Field Notes

World War III

March 31, 2020 - 6 Comments

World War III

Avraham Cohen, Ph.D., R.C.C., C.C.C.

April 1, 2020

“…what we are facing might well be construed as World War III.”


The title of the field note that I had in mind for April was Process Engagement in the Relational Field, which would have had very different content from what I’m writing now. However, I think it’s fair to say that, in this field note, we are still looking at process engagement in the relational field: during this time, of the relationship between Covid-19 and us.

I really didn’t want to write about the current pandemic, Covid-19, as there seems to be absolutely no shortage of information and advice. However, it occurred to me that what we are facing might well be construed as World War III (WWIII). Indeed, unlike previous world wars that involved certain countries, this is a “world war” that involves the whole world. No country is immune, and every country is facing the same enemy. It is well known that during times of crisis, the worst of humanity and the best show up, and no doubt this will be the case with the current experience. I am sure that most of you are familiar with the statement, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend!” Since the virus is ‘the enemy of my enemy’ I do wonder if those countries that are at odds with each other will recognize their mutual interests and perhaps lean towards better connections. That is my optimistic sub-self speaking. Another one of my sub-selves, however, tells me that we have more than ample evidence for otherwise. My fearful and skeptical sub-self reminds me that “if you fail to learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it.” I would say that excellent examples of that understanding are the two World Wars. WWI did not prevent WWII, and World War II certainly did not prevent numerous wars that are not considered world wars. And I propose to you that we have been living with the potential for a WWIII for some time. Could it be that WWIII is showing up as Covid-19? Will we learn an important history lesson from Covid-19 so that we can prevent an absolutely devastating future world war in whatever form it might show up? Of course, it is good to be aware, as my friend pointed out, that during 2018-2019 flue season, 34,000 people died of influenza, and yet we do not have any declarations of “pandemic” and no shut downs of business along with the associated financial crisis.

Interestingly, our 93-year-old neighbour who was in Britain during the second world war told me, “actually in many ways that war was easier. At least you could see the enemy!”

What is the lesson that we are to learn? Does horror and trauma prevent repeating what caused these horrors and traumas? In psychotherapy, we talk about ‘trauma re-enactment: one re-enacts, unconsciously, one’s trauma from the past which serves, to bring it up, from the depths of the unconscious to the surface of the conscious, in order to deal with it and resolve it. But, if you are not knowledgeable and skilled enough on your own to do so, you end up retraumatizing yourself. Thus, history repeats itself, individually and collectively. In looking at the phenomenon of Covid-19 symbolically, I wonder if this is another re-enactment of the trauma of the most horrific of human history.

War is a life-and-death experience. The Corona virus has already taken more than 22, 000 lives from the world, and the number is still rising. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11. Many of us are living as close as ever to a death threat and with no end in sight as of this moment. A sense of surrealness seizes me. It is as though I stepped into an alternate universe. Only a few weeks ago, the streets near our apartment were teaming with pedestrians walking briskly about, often nearly bumping into each other. Traffic was congested, and shops, especially coffee shops, were full of people. Now as I walk down the street that are rather bare of people and cars, I watch strangers walk around me at a distance of two metres, and I note myself doing the same. I don’t even stop to pat the dogs that go by and talk to their owners, which is one of my favourite things to do when I’m out walking.  

Life, communication, commerce, and business have all suddenly migrated to the online environment. I now conduct my counselling practice by remote means and teach my graduate counselling class via Zoom. I wash my hands endlessly, listen to those close to me reminding me that at my current age I am now considered most vulnerable. I am aware of being in some kind of alternative consciousness, wondering, “Is this really happening?” The catastrophic economic impact is worldwide and is mind-boggling. I hear about the fast-rising numbers of virus cases in those countries that are already overwhelmed with disease and poverty. Many cities around the world are under lockdown. Will the Canadian government enforce stay-home orders, as we saw in many of these other countries? Will that happen in Vancouver? I am aware that, while Heesoon and I are adversely affected as so many are, the effect on us at this point is relatively small, compared to so many whose livelihood is in jeopardy.

In the previous two world wars, there were various combatants. As I mentioned above, in the current crisis there is only one enemy, the Corona virus. It is certainly the enemy of all countries and all humans. All countries, previously hostile towards each other, are confronted with uniting before this mighty enemy: the novel corona virus that seems to have crossed the species barrier from wildlife to humans. It is as though the virus is strongly ‘encouraging’ countries to communicate with each other and to cooperate in unprecedented ways.

