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Keep your mind open for business despite the shutdown

(EDITOR’S NOTE - This is the first of a special two-part Fitness Master column dedicated to the coronavirus and some ways to handle the mental and physical obstacles that it has created in our lives.)



About 175 executives and underlings of Biogen, a corporation that develops therapies for neurological diseases, attended a three-day conference at Boston’s Marriott Long Wharf hotel in late February. Afterwards, about 100 took with them something other than a complimentary comb, bootlegged booze from the minibar, or a smuggled bath towel.

Five of those 100 took the something to North Carolina, two to Indiana, two to Europe, and one each to Tennessee, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.

The something they took? You guessed it, I’m sure.

COVID-19. The coronavirus.

Scores of similar stories of how the disease spreads make what once seemed a far-fetched possibility, that 40 to 70 percent of Americans will ultimately contract the disease - potentially 260 million people! - seem far less far-fetched and far more frightening. So what can you do to keep the daily slew of really disturbing news from messing you up mentally?

Go to work despite the shutdown.

But to go to work, in this case, doesn’t require leaving your house to perform a job. It requires mental work -considerable mental work - to keep your mind as unaffected as possible as more and more people become infected with the coronavirus.

This work isn’t easy, just essential. It’s the only real way to stymie panic, assist others, and - most importantly - keep peace of mind.

The reason why such work is needed is simple. Your mind hungers to make sense of this once-in-a-lifetime mess. If you want your mind to remain healthy, you can’t feed it only the junk so often served up on social media, television, and even some newspapers.

Feed it the right thoughts, however, and it gains strength, and in that strength, develops clarity and perspective.

That’s why you should apply a sort of “self-distancing” to those troubling thoughts that result from reading or hearing about the corona virus. While you do need to use social media, television, and newspapers for occasional updates, you don’t need to be a glutton for psychological stress.

Don’t check your smartphone the way so many people do - constantly. Don’t watch too much television news, especially at the end of the day.

Read instead. Pick something that challenges, comforts, or provides a mental escape.

Let me suggest a choice that ivory tower academicians might dismiss simply because of the genre, but does all the aforementioned three for me: The Spenser series started by Robert Parker Jr. and continued after his death by Ace Atkins. Spenser, the protagonist, is a private detective who’s witty, well-read, and the ultimate pain in the backside to not only the bad guys but also the cops.

He’s the sort of guy I’d love to sit down and have beer with - though he’d probably have to comment about mine being non-alcoholic.

Including Atkins’ contributions, there are now 46 in the series. I’ve read each at least once, a few twice, and the best three (The Catskill Eagle, Small Vices, and Sixkill) three or four times.

I reread in part because this guy has become a friend. But more importantly, his words and manner often challenge me, sometimes comfort me, and the reading always provides mental escape.

I imagine you could receive the same from watching a worthwhile show, but for me there’s a depth to reading that television and movies can’t match.

Pondering over a profound quotation is a much more abbreviated type of reading that also challenges, comforts, and can provide an escape.

One that I keep saying to myself during these unsettling times comes from an ancient Chinese philosopher, Lieh Tzu: “To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” I keep repeating it because for me it’s certainly true.

In the last three weeks especially.

When I stop judging the situations occurring and restrictions resulting from the coronavirus and simply observe them for what they really are in my life - inconvenient impositions, nothing more - my mind calms and clears.

Granted, the way things really are right now are as strange and scary as a Stephan King novel, but the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson allow me to recognize that “this time, like all times, is a good time, if we but know what to do with it.”

Tomorrow I’ll explain how to transform this state-mandated free time into “a good time.”