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Most of you may not know that my day-to-day engineering work involves computational modeling and testing of aircraft engine systems, in particular the combustion system or the combustor. As the name suggests, it is the system where fuel and air is mixed in varying ratios to create the desired amount of heat for takeoff, cruising, landing, and so on. In short, the goal of our models is to predict and improve, as best as we can, the efficiency of the engine, and the emissions created by it. The models are constantly improved and tweaked based on data from actual hardware tests. The models help in preliminary design of new hardware, and reduce the costs and time required to build a new, better combustor. 

The average time to design, build, test, re-test, certify and eventually put a new system on an airplane, particularly a combustor, is about ten years. Computer modeling is helping to reduce the ten-year cycle, but we aren’t quite there yet. The reason is that the modeling of the mixing of air and fuel and the subsequent fire that is created, is more complex than it looks. It can often take three to four weeks for thousands of computers working in tandem to produce a single answer for a single setting of the engine (say, takeoff).

Still with me? You can now understand why I have been fascinated by all the attempts of scientists to try and predict the growth, the spread and the mortality rate of the Covid-19 virus.  The modeling is being done with limited real-world data, and with limited understanding of how the virus affects different populations and how fast it is being spread by those who don’t show any symptoms. The result is that is a large amount of uncertainty in the various models’ predictions of when the infections are going to peak in a particular city or state, and what the corresponding death rate is going to be.

In short, the modeling is less than perfect. However, the early modeling was very useful giving hospital systems in cities and states a rough estimate of the number of cases that could happen if no action was takien. This early-warning system is what prompted the calls to “flatten the curve” so that the healthcare systems would not get overwhelmed and fail their stress-test. Some states passed “stay at home” orders, and hoped that citizens would heed their plea and actually comply. In my state of Ohio, the vast majority of citizens did comply,  and the result was that we have collectively put the state and our frontline healthcare workforce in a good position to deal with the peak of the stress-test that is coming in a few weeks. 

And yet, we know that, as of this writing, our preparation is not enough to avoid the stress-test that is coming our way. The very first time I heard of the possibility of one hundred thousand deaths in the early part of the week, I went into a bit of shock. Even though I had been following the modeling closely, I had a very difficult time accepting this number. Over the next few days, my emotions ranged between anger, angst, anguish, acrimony, animosity, and even a bit of anxiety. It felt like my emotional and spiritual systems were facing a stress-test of their own. 

How did my spiritual training and practices respond to the stress-test? How well did they withstand the shock of the emotional waves that came ashore like a raging storm? I would say that the jury is still out. The initial shock and stress-test did expose the cracks in my individual preparedness. I came face-to-face with the awareness that the practices I have developed over the past few years, while useful, need to be shored up. Yes, there was perhaps no way to design my spiritual practices to pass a stress-test of this once-in-a-generation magnitude. What spiritual practices has the current stress-test reminded me of?

The current stress-test has reminded me of the daily habit of returning to the healing voice within, of taking time to limit the voices that influence my mind from the without. It has brought the practices of ’empathy for the suffering’ and ‘gratitude for grace’ to the forefront of my awareness. It has led me to reconnect with nature and ask the question – how do nature’s flora and fauna deal with the stress-tests that they are given?

Late Friday afternoon, it occurred to me that the local bird reservation must have undergone quite a transformation since the two weeks that I had last visited there. When I arrived there, the parking lot was much more full than I could ever remember. In a small patch of grass at the beginning of the trail, a young couple was having a picnic with their toddler and their puppy. The bridge that spans the pond at the entrance had a mother with her two teenage daughters admiring the ducks that were floating around peacefully. The wooded part of the trail sported a wide range of parents with their kids sporting binoculars and cameras, taking in the sights and sounds of the forest. The sun was playing hide and seek with the tall trees and starting to cast long reflections on the trail. Along the stretch that runs between two lakes on either side of it, several pairs of geese had staked out small patches of territory (with proper physical distancing) for nesting. There was a baby turtle sunning itself on a small island in the middle of a swathe of blue. The half-moon had already risen high into the early evening sky, ready to bid the sun a good night. 

As I headed back from my visit, it struck me that all seemed well with the world of nature. There was no sign of stress, let alone any sign of a stress-test. The reservation was in the process of embracing spring with an open, joyous heart. I felt immersed in nature’s joy, internalizing it. I felt nature reminding me that in the midst of perhaps the greatest stress-test of our times, our best spiritual practices are those which return us to our intrinsic nature of love and joy. 

No matter what the projections and models say, we are all in this together. There is no computer model that can predict the strength of human resilience. With cooperation, integration and harmony, we can pass this stress-test. Of that, I am sure. 


P.S. Join us for our weekly gathering on twitter on Sunday April 5 at 9amET / 630pm India. How are you coping with the current stress-test? What practices are helping you most in these times? How can the #SpiritChat community be of help to you in these times? Do share with us. We look forward to connecting and listening. Namaste – @AjmaniK

Resources: IHME Covid-19 Modeling (US State-by-State Data) / State of Ohio Covid-19 Modeling / American Medical Association Podcast: Vaccines and Immunity

A goose takes a rest from nesting… yoga on the trail! 

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