How coronavirus has marked the use of breath, and George Floyd's murder has amplified it
Severe cases of Coronavirus are characterised by breathing difficulties.
This is understandably discomforting; if you were to hold your breath for 20 seconds, you will experience discomfort. But why is it, that when a Black person’s breath such as George Floyd’s is deliberately taken, the pain, suffering and injustice is so difficult for some to understand?
At face value, breath is known as a colourless reaction, like our tears.
So why is it that people must place the value of these processes based upon colour?
To breathe is a continuous motion of inhaling air and then pushing it back out into the world. From breath, we contribute to the existence of our own life, but also to the life of nature. Not only is breath a source of life, but it is also a force that is able to add to the movement of the mind.
Take anger, for example; when we are angry, we often hold onto our breath which adds to discomfort. Breath is thus able to create, sustain and destroy, and works entirely unconsciously.
When I have been thinking about the virus and the events that have followed it, I have noticed that some refer to the barbaric act of George Floyd’s murder as part of the chain of events of suffering that have followed the wake of COVID-19.
To this I say the names of Ahamaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Shukri Abdi, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin and several other black lives killed prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.
The pause on our daily routines that the virus has enforced, has driven us to attend to the bigotry, prejudice and discrimination that social systems have housed for years.
What does this mean to me?
As a student of Neuroscience, one principle that is stressed is that markers are needed to highlight cellular activity and structures that can easily remain hidden, due to the complexities of our biological environment. One key tool used to achieve this is a Green fluorescent protein (GFP), which marks the complexities of cellular structures and activity.
Coronavirus is, therefore, an intruder that both impacts our pre-existing biology and highlights pre-existing social factors. I, therefore, consider Coronavirus as a GFP that marks what humans have done with our breath.
The social systems that humans have built and implemented for years are not only responsible for taking life, but are also responsible for the way in which life is lived. The impact of COVID-19, for example, has been recognised as disproportionally higher amongst Ethnic minorities. This has been associated with health and socioeconomic factors such as underlying illnesses, lack of healthcare access, living in deprived neighbourhoods, and occupational status as ‘frontline workers’.
Coronavirus itself, however, does not attack based on colour, region, gender, political or social status. It is non-discriminatory, unlike the reaction to this.
For instance, many of those who are middle class or upper class may be using their time during this pandemic to invest in other areas of their interest. To read more, exercise more, or even to reflect. The state of the world is, therefore, an opportunity for self- development.
Meanwhile, those in a state of poverty are experiencing greater concerns, struggling to find a means to source food or valid medical equipment to treat patients. In some countries, such as Pakistan, patients that have survived COVID-19 are still being held in hospitals with patients yet to recover. In other countries such as India, many rural migrants are faced with growing concerns about how they will pay for basic necessities such as food. In England, NHS staff are treating COVID-19 patients without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
This reminded me of the words Neil DeGrasse Tyson “the luxury of time not spent on mere survival” enables the chance to dream, to question and to doubt the workings of the world and the universe. The act of dreaming and abstract thinking is a privilege.
A privilege I recognise as having, to be able to write this article.
Those experiencing great suffering during this crisis, are too preoccupied with the survival of reality to even question what reality is.
Is all of humanity bad?
It should not be forgotten however, that during this crisis, millions of current and previously retired NHS staff are working endlessly to treat patients, millions have volunteered for the NHS to support non-medical tasks to aid others who are self-isolating, and several charities are working tirelessly to provide basic necessities to others.
This practise of altruism is not just an example of human empathy and compassion, but it also embodies a flexibility in skill.
Designer companies, for example, have directed their efforts towards manufacturing masks, gowns and hand sanitisers instead of purses and perfumes. Such companies are pioneers of design, but the output of this expertise can vary.
In the same way, many of us share the same abilities: the writers must structure their writing so they are conscious of what effect this will have on their readers, just as though the scientists must structure the design on their clinical trial, whilst being conscious of the effect this will have on their patients. One skill, thus, never has one output.
What happens with this information now?
These are just words and I have learnt that the power of reading is often overvalued. There was a time in my life when I felt deeply lost and confused about every aspect of my life, from my purpose in life, to what defined my existence, and so I began to read one of the ancient Sanskrit scriptures known as the Bhagavad Gita.
Of the abundance of wisdom these scriptures have provided me, the most revolutionary has to be the philosophy of the ‘Self’. This Self is within every form of life and is a form of existence that is beyond our physical body and our mind/personality.
Therefore, unlike the physical body which can be impacted by diet or our mind/personality, and that can be conditioned by our surroundings, the Self is neither dependent nor altered by environmental interactions. The Self is an energy, meaning that contrary to the laws of nature that all is temporary, the Self is indestructible.
When I first read about this, or even as I am writing this now, I am overwhelmed with a sense of empowerment, an inner reasoning that I should have no fear because nothing I am challenged with in this world can cause harm.
Pain, suffering and fear are all mere artefacts.
There are spiritual leaders who have been presented with several challenges yet are not tempted to forget about such philosophies and cave into the attachment to their difficulties.
So why is it that even after learning about this powerful philosophy, I still endure times where I am hurt, and I feel pain and let this hinder me?
Upon contemplating on this dilemma, my mind answered me one day through visualization.
Picture this: an empty bowl, and now you are placing tulips inside of the bowl. The bowl can be seen as superior to the flowers, for the strength and material of this bowl will determine how these flowers will be held, and the duration that they are held.
The end result is that you now have a bowl with tulips inside, but what you do not have is an integration of the tulips and the bowl. They are both separate. The reasoning for this is obvious, both are different phenomena and vary, therefore deliberate interference would be needed to combine both together, changing the nature of both.
I have named this ‘False integration’ which is the belief that, by mentally repeating statements of optimism and motivation, we are integrating these into our mind and thereby overcoming our emotional battles.
Knowledge only sits in our mind, but to integrate it into our mind requires understanding of what our human nature is composed of, and the cause of this composition. For example, the words ‘I can overcome this’ do not hold power when what needs to be overcome is not well understood. These fears and elements of trauma compose the base of our mind but are often undermined.
My hope is that the words I have shared here can be used to understand the foundations of humanity, so that, when more knowledge is found, it can truly integrate into the policies and values that underlie the formation of our social systems, and our minds and humanity can prevail.
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