Knowledgein a time of crisisA perspective on our reactions to COVID-19 informed by the ancient wisdom of the I Ching.IMAGE: JOSH HILD | PEXELSby Glenn MartinThe coronavirus pandemic has had far-reaching effects on the lives of most people, creating changes that are unprecedented in our lives. We have had to stay put in our homes as much as possible, and be careful not to get too close to other people when in public.

Most of all, we have been faced with uncertainty. We do not know if the person we pass in the street is infected. We may not even know if we ourselves are infected.

Times such as these raise many different issues. One of them is knowledge, and how that is related to our actions. We have been told, by health authorities, that we should keep 1.5 metres apart in public, that we should wash our hands, and that we should cover our coughs. We’ve been told that we should self-isolate for 14 days if we have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19.

With somewhat more inconsistency, we have been told, that we should wear face masks, and what type they should be, and how to attach them and take them off. The instructions have varied and the rationale varies. So, what does one do? This question extends to the taking of medicines. Much has been made of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine since US President Donald Trump said that he was taking it. Social media has circulated stories about its effectiveness, while medical experts say that it has not been proven, and it may even cause harm. What does one do?
It’s a question of knowledgeI am not an expert in medical knowledge, but I can’t avoid having to decide and act in relation to my own life. How do I do that? What are my principles for deciding? I learn from the I Ching.

This is what I think. I think we live in a world (a society) that fosters fear. There is a collective fear of threat that breeds an atmosphere of menace. It is no surprise that this occasionally generates real threats. The poignancy of coronavirus is that it is invisible. There is no enemy that we can point to; nor are we sure (in detail) how it transmits around a community.
//HARDSHIP IS LIKE TRAINING. YOU HAVE TO BE READY TO DO THE WORK. YOU HAVE TO BE ABLE TO ENDURE AND SURMOUNT TRIALS. MISFORTUNE BUILDS A STRONG PERSONALITY.//We have statistics, which is helpful, but statistics are an endeavour that deals with ignorance, not with knowledge. (Otherwise, why do some regular smokers not die of lung cancer?)

In the I Ching we can think of our current situation in symbols. It is as if heaven and earth are moving away from each other. There is evil afoot and we need to avoid getting embroiled with it. Don’t depend on luck; work out the steps you need to take to be safe. Accept that the daily conditions of life have changed. Behind it, the laws of life continue – they are constant. Hold onto that constancy.

Remember that life moves between yin and yang, in long rhythms. At the end of all adversity there is felicity. But even here, at the point of change, take care: carelessness will prolong the danger. Plant your roots deeply.

Accept that difficulty builds internal strength and character
IMAGE: EMRE KUZU | PEXELSThis is not a trite truism; it is actually true. Hardship is like training. You have to be ready to do the work. You have to be able to endure and surmount trials. Misfortune builds a strong personality.

What does that mean? It means to live modestly when you need to, to refrain from excess, and not to complain. It means to be able to stop and be still. And it means to undertake something within your sphere of influence, and to persevere in that.

Is this knowledge? It sounds more like rules for living when you don’t know. So be it. Knowledge is a good thing to have, but despite the confidence of our society that everything is knowable, much of the time we have to act and react before we have attained that state. This is far more often than our mythologies about science and knowledge would admit.

Often we need to act without knowing. There are rules for that, and these are rules that are worth knowing. Know that yin and yang work together. Know that change is the constant. And know that the most profitable course is to be steadfast and upright, even when it appears otherwise.

This is a stagnant time, but it will pass. Life is movement. There is so much we do not know, but we always know enough to do what is right, if we are prepared to live with integrity and faith in the deep processes of the universe. This kind of integrity leads to duration and joy. You will be known as the peaceful one.
Glenn Martin is a longtime student of the I Ching and the author of The Ten Thousand Things: A Story of the Lived Experience of the I Ching, and many other titles. His latest book is A Foundation for Living Ethically, which describes ethics in terms of a framework of spirituality.
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