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Hot Springs Buddhist Society member Jonathan Westmoreland said the Buddhist practice teaches about the reduction of suffering in the world and how people can find a "middle ground" in that suffering -- a mindset that many experiencing a pandemic could benefit from.

"One of the central concepts of our Buddhist practice is not actually a religious or spiritual perspective, if you will; we focus more on philosophy and kind of an attitude towards life," Westmoreland said. "One of the biggest parts of that is, we do our best to stay in the present moment; that's where we focus on what's happening right now, rather than what could potentially happen in the future, or has already happened in the past."

With the current pandemic, he said, there is a tremendous amount of talk about the past and the future: What people have already seen with the virus and what could potentially happen locally, statewide, nationwide and globally with the virus.

"So ways we have of helping deal with those thoughts are to look at what's happening this very moment," Westmoreland said. "It's easy to see things as being what we call permanent, so if you feel like this pandemic's never going to go away, or the world is forever changed ... those absolutes are kind of an illusion because we don't know what's going to happen."

He said that realizing the pandemic is not permanent can help someone find peace with the situation.

"It will feel permanent, and you will think that it is permanent, but there is nothing in the world that's permanent, other than being born, being alive and dying," Westmoreland said. " ... But anything else that comes along, realizing that no matter how bad it feels, no matter how alone you feel, no matter how overwhelming your emotions might be, they're going to change."

He noted that "finding peace" in life is often seen as the elimination of the negative things, but that is not the case.

"If you eliminate COVID-19 from the world today, there's probably going to be something else, not necessarily a virus, but ... there's going to be something else that comes along that the world is going to have to deal with," he said. "History has shown that, the world shows that every day. So the acceptance that it's not always going to be this way, and how you react to it, can bring a tremendous amount of peace."

When it comes to negative thoughts that may come to people while being isolated during the pandemic, Westmoreland said instead of trying to eliminate them, "learn to be with them."

"Learn to not let them create anxiety. Say 'Right now I'm scared, and that's OK.'" he said. " ... Being able to accept what your mind is thinking and what your emotions are, goes a long way towards bettering yourself as a person, because even once this is all over, life is full of stress, and if you can have that stress be in front of you and not cause you to react with worry, fear, anxiety or anger -- or even when those do react, don't let them overtake you -- it makes you a much, much better person, in our opinion."

With talk of social distancing and isolation surrounding the pandemic, he said although not being able to see friends and family can be a "really scary" concept, the Buddhist Society encourages people to "reach out and connect" with people.

"You may not be able to physically be with someone, but it can make a huge difference when you just send them a message and say 'How are you doing?'" Westmoreland said. "Whether it's a text message or social media message or a phone call, or even a written letter -- whatever works -- just reach out and talk to people."

He said checking on someone cannot only help with their isolation, but it can help with yours too while also giving a reaffirmation of how they're doing.

Westmoreland said reaching out to others during isolation and quarantining can even eliminate some fear the pandemic may cause.

"We're social creatures ... Right now, it's really hard because the normal way we get together, we're told not to do it," he said. "But the thing is, that's not the only way to reach out. So reaching out to people who just make you feel good, people you like, people who make you feel stronger, the person you can cry to when you're having a hard time, lean on those really hard right now, just do it in different ways. And I think that can really be a good practice because it's not only going to help you, it's going to help them."

He said that since we're "social creatures," suffering while being alone isn't unique to just one individual, even when it feels like that at times.

"So even when you're alone, you may be physically alone, and not have another living thing near you, but you have your memories and you have the people who have taught you things throughout your life," he said. " ... So when you're alone, if you can just think back to all the people who have brought good things into your life and made you into the person you are."

Local on 04/06/2020

Print Headline: Buddhist offers insight on pandemic challenges

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