Transcription of Zoom Conference on Mindfulness of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) with Israeli Dharma Teachers. Part One of Two
Teachers Express Concerns and Raise Questions with Christopher
90-minute Exchange. Part One (45 minutes)
Friday morning 27 March 2020
Part One of Two.
Part Two to be transcribed by 02 April 2020.
I spent many hours over several days engaged in online research into the Coronavirus (Covid-19). I read many thoughtful articles, essays, analysis and views worldwide on the worldwide threat to the health of humanity. I bought magazines and a few newspapers with opinions and news articles. I watched a few TV programmes on the issue and listened to BBC radio discussions. I also received comments from friends worldwide on the impact of the virus.
I appreciated the immense amount of work going into understanding the virus and impact it currently has on the life of our species. The graphs of those catching this very contagious disease, especially since early February, reveal a dramatic increase from one day to the next. That upward curve still goes on in most countries.
I wrote a 7500 word essay on Mindfulness of the Coronavirus to offer readers a general overview. The situation constantly changes with the impact of the pandemic. I plan to offer an update every week or so. See links to the essay at the end of this section of the transcription of the meeting with the Tovana teachers.
This essay falls into three sections. What was. What is . What might be.
On completion, I sent to the Dharma teachers in Israel the links of these three sections the evening before the morning Zoom conference. Some teachers had the opportunity to read the essay or parts of it.
DATA FROM WORLDOMETER
29 March 2020. 12 noon.
USA. Cases. 123,780. Deaths 2229
China. Cases. 81,439. Deaths 3300
Italy: Cases. 92,472. Deaths. 10,023
Spain. Cases. 73,235. Deaths. 5982
Germany. Cases.58, 487. Deaths. 455
United Kingdom. Cases. 17,089. Deaths. 1019
South Korea. Cases. 9583. Deaths. 152
Sweden. Cases. 3447. Deaths. 105
Australia. Cases. 3969. Deaths. 16
Israel. Cases. 3865. Deaths 12.
A Transcribed, Edited and Adapted from Conference Meeting on Covid-19
CT. Good morning to you all. Where shall we start today?
T: Some of us read your article. It is a long and serious article on the corona virus.
How are you?
CT. It is full on. Ulla and I are engaged in much preparation work for an online mindfulness course for people who must stay at home. The government in the UK only allows citizens outside once per day. There is a minimum of meeting two people. We can only go out to the shops for food and take a walk at the same time. My daughter told me yesterday that one of her friends had a text message from the police. Her friend went to the shops, took the dog for a walk and later took the children for a walk. Police message said she would be fined £60.00 if she did it again. The police and the mobile phone companies work together to track people’s outdoor activities.
R. .How is your daughter? Isn’t she a nurse?
CT.No. She used to be a midwife. She launched last September a mindfulness support service (www.mindfulnesssupportservice.org). The service is for her healthcare professionals, people in social services and to give support for those who suffer under domestic violence. She is working primarily with women and with kids. Mindfulness teachers and myself support the service. She organises mindfulness meetings for healthcare professinals. Ulla and I had a group online this week of parents sharing ways to support them under the Stay-at-Home policy.
R. I wondering the best way is to teach a retreat online. People know how to use zoom. An online retreat is a completely new form.
CT. I am also in the dark. I have not yet offered a retreat online. My next residential retreat is due in late April in the Waldhaus in Germany. Our intention is to offer the teachings online as much as we can. That will take some work to coordinate the best way for this to happen. I have no experience. Martin Aylward in France currently offers an online retreat. His retreat at Gaia House (in south Devon, England) was cancelled owing to the virus. He meets three times a day online with the students. Others have joined his online retreat with more than 200 people participating.
A. There is a serious shift in the political situation in Israel, plus the fears regarding coronavirus. Two strong issues taking place in Israel – the coronavirus and the political situation. There is a lot of confusion between them. The government uses the virus in a very bad way. The people I spend time with have more concern regarding the political situation than the virus. There is the taking of power and abuse of it. Democracy here is very fragile. How did we get to this situation so fast compared to a week ago? This is what I am dealing with. I’m interested to understand right action, right intention and right view in of all of this. These are the questions coming to me.
CT. It is a left hand and right-hand situation I haven’t had the opportunity follow what is taking place in Israel. As a general principle, health takes priority over politics. The momentum of the virus runs at such a speed. More than 500,000 people worldwide infected with the virus. Yet people must not be manipulated by the government – as you point out. Governments are being taken over by events.
