SARS in perspective

by Dr. Allen Dorcas

24 April 2003

From the war in Iraq to the war SARS is waging, from external criticism to the internal feelings of self-doubt, our initial reaction is to arm ourselves and get ready to fight. We take a defensive stance in the hope of controlling that which threatens our sense of security.

We have a sense of identity. A sense of what makes us stable and consistent as we go forward in a constantly changing world and this sense of self is constantly under threat. We identify ourselves with our physical body, with our “mental body” and with our “emotional body”. We meet life’s challenges from these identities and react with a pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are characteristic of these identities and roles we have taken on.

This is a helpful and normal part of psychological development. It allows us to make sense of our experiences and gives us a “shell” to feel safe in and go forward in the world. The problems begin when this shell separates us from life and limits our experience to what feels “safe”. In other words, the more we are identified with a particular sense of self, the less we face life directly. As if we can only perceive things through the layers of the particular identity. As such we are disconnected with what is. The more disconnected we are with the present moment the more we live in our heads and the more fear is a part of our experience. The body’s ability to cope is also weakened.

In facing SARS a great many people are focusing on the threat to this outer shell and this is mostly the physical body, wondering how they can further strengthen it to feel safe again. It’s a good thing to find ways to feel safe at this level. It’s a great thing to remember that we are much more than just a physical body. And as we no longer identify so strongly with one particular part or form, we immediately experience more space and peace. We suddenly feel less disconnected as if there is something much deeper that animates us and the threat is put in its proper perspective. So, let’s act from the physical level, because we have a physical body that is relatively vulnerable. Let’s also reconnect with a deeper sense of who we are and act from that place as well.

As we reconnect with this deeper sense compassion and true presence can emerge and there is no sense of disconnectedness, there is no fear. To act from this place has much more impact than acting from the fearful small self we thought we were. And paradoxically, when we no longer act out of fear and self-defensiveness, our bodily functions perform much more effectively to face whatever real threat there is.

The way into this deeper sense of self is to be present to what is. If fear is your experience bring all your awareness and presence to the fear and that presence will transform it.

To stay focused on combating an external threat in the form of a virus is easier than looking at our own state of consciousness and addressing that, which to me has much further reaching implications.

This paper was prepared by Dr. Allen Dorcas as a handout at “Removing the Mask” — a HK heartbeat soulfood seminar held on 24 April 2003.