MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --
This time last month, I had never heard of “COVID-19.” The term “Coronavirus” was just beginning to ping on my radar as I read the news. But here we are, knee-deep in a necessary-but-painful precautionary process to protect ourselves and our community from this virus. We’re practicing “social distancing” and ensuring that we steer clear of crowds. We are washing our hands. We are staying home. Everything is getting cancelled. In order to stay physically healthy, we are disconnecting.
But how are we focused on the other pillars of health, which are so dependent on connection? There’s the mental pillar and the social pillar, both of which are focused on connection. And there’s the spiritual pillar, which is the area I’m most familiar with as a chaplain.
The spiritual pillar focuses on the deep senses of purpose, meaning, and value in our lives. The spiritual pillar helps us define our “why.” So often, the answer to our “why” has to do with a relationship: to another person, to a cause, to our faith, and to our true selves. Spirituality is about connection.
While spirituality and religion are not the same thing, religion also focuses on connection through tradition, rituals, and community. The word religion is made primarily from the Latin word “ligere,” meaning “to connect.” Add to it the prefix “re-“ and the word religion means “to re-connect” or “to connect again.” The Latin word ligere is the same word that gave us the word “ligament,” the bands of tissue in your body that connect muscle and bone. So the word religion has at its core the idea of connection.
Whether your spirituality involves a religious faith or not, I think we would all agree that connections and relationships enrich our lives. But what happens when a virus like COVID-19 drives us all into our homes and forces us to practice social distancing? Does the need for physical safety trump the need for spiritual connection?
Not at all. In this season of physical isolation, there is still so very much you and I can do to promote spiritual wellness. Connection is still all around us. Here are a few humble suggestions from someone who is still very much a pilgrim on a journey toward deeper spiritual life.
First, try writing a gratitude journal. Grab a notebook and put it on your nightstand. At the end of your day, simply jot down three to five things you’re grateful for from the day. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering stuff, although if something amazing happened, write that down too! You could simply mention, “I had hot water for a shower.” “I enjoyed the BLT sandwich I had for lunch.” “I got a loving text message from my spouse.” These are all simple things for which we can (and should) be grateful. By making a regular practice of gratitude, you will find yourself to be more patient, more kind, more centered, and more optimistic about life.
Second, try reading an inspirational book or novel. We do a lot of reading on social media, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about getting immersed in a story where a person or people go through hardship and emerge on the other side. This could be the Holy Book from your faith or it could be a biography of a person you admire. It could be poetry that causes you to see the world through a new lens. It could be a motivational speaker or author who invites you to tap into the deeper principles of your life’s purpose. If a particular line, verse, or quote jumps out at you, write it down on a sticky note and put it somewhere prominent in your life (a car dashboard, a bathroom mirror, etc.). Perhaps even commit it to memory. By filling your mind, heart, and soul with “the good stuff,” you’ll be able to weather the storms like we are going through now.
Third, commit to conversation. Communication is key to connection and a conversation can become like the keychain holding that key. Instead of texting or direct messaging people on social media, actually call them so you can hear their voice and/or see their face. Look up silly icebreaker questions online to have fun learning more about your friend or family member. Commit to the deeper human connection that a conversation provides. If prayer is a part of your faith, commit to that conversation too, both speaking and listening (because what real conversation is only one-sided?) in order to connect with the power and purpose that our faiths provide us. And check-in with yourself through silent meditation and thought. The gratitude journal that I mentioned earlier is another part of a healthy conversation with yourself.
Fourth, listen to uplifting and inspirational music. In her book Daring Greatly, author Brene Brown describes the various “arena anthems” she has in her life, songs that pump her up and make her refocus on her purpose. You can actually go to Spotify and listen to her “arena anthem” playlist featuring songs by everyone from Journey and Jimmy Eat World to Bon Jovi and Beyoncé. But what’s more important is you being able to identify your anthems. What is the soundtrack that makes you strong? Music has a way of bypassing the logic and skepticism of our minds and making its way right into our heart and soul. That’s one reason why so many faith traditions use music as a deeply spiritual and religious practice. It can change us in profound ways. If you play an instrument, don’t neglect that practice either during this season. As an amateur guitar player, strumming a few chords or playing a few blues licks can really smooth the edges of a tough day for me. Bottom line, tap into the soundtrack of your soul and then share it with another person. We don’t make “mixed tapes” much anymore, but what would yours sound like if you did? What songs give you spiritual strength?
It’s time for me to let you get back to the all-important work of connection. Don’t let COVID-19 precautions distract you from the many ways you can (and must) stay connected spiritually. Write. Read. Converse. Listen. These are the practices that COVID-19 cannot touch. It doesn’t matter what your rank or AFSC is. Anybody can do this. If you don’t think you can, reach out to your unit chaplain. We’d love to help you get started.
Do these things and I can promise you’ll become #MinotStrong.
For more information about COVID-19, visit this page on our website: https://www.minot.af.mil/News/Coronavirus-COVID-19-News/