Emotional Distancing and Intellectual Alignment

Emotional Distancing

Life is a journey from the known to the unknown. Yesterday is history and tomorrow is unknown. With the COVID – 19 pandemic across the globe, we are all going through new uncharted journey. Social Distancing, Community Spreading, Self-Quarantine are all terms now in our parlance which were unknown to us only a few weeks ago.

Copied below are a few lines from a very good article I came across recently:

Practicing social distancing means maintaining at least six feet of distance from others when possible. Under these guidelines, normal social interactions are practically impossible. Research shows that older people are happier than younger adults, in part because they care less about success and social status. Instead older adults tend to focus on things like spending time with family, volunteer work and hobbies. The guidance around preventing exposure to and the spread of Covid-19 makes these activities much more difficult to practice.

 The current situation and the social distancing it requires doesn’t just negatively impact the elderly. Humans are social beings, and we all benefit from connecting to others. While we absolutely should adhere to guidelines from medical officials, I also strongly believe that social distancing doesn’t mean we have to socially disconnect. In fact, the CDC also released guidelines on mental health and coping during Covid-19, which included advice to:

  • Connect with others,
  • Discuss your fears with friends and family and
  • Maintain healthy relationships.

Here are a few suggestions to stay connected:

  • Schedule virtual hang time with friends, family and coworkers.
  • Check on your neighbors.
  • Go outside, safely
  • Find creative ways to help others
  • Reframe your thinking

Each of the above is an excellent idea to practice for the next few weeks as we get through this crisis of pandemic.

I would like to focus a bit more on “Reframe your thinking”.

As we have noted many times before we as human beings exist in three realms – through our physical body and its functions and the activities we engage in; through our mind and the emotional response it creates and the intellect that fosters thoughts and ideas. Life is a collection of physical activities, governed by our emotions which in turn are influenced by our thoughts. Emotions lead to the feelings of fear/bravery, love/hate, like/dislike, friend/foe, etc.

Overcoming this duality is the goal of most studies in philosophy.  It arises from an emotional comfort within each of us. Becoming non-dual or being at ease without a profound allegiance to either of the dual positions and the resulting emotional comfort is the desired end goal. We identify such a manner of life as Spirituality in Practice.

But, where do these emotions come from? They are the end result of our thoughts. The brain which thinks of something translates that thought into emotions and feelings which reflect in our actions. In other words through control and management of your thoughts, you manage the entirety of your being. This is the essence of Buddha’s teachings. Baghawath Geetha summarizes this as:

Through Self-control one remains one’s own best friend; through lack of self-control one becomes one’s own worst enemy.                  B. G. 6.6.

It is best to keep the above advice in mind at this time of uncertainty and turbulent journey for all. Thus being one’s own best friend and not becoming one’s own worst enemy starts with reframing our thinking and managing our thoughts constructively and for our collective common good.

Here are a few suggestions with respect to “reframing our thinking”:

Our thoughts are likely to get intense as we are isolated. Such thoughts can be negative or positive in their impact on the self and those we interact with. Here are a few negative thought processes to avoid:

  1. Avoid repetitive thinking (Rumination) of anything and especially something negative:

Pay attention when your thinking starts to get repetitive or negative. When you notice rumination, make yourself break the cycle. Get up and do something else: Go for a walk or reach out and call a friend (but don’t continue the rumination out loud by whining to them). Don’t overeat or drink too much alcohol to avoid the negative thoughts.

Try to change your thinking to a problem-solving focus that is more deliberate and strategic.

  1. Avoid overthinking

Overthinking is when you go over and over different choices in your mind, trying to imagine every possible outcome and everything that could happen in the future, to make sure you make the perfect choice. Your focus is on avoiding mistakes and risk. The problem with overthinking is that it’s an attempt to control what is not controllable.

Limit the time you spend thinking about a decision before acting. Give yourself a deadline to decide, even if it feels uncomfortable. Only allow yourself to research a few alternative options — not everyone endlessly.

  1. Avoid Cynical Hostility

Cynical hostility is a way of thinking and reacting that is characterized by angry mistrust of other people.

Try to get some distance from your judging thoughts. Notice when you begin to think distrustfully. Deliberately think of alternative ways of seeing the situation.

