“Dad, are you going to die?” one of my daughters asked the other day as I was getting ready to drive to work. As I struggled to answer my daughter’s question I felt my stress level rising.

I sat down on the floor, looked my daughter right in her brown eyes, and told her I’d probably be fine. I reminded her that as a psychologist providing talk therapy my job isn’t nearly as dangerous as front-line medical professionals in emergency rooms, intensive care units or hospitals.

But in that moment neither of us seemed satisfied with my fumbling response.

I’m a clinical psychologist who works with patients who have chronic and terminal illnesses; many of them are in hospice. Many of my psychotherapy clients also have highly compromised immune systems and are hence particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. I’ve spent my entire career in trauma, grief and end-of-life care. In my work as a psychologist, I often integrate my perspective as an ordained Zen Buddhist priest. Zen shares a lot with therapy.

Acknowledging the reality that we are all mortal beings is at the heart of all world religions, and confronting this universality can empower our lives for the better. Because our lives are finite they are infinitely valuable. Because we all only have so much time on this good, green Earth, we are forced to ask, what is our purpose in life?

A few days after my conversation with my daughter I was texting with a friend who is an emergency room physician and hospital administrator. We were texting instead of hanging out in person because social distancing has become our necessary new normal. While sharing the joys and challenges of our work, he sent me a clip from the movie “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” “The Lord of the Rings” movies are based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s books, in which the author thoughtfully explored how people cope with death and suffering.

In the scene my friend texted me, the peaceful hobbit Frodo is lamenting his path of trying to save the world and wishes that he never had to travel his path of suffering. To which Gandalf replies: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.” My friend’s text moved me to tears.

These are hard times; we are in a worldwide pandemic. We don’t know for sure what will happen. The coronavirus pandemic has felt different in a concrete, tangible way. Self-imposed isolation is a societal necessity for the good of our species. Economic anxiety and a pervasive fear of the unknown is palpable. The revered Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki once said the essence of Zen is “everything changes.” And these are times of change.

A central concept of Buddhism is the idea of samsara. Samsara, translated from Sanskrit literally means “journeying.” On this journey, there is a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain will occur and is inevitable, suffering is not.

To be human is to sometimes feel pain. The more we are immersed in the world the more pain we might feel. Often, the more good we do, the more pain we will feel. But pain and suffering are not the same; to suffer means to cling to the pain and its cause — this makes the pain worse than it has to be. To suffer is to be on a journey where we cling to things that cause us to suffer more. Suffering engages us in unskillful patterns that keep us from being in the world in the ways that we need to be.

When times are hard, consider what helps you be in the world in a way that resonates with your goals and values. We all have a skillful path that keeps us grounded even while experiencing pain — maybe it’s meditation, maybe it’s contemplative prayer, maybe it’s therapy.

Much like Frodo, following our path is an opportunity to save the world. Rather than increasing our suffering, clinging to what we wish wasn’t upon us, we can instead choose what we need to do with the time that is given to us.

The Rev. Dr. David Zuniga is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest, writer, and licensed psychologist in private practice, drdavidzuniga.com. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.