pressing now than ever. The protagonist in the novel travels to Peru to seek a mysterious manuscript containing nine insights about life. On his travels, he encounters professors and priests who are all after the book. As well as a high priest who wants to ban it and who has the government in his pocket to avoid people from spreading the manuscript at all cost.
All nine insights can teach you something about yourself, how you interact with people, how to go after your dreams, the influence of your parents on your personality, how people affect nature, and how we can make it better. These insights can be applied to these pandemic times too and especially life after corona.
Why would we suddenly gain insight into existence now? Why do we need a pandemic for this? Because the universe conspired to push the breaks on almost every human life. To put a halt to all the busyness and everyone running the rat race.
“We’re all looking for more fulfillment in our lives, and we won’t put up with anything that seems to bring us down. This restless searching is what’s behind the ‘me — first’ attitude that has characterized recent decades, and it’s affecting everyone, from Wall Street to street gangs.” — James Redfield
Since the industrial revolution, and especially after the second world war, we’ve been on an incredible journey together called economic growth. As a result, for the majority of the countries on Earth, basic needs like food and shelter were covered. Capitalism fueled our restless searching James Redfield mentions above. We wanted more. Which is everyone’s right. I do too. I’d like a nice house, with no financial worries, and being able to do whatever I want. It’s how we’re wired. However, when the majority of the people on Earth have this mentality, someone or something has to pay the price. And who’s at the wrong end of the bargain? Mother nature. And you know who else? Us.
For years I’d been furiously working on growing my business. Long hours, my private life blurred with business. On top of that, I wanted to pursue writing and give it my all. The said business started failing after five years. More work to keep it afloat was required. More stress ensued. And I never stopped. Until I started having panic attacks and burned out. How many people my generation burn out because they take on too much and demand too much of themselves? Does this have anything to do with that restless searching? Having more, making money, achieving something.
When you allow yourself to get carried away in that restless search you start to disconnect from yourself. And in my case, I disconnected from the people around me. It was all about my issues. But there’s more at stake. With that disconnect, you start to live in the future and become anxious about some daunting future outcomes. Or you dwell on past mistakes that put you in that narrow position. You aren’t connected to the present. That’s one of the fundamental messages of The Celestine Prophecy, to connect, observe, preserve, and interact.
Take this time to examine how you have been living your life pre-corona. Are you connected with yourself, the people around you, to nature? Is there a healthy way to leave that restlessness behind?
You know what? It’s hard to reconnect like that. But you can. Pause and find solutions. After therapy, much needed rest, a long-term trip, and burning bridges I connected again. And the most beautiful part is that I was able to help friends afterward with similar problems.
Sometimes it’s good to hit the brakes and think: what do those around me need? What can I help them with? Corona is a perfect example of this. We stay home to protect ourselves and others. Many people volunteer their time to help others. People reach out to one another and talk about what’s happening and share what they’re afraid of. We’re moving from a me-first mentality to an us-first mentality. The question is, will we able to keep that mentality?
This goes beyond ourselves. The me-first mentality worldwide has made way for exploitation of the one resource we need most: our planet. Will we use this time of disruptive change to tackle another disbalance? Will we start treating mother nature with benevolence instead of exploitation?
“The text pointed clearly to the Fourth Insight. It said that eventually humans would see the universe as comprised of one dynamic energy, an energy that can sustain us and respond to our expectations. Yet we would also see that we have been disconnected from the larger source of this energy, that we have cut ourselves off and so have felt weak and insecure and lacking. In the face of this deficit, we humans have always sought to increase our personal energy in the only manner we have known: by seeking to psychologically steal it from others an unconscious competition that underlies all human conflict in the world.” — James Redfield
Isn’t it time to see how we can upgrade as human beings, nations, and citizens of the world?