Few suggestions for “reframing our thinking” in positive manner:

  1. You are in-charge:

Notice in all of the above negative tendencies to avoid we find that “you, your mind, your thinking” is at the core. In other words you are in-charge. Even when you are isolated and distanced from others (due to the current situation and circumstances) your mind and thoughts will be penetrated by others depending on what you see on the TV, hear on the radio or read in the paper or listen in your conversations. All of them are merely views and thoughts expressed by others. You can use them as inputs. But never lose sight of the fact that “You are in charge of your thoughts and hence your response to such thoughts”. This inner courage is essential and brings with it an unassailable stability in your thoughts and in your approach to life. If you already have such stability now is the time to practice it. This is also your time to learn this essential element of self-control.

  1. Structure your entire day into elements with a schedule:

Recently I read in a “Dear Friend” column advice given to an elderly person. This person felt isolated and did not know what to do with her time on a daily basis. The advice given was to structure her time into chunks for personal care (eating, cleaning, sleeping, exercise, Yoga, etc.), physical activities (like cooking, cleaning the house, arts and crafts, etc.), emotional activities (socializing, caring for others, meditation, etc.) and intellectual activities (reading, writing, solving puzzles, etc.). Once you make a list like that and schedule your activities, your mind gets freed up from thinking “What I should do next?” Such structuring the day at this time may become a better time management skill over the long run as we get out of this virus and the crisis it has heaped on us. Note that the physical, emotional and intellectual activities are all interconnected. Yoga as a physical activity is also meditation and channeling our thinking for that period of time.

  1. Practice Emotional Distancing and Intellectual Alignment:

In philosophy it is called “Na ithi Bhavam” or “Not this attitude”. For example every part of your body like your fingers, legs, heart, lungs, head, brain, etc. belong to you. Yet individually they do not describe who you are. Parts by themselves entirely do not represent the whole. This is the surprising reality of anything we know! Even after I describe you by your name, family, date of birth and other identifiers you are not fully identified. The identification may be adequate for certain purposes like credit approval or entry through passport control, etc. But you are never fully described. Certain aspects of who are may be known only to you and no one else! The point is this: learn to explore who you are in a larger broader context. You exist as a material or physical object (Annamaya), as a physiological and emotional entity (Pranamaya and Manonmaya), as an intellectual and thinking person (Vignanamaya) and as a liberated soul part and parcel of the larger universe (Anandamaya).

This thought process hopefully liberates you and your thinking into new dimensions and directions. Exactly what will be these thoughts and where will they lead you is very individual and situation specific. Yet, most likely it will lead you to feel as an integral part of a larger and limitless universe. You will slowly begin to see that everyone you know (and all those whom you don’t know) are all recognizable in the above five layers.

This understanding brings with it an Intellectual Stability. Your physical isolation will not limit your mind and your emotions and thoughts as they expand to include everyone and everything. Your physical distancing will not be a limiting factor for your intellectual integration and engagement with the universe at large. Thath Thwam Asi – you and the Universe are integral in each other. In this state of mind the notion of “I” or “you” gradually vanishes along with all the emotional constraints we are attached to. You develop emotional distancing from all those thoughts and experiences which constrain you to limit yourself.

  1. Creatively engage in activities that help others which in turn are also helpful to you:

Social Distancing and Self-Quarantine are no longer unassailable constraints when there is no difference or space between you and others (through Intellectual alignment) and if there is truly nothing in it for you (emotional distancing). Our mind gets liberated to think of ideas and actions we can implement today for the larger common good. We gain courage and confidence to propose new ideas, enlist others into our fold and advance such ideas into reality. Intellectual alignment and emotional distancing also gives new and personal meaning to the saying “Lord give me the courage to change things where I can, humility to accept where I cannot and the wisdom to know the difference between the two”! Let us keep this wisdom in our mind as we journey through these uncharted times of global pandemic.

Om Shanthi Shanthi Shanthi — Peace and safety for all!

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4 Responses to Emotional Distancing and Intellectual Alignment

  1. Basanthi V Bhat says:

    Very well written. This reading is comes at a appropriate time. Thanks for sharing this dear Subbu!


  2. jayanthi rangan says:

    Subbu, in the atmosphere of isolation that we are in, your suggestions are timely. I can speak for myself that chatting regularly with my family members on Skype has added a therapeutic richness. I feel expanding your circle helps to reach out and touch someone during this social isolation.


  3. jothi raghavan says:

    Dear Subbu.. Great reading ! Using this time to contemplate on who we really are and what we cling on to as emotional crutch and what we believed that we can not live without ..the decisions we thought were important to make which now seem irrelevant ! interesting times we live in and certainly an eye opener . “Karmanyeva Adhikarasye” we have only the right to do our duty .. keep chugging along .


  4. Nandita Murty says:

    Enjoyed reading Subbu. Lot of wisdom here and very well put. Thank you!!!!


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