I really appreciate Eran (a Dharma teacher) sending to me the clip of earlier UK policy and Eran and Lila speaking at the demonstration in Jerusalem. The protests against the Netanyahu government are vitally important. If the virus starts sweeping through Israeli society, it will naturally take the priority of people. The fears and anxieties will focus on the health issues. As a small parallel here in the UK, the Extinction Rebellion movement cancelled all meetings and all demonstrations because of the pandemic, which affects the lives of everybody here. The health issue takes priority.
Discussions continue regarding the climate emergency and our response. A major program was prepared for the 23rd of May. The was cancelled. I do not know the number of infected people in Israel. If the numbers grow day by day, week by week, this highly infectious will stop all close physical contact. So far, I know two people with Covid-19. You must keep the government accountable. The social isolation and the two-metre guideline between people must be respected. You must also keep the voice alive to protect democracy and hold the government accountable.
L. I would love to hear your view on the coronavirus. We tried to keep the ruling of staying two meters apart in the demonstrations in Jerusalem. Many people wore gloves and covered their mouth. You have done much research on the impact of the virus. What is your view?
I believe the variety of decisions made by the government are essential. There are factors critical to reduce the impact of this contagious virus. Social isolation keeps us two metres apart and the regularity of washing the hands to stop the virus being passed to another or others. Virus can transfer from the hands directly or from items such as money. The application of such factors shows concern for oneself and concern for others. This is the vitality, the response and the duty of each person.
E. Thank you for that reminder. There is a big question mark. How much can we rely upon the publicity about the virus? There are other views, including doctors, who hold completely opposite views. There are lots of examples which demonstrate this. I sent Christopher a link from the British government. A week ago, the British government took out the coronavirus from the list of high-risk infections. I’m not talking about a doctor who is expressing an opinion. I’m speaking about the Minister for Health in the UK. Another example. You wrote that the Corona virus spreads a lot faster than flu. I can send you a link from your Health Organization, which is totally different. WHO says the flu spreads a lot faster than coronavirus. There is no consensus in the medical world.
CT. You may have a very different view if you were in Italy, Wuhan or Spain. You must look at the death rates and the rate of infections. The British government changed their view 24 hours later. The government made that statement on 19th of March. One or two days later, the government took that off their website. The momentum and the death toll in neighbouring countries and in America see the rapid spread of the disease. There is a critical difference between the flu and coronavirus. There is no medication and no vaccine to treat coronavirus.
In the West, people have the opportunity for an injection to guard against flu. Many elderly people in the UK take this vaccination at the start of every winter to protect them from the flu.
My research shows that Covid-19 is still an unknown in many ways. There are no signs currently of the resolution of this virus. In some countries, there are not enough kits in hospitals to find who has got the virus or not. The unknowns about the coronavirus make it different from the conventional flu. Please remember that the first realisation of corona virus arose on 30th of December in Wuhan.
In the space of less than three months, we have more than half a million people infected with this virus. I know that there is a lot of comparing the corona virus with the conventional flu. Coronavirus is different from the flu. I do not regard Covid-19 as a parallel. We must address Covid-19 for itself.
Z. We have first-hand information from medical people who are in the frontline. They see what is happening to our health system close up. There is a price that people will pay emotionally and physically. There is a long-term impact with the potential for a lot of deaths. There are also the levels of trauma. This is something to be aware of and to be ready for. I genuinely feel we must have a very wide space of holding the unknown. We don’t really know what is going on. We do not know how it is going to unfold. We just know something big is happening.
At the same time, we need to be vigilant about ways that we can act. This also applies to the political situation. Here in Israel there has been a lot of creativity. We had a Facebook demonstration with half a million people about events in parliament. You need to make voices heard. There was the car demonstration around the closure of the Knesset. I think Israel is the only country which still allows protest. It is a time to see our power and the power of creativity and right action.
CT. It is also important to keep the pressure sustained. This is valuable. At the same time, we maximise the protection for people. There are many people with a weak immune system. (An afterthought: Medical people have a helpful perspective from their hospital and various other hospitals in their locality, and possibly their country. At present, there is no uniform situation within a country in terms of impact on the health services and hospitals, nor between countries. Hospitals can speak from the current situation as it applies to them).
In the West, we have the privilege of a home to go to. This is a privilege. Self-isolation is a privilege. You would have heard that 1.3 billion people must Stay-at-Home in India. This leads to hunger, unemployment and more poverty, plus desperation. There is an increase in the number of infections in Africa. Many African countries and in much of India have a very weak health service, perhaps no social services in various areas and receive no financial support from the government. The population finds itself confined to the indoors with families living in narrow spaces. We are full of privileges. Our privileges are not available and accessible to the majority of people on Earth.