Please be aware, that the dialogue below that I am about to share with you is in no way meant to minimize or dismiss the current horrors that are emerging as a result of the virus. I am reminded of Don Juan, the Yaqui Indian medicine man in Carlos Castaneda’s books. In Journey to Ixtlan, Don Juan, referred to the ally; he says: “[T]he ally will show up as your worst nightmare!” He said further, “The ally is your advisor.” What is meant by the ally as an advisor is, surely, that the advisor shows up in a disguised and threatening form, and is attempting to convey to us a message that we have not discerned previously. You might wonder, why a disguise that is almost certainly frightening in appearance? Perhaps, part of the advice is about the crucial importance of being strong enough to investigate that which is dark and frightening.

In the understanding and spirit of Don Juan, let us say that the virus is an ally to all human beings and to all beings that are affected by human beings, which is basically everything on the planet and in the planetary atmosphere. I would also suggest to you that the battle in which we are involved with the virus is far too common at all levels of relationship. In particular, I would suggest to you that conflict or combat in some form or another is most common within each of us and within our most important relationships. Perhaps it is helpful to think of the virus as coming from the unconscious of the world and manifesting experience that is unwanted and feared. Is all this really any different from behaviour that emerges from within each of us, and within our relationships?  We human beings are very good at creating narratives to make sense out of behaviours that are destructive, self-defeating, and, in many instances, horrible. I still recall the person I worked with who had committed a murder and who told me that it was necessary to murder the person as the latter would come after him and that killing the latter before that would happen was the best way to protect himself. I should add here that the murder victim was unconscious when he was killed. Perhaps an extreme example, but think of some of the things you have done that are not the best (i.e., not humane, caring, compassionate, generous . . .) towards others, or even towards yourself, and the stories that you have constructed and that make ‘great’ sense of your egregious behaviours.

Let us indulge for a moment in an embodied enactment dialogue: If the novel corona virus is coming from the unconscious of the cosmos and is our ally, as Don Juan suggested, what would be its message to humanity? Let me give voice to the novel corona virus (“Corona”) and humanity (“Humans”), as represented by me. An important note here: this process written up below is specific to this situation; however, the process is transferable to any situation that may be of interest to you.

Corona: I have a job to do. It’s quite a simple job, actually. I must grow and proliferate. I must find the proper hosts for me. I don’t really know what this is about. I just know that’s what I do.

Humans: You may be just doing your job and being a virus, but you are killing a lot of us! I am frightened!

Corona: I don’t really have a mind in the usual sense. I don’t really know how I even know this, but it seems to be the case. Everything seems to be working pretty well. I have found a number of hosts, a very large number, in fact. I have some awareness that the humans want to destroy me. I don’t seem to have any feelings about that. I know my job is to grow and multiply. And I don’t seem to be bothered by the possibility that humans will likely eventually obliterate me.

Humans: You really are killing me, destroying civilization, ruining life as we know it. We can’t even be near other human mammals: we have to stay away at least 2 metres. No handshakes, no hugs, no kisses, and so on. To make it worse, there seems to be a complete economic disaster in process. You, a virus, are unbelievably destroying humanity who is the most powerful, smartest, and capable beings on this planet. This is terrifying!  How can this be happening?

Corona: Hmmm…you keep talking to me as if I understand your logic and feelings. I am just a virus. I know my job. It is to infect, affect, and in some cases destroy the host.

Humans: Oh, come on now! If you can destroy us the most intelligent, surely you have intelligence of your own. You are pretending to know nothing, but I bet you know what you are doing, and you seem to be outsmarting the smartest of our leaders, scientists, and politicians . . .. What do we have to do to save ourselves?

Corona: Politicians, eh? Well, I feel insulted to be compared to politicians! There are so many corrupt, power-thirsty, and bloody-minded politicians in your world! Now you got me started up thinking and talking, I realize I actually have a bigger mission than destroying the humans. I’m not sure yet, but could it be that my real job is somehow to help humans learn something important? Your shamanic teacher Don Juan said something about seeing your enemy as an ally. Perhaps my mission is to ‘encourage’ you to learn something vitally important?

Humans: Hmm, Okay . . . I will go along with that. Then, please teach me. What am I supposed to learn? What am I to learn, so painfully, under this frightening circumstance? So many things that I take for granted are no longer the same. My work is changed now. For many, work has disappeared. I can no longer go to my favourite coffee shop, sit there, and enjoy treats and coffee. I watch as people take a circular route to get two metres away from me as if I am a leper. I am surprised to find myself doing the same thing. I spent my entire adult life ‘teaching’ people to be relational! Now, we are avoiding each other as if we are the grim reaper, which of course, we all now have the potential to be. I don’t pet the dogs that would like me to pet them in case they are carrying the virus on their fur.