Lesson 2: How to cope with a fear of change
“The Seventh Insight says that fear images should be halted as soon as they come. Then another image, one with a good outcome, should be willed through the mind. Soon, negative images will almost never happen. Your intuitions will be about positive things.” James Redfield
Change induces fear. And boy, a lot is changing. Life as we knew it has been brutally disrupted. Things may never return to normal. But does it have to? Together we can shape the new normal.
When COVID-19 reached the Netherlands, people got scared. Including me. When a lockdown was enforced we became even more scared. Scared for our health and that of our loved ones, of our livelihood, way of life, and freedom. The freedom that has been centuries in the making.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself. These fears have disappeared in the weeks that followed. Time will circumvent fear. Ideas can circumvent fear. Imagination, invention, creation, all diminish fear. Humans are wired for it, but we only realize after the fact how capable we really are.
Most people reacted to the pandemic with compassion, which overrules fear. Helping each other big or small. From supporting a friend by listening to their problems to delivering meals to the poor. Us-first.
“This way of consciously relating, in which everyone attempts to bring out the best in others rather than to have power over them, is a posture the entire human race will eventually adopt. Think of how everyone’s energy level and pace of evolution will increase at that point!” — James Redfield
I don’t have the answers, but I do have ideas and questions to think about a new normal. A world which revolves about us-first, about giving back, about more compassion. Where businesses shape new ways of operations where green initiatives come first. Where people with vital jobs get the pay they deserve. Where governments play around with basic income. Where we are more supportive of our communities. What do you think will help upgrade the way the world is organized?
The following passage in the book is striking, James Redfield writes: “‘This will be part of the first great shift that will occur,’ he continued, ‘But the important thing for us right now is that we can now understand where we are going. We could not save the environment and democratize the planet and feed the poor before because for so long we could not release our fear of scarcity and our need to control, so that we could give to others. We couldn’t release it because we had no view of life that served as an alternative. Now we do!’”
Perhaps the obstacle (the virus) is the way (to rearrange society for the better. For all beings and our planet itself. It all starts with a great shift in our ideas about the society of the future.
Lesson 3: The great shift
“‘Once we reach the critical mass’, he continued, ‘and the insights begin to come in on a global scale, the human race will first experience a period of intense introspection. We’ll grasp how beautiful and spiritual the natural world really is. We’ll see trees and rivers and mountains as temples of great power to be held in reverence and awe. We’ll demand an end to any economic activity that threatens this treasure. And those closest to this situation will find alternative solutions to this pollution problem because someone will intuit these alternatives as they seek their own evolution.” — James Redfield
You might have seen the headlines or photos: the skyline of Katmandu free of smog with a view on the Himalayas, the canals of Venice clear as a gemstone, and crawling with fish, a dolphin in the waters of Amsterdam. Nature is awe-inspiring. It’s true what Redfield says above, many people have a newfound reverence for the might and beauty of nature.
In his Financial Times article, author Yuval Noah Harari argues that the choices we now make will determine what our future will look like. One of his main conclusions is that nations worldwide need to cooperate more. What has traditionally prevented nations from cooperating? A me-first attitude. If there’s one thing corona has shown us, is that it doesn’t care about nationality, race, gender, or anything that divides us. Stronger together sounds idealistic, but it is the truth.
The shift in our attitude and conquering our fear of change, of losing what we had, has stirred people’s creativity for developing a better normal. A potential great shift. Where the sum is more than its parts because we shift from me to us.
“Guided by their intuitions, everyone will know precisely what to do and when to do it, and this will fit harmoniously with the actions of others. No one will consume excessively because we will have let go of the need to possess and to control for security. […] According to the Manuscript, he went on, our sense of purpose will be satisfied by the thrill of our own evolution — by the elation of receiving intuitions and then watching closely as our destinies unfold. The Ninth [Insight] depicts a human world where everyone has slowed down and become more alert, ever vigilant for the next meaningful encounter that comes along. We will know that it could occur anywhere: on a path that winds through a forest, for instance, or on a bridge that traverses some canyon.” — James Redfield