Poor countries are in immense debt to the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the West. The West must cancel the debts of the poor countries. We must stop the export of weapons to poor nations and give real support to the poor nations – regardless of the virus. A deep and fundamental change must take place in the whole political and economic system.
Protest is important. It is sweet that demonstrations are still permitted in Israel. (An afterthought. What is the government’s intention to permit demonstrations? Does the government know numbers will be modest due to the virus? Is the government committed to protecting democracy? Is there indifference to the highly contagious nature of the virus? Are there other motives?)
In the UK, the government has banned all outdoor gatherings including entertainment, sports and places of worship. We have a police state but we have some confidence in the measures the government have introduced. What are your next steps with protests and creative initiatives?
E. I first want to ask you a question. What are the health services dealing with? Is it dependent upon the level of collective panic? Or is it just connected to the spreading of the virus?
CT. My daughter and I have spoken about this. We can only take into consideration the situation that we know from doctors and nurses. Yesterday evening, everybody throughout the country was asked to stand outside their front door and clap their hands in gratitude and appreciation for the NHS (National Health Service). I heard the clapping in my street of 60 houses. I took the meditation gong and rang the gong several times with the sound ringing down the street. The clapping of hands occurred throughout the country. People in the NHS were in tears from such a gesture.
Doctors and nurses in more and more hospitals find themselves overwhelmed with the number of sick and dying people pouring into the hospital from ambulances and other means. This is causing a huge amount of stress. We had doctors and nurses listening to our zoom conference two evenings ago. They experience stress due to the 12 hours shifts as well. Staff finish their day in the hospital. They go to the supermarket, but the supermarket shelves of specific and necessary products have been cleared already. More stress.
There is a real concern from everybody working in the hospital that they might pick up the virus and give the virus to their children, partner, family and friends. They experience daily a serious anxiety and stress. On top of this. the hype takes place in the media, social media, and conversations. This produces higher levels of anxiety and stress. We are witnessing every day an exponential leap in the numbers of sick and dying people. If this rise continues, it starts to reach the levels of Spain and Italy. This anxiety is about the future.
There has been a consistent lack of clarity from the government except in the past few days. People are begging for strict, clear rules. The constant interpretation before of the guidelines triggered more anxiety. Anxiety exists in people before the pandemic. Anxiety exists with the health professions. Will staff in the hospitals die from the virus, for example? Will they take the sickness home? If you put all of that together, plus the social isolation, it leads to a very intense and tragic situation.
So far, as far as I know, Sweden adopts a different model. Sweden permits up to 500 people meeting together. The Swedish government offers an advisory role to Swedish citizens rather than compulsory through the implementation of legislation. I understand that social life in Sweden continues with access to restaurants and meetings.
People may get the virus. Many will contract the virus in a mild form. People will develop antibodies which will give them some protection from the virus repeating itself. This was the government view here a week ago – a departure from the medical advice from other European countries.
The government view began to change when the medical scientists referred to our population of 62,000,000 people. If nothing was done in terms of social isolation, so we carried on in the same way in our everyday social life, then the probability would be that 36,000,000 people would contract the virus. This could result in a million deaths in the country.
Medical scientists in the UK and the rest of Europe, we’re not willing to take that risk. Hence the decision was made to enforce the introduction of social isolation to stop the virus from spreading throughout the country. That is now the official policy, which has been passed into legislation for the next two years.
It will be interesting to see if Sweden sustains its view, which was similar in Britain a week ago. The view of herd immunity, namely allowing the majority of the population to contract the virus, has now been discredited. Social isolation to slow down infections has become the consensual scientific viewpoint worldwide.
This has replaced the view that a large number or percentage of the population catching the virus will develop the antibodies. Then there would only be a modest number of deaths as a consequence. The number of deaths alread a and the number of infected people discredits this view. We should see whether Sweden has got it right and the rest of the EU and other countries has got it wrong.
Has the world become too strict and too controlling? Is Covid-19 as contagious and dangerous as we are told? At the time of speaking to you, Sweden remains the one exception to the strict Stay-at-Home policy elsewhere, as far as I know. We shall see. It will take some strength for Sweden to stand steady when the rest of Europe says you cannot go this way as it is too big a risk to your citizens.
E. I am less interested in views regarding the situation. I’m interested in the Dharma way of looking. There are things which I cannot speak in other circles. According to the Dharma, we cannot speak of coronavirus independently of what is happening around it. How many people are going to the hospitals? What is the percentage of people feeling sick? There is such a panic around which influences the situation a lot. It would be interesting to hear your view regarding that.