Corona: I admit that it’s becoming more difficult to transmit and infect humans as many are now not providing opportunity!  They have quickly adjusted and responded to my existence. I’m just as quickly adjusting and responding to them as they are to me! I think I’m evolving faster, thanks to you humans! Hahaha! I am becoming more self-aware. I’m beginning to know my power and my purpose. It’s most interesting how my consciousness is growing. I imagine I will eventually lose this battle. But, like a samurai warrior, I do not fear death, which puts me in a place of clear mindedness as I proceed. I also know that I will return again, should I die in this incarnation, in another form as you humans seem to have great difficulty learning from your experience. If nothing else of my type emerges, I know that you humans will continue to attack each other and even yourself. I know that time is running out. For example, many of those in powerful positions do not take the accelerating changes in the climate seriously. I am quite sure I can eradicate the humans through this ‘method.

Humans: What’s that!? Did you say I will be eradicated? Surely not! This cannot be so…

Corona: I will say this as plainly as possible; my mind is becoming clearer and clearer. You humans have been gifted with a well-developed prefrontal cortex. Although other mammals have it, too, no other species has it developed to the degree that you have. You’re able to reflect on your own existence and yet you still allow yourself to be dominated by your lower brainstem, the so-called lizard brain, that is survival oriented. You are apparently so convinced that it is not possible for you to be eradicated. If you listen carefully, you can hear my message, “This is your opportunity to wake up!” Read the words of one of your celebrated poets and singers:

And what will you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-going back out ’fore the rain starts a-falling
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest dark forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where the souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it, and speak it, and think it, and breathe it
And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinking
But I’ll know my song well before I start singing

                        -Bob Dylan, A hard Rain’s Gonna Fall



To sum up, I don’t know if there’s still time to know your song well, or for me to know mine well, but I do know you are still here now, and so am I. You and I can still live in our song, and we can know it increasingly well… And maybe think about your relationships and how much Corona is in them and in you; not the physical virus, rather the emotional one….

As you can see Corona, the shadow, is becoming more conscious as the dialogue proceeds and perhaps there is a little growth in the relationship between Corona and humans. Let us hope so…

I imagine you have found this field note to be a little on the dark side. To lighten your mindheart, here’s a little alternative message for you (thanks to Dr. Laurie Anderson who found it and shared with his circle):

Do take good care!

(As usual, many thanks to Heesoon for her able support with this Field Note.)

PS: it seems very unlikely that we will be presenting our annual workshop, which was scheduled for late May this year. Maybe September is a possibility… We are also looking at other options to share the

Inner Work on Your Own, and/or with a Friend

material that was the subject of the workshop.

PPS: my book,

Becoming Fully Human Within Educational Environments (Third Ed.)

is now available:


  • Hamid Moreau April 2, 2020 at 9:09 am

    I like your swing the virus as an Ally. I see it as an evolutionary tool that will cull the weak and protect the strong making the world a better place. Climate change is the same it challenges our intelligence, fortitude and imagination. We are better for these challenges if not the universe will just move on without us.
    Again thanks for your insights they get me thinking a wonderful gift indeed.

  • Coral Payne April 2, 2020 at 10:38 am

    Thanks Avraham – miss hearing you read your field notes – perhaps next time!

    • Avraham Cohen April 12, 2020 at 7:15 pm

      Hi Coral, so sorry about the sound file. I am still struggling with producing an MP3 file. and, good to hear from you…
      warm wishes, Avraham

  • Glen Grigg April 2, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    So much to appreciate here! The core analogy holds up. I have been talking to many who were civilians in war zones, and they describe this corona virus situation as being not just similar, but just the same. I also think that the dialogue with the virus, something that exists in that place that is not quite a being and not quite inert, a dialogue that emphasizes purpose without consciousness is well-placed.

    • Avraham Cohen April 12, 2020 at 7:19 pm

      Hi Glen, thanks for your message. I think that giving voice to that which scares me/us is a way of knowing myself and life a little more fully and all the same, life can be scary, yes? and the alternative is a deep dark unknown…
      warmest wishes,

  • Avraham Cohen April 12, 2020 at 7:32 pm

    Thank you Hamid!
    warm regards, Avraham


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