R, Can I add something about the Israeli hospitals? Three family members work in a hospital. From what they are saying, there is not the rush that you describe. A lot of people are cancelling scheduled operations. Some departments in the hospital are more empty than they were. People were asked to come and get themselves tested in the hospital. People though are fearful to go for the check-up. There is not enough information about what is happening here in Israel. There is a break in the trust between the population and the hospital.
CT. Eran spoke about the interdependence of the virus and the state of mind. This is an important area for exploration. The fears, anxieties and stress make a huge impact on our biology, our physical system. This degree of stress weakens the person. This makes a person more vulnerable to catching the virus. I’ve been hearing from people here of experiencing a small symptom of a cough, cold, sore throat or temperature. This sends up alarm signals within the person. We are in a situation of a highly infectious virus in only three months. This virus is also accompanied with the worries in people’s lives, plus all the hype.
Our hospitals in the UK were relatively quiet 10 days ago. That situation is now changing dramatically. May your hospitals give all of you in Israel an absolute protection from the virus. Remember, the situation changes very quickly. Look at the situation in the United States. How a hospital is today does not mean it will be like that tomorrow. People’s fears stop people from going to the hospital. In other countries, the hospital system is absolutely overloaded with very sick and dying people.
Certain hospitals must weather daily a cluster of infected people. These hospitals quickly becoming overloaded with patients. Patients showing symptoms of the virus in the UK may not have the opportunity to meet with the doctor who provide a patient with a kit to test the virus. Hospitals cannot cope with the arrival of so many people. Israel took an important early step of the quarantine of people returning from overseas for 14 days. That initiative may well give some protection to Israeli citizens. Many other countries have adopted this measure. The momentum of infected people around the world keeps growing. Without quarantine and self- isolation, I would be very concerned.
G. I wish to hear your view about another factor. The virus is highly contagious. There is the stress and fears, which are unspoken about. The outdoors is important to support the immune system. I hear many people struggle, not with the fear from the disease but from the reality of being locked up in their homes.
CT. I agree. Views generally focus on the virus itself. We are experiencing a total crisis within society itself. The condition of people’s inner life, such as worry, fear and stress, has reached a phenomenal level. Now the virus has given the huge license to intensify the stress. The vast majority of citizens do not have the virus. Home becomes converted into a prison. Home becomes an entrapment for people. People need to spend time looking out of their windows or standing outside their front door or spend time in the garden if they have the privilege of a garden. We must maximise time out of doors, even if it is only looking out of the window or finding an open space. People stay at home because they do not want to catch the virus, or pass it on, if they have it.
We must address anxiety and fear from the start. Our society does not have the tools to address these states of mind. We have the tools. The Dharma makes the tools available. Societies do not have the tools. There is the relationship to the virus, and the way the relationship impacts on ourselves, family, friends and others. Ulla and I will send out late this afternoon our Coronavirus e- News to our 6000 plus subscribers.
We have put together lots of short videos. These consist of various tools through the video clips for daily life at home. This free course give support to those who live alone, with their partner or housemate and for their family and children. People will need support. There is the virus on one side. There is a pressure on the other side. In the course of time, the stresses and pressure will build up through the social isolation. People may find themselves at boiling point. That is as big a danger as the virus itself.
L. I would like to direct our meeting in another direction. What can we contribute as Dharma practitioners? What can the Dharma teachers and Dharma community leaders do for the Sangha, for our family and ourselves? We finished our last residential retreat at Ein Dor two weeks ago. Since then we have been engaged in a beautiful variety of offerings. All the teachers are involved. In Israel, we are concerned with the political situation. Let us open up the conversation around that.
CT. We are servants of the Dharma. We have the tools. We have the methods. We have the techniques. We know how to work with stress, anxiety, fear, anger and doubt. We know how to live with the unknown. We have the techniques and practices. We know how to apply mindfulness to daily life. We have a rich body of teachings. We have a wealth of approaches. This gives everybody immense support.
We can address the coronavirus, political dynamics, the potential for the crash of democracy and the level of anxiety and stress. We must express our voice, practices and communications to people. People will not survive very well if they are left to their own state of mind. People cannot take refuge in their own state of mind.
Part Two to be uploaded by 2 April 2020
Mindfulness of Coronvirus
Here are the three links to the 7500 word essay in total on Mindfulness of Coronavirus
For Your Interest
Mindfulness in Times of the Coronavirus (Covid-19)
A Free Online Course with 38 short videos in times of Stay-at-Home. Christopher and Ulla Koenig.
Our Course offers a wide range of mindfulness practices and reflections to support you in the challenging days, weeks and months ahead. There are two ways to join the Course (click on the link):
Our MTC Online Platform (https://mtc.thinkific.com/)
Youtube – Dharma Channel Christopher Titmuss (link to Youtube) or cllick