2020 sounded futuristic, but then we landed in quarantine, shelter in place, worldwide lockdown, separated by screens or six feet. Turns out, the future is surreal.
This is not just social distancing, this is radical transformation, this is slowness medicine. Uncertainty makes the present more vivid, the beauty harder to miss; blooming flowers, birdsong, a child’s mind.
I’m in isolation with my husband and daughters at an Airbnb in the desert, and when I discovered pinkish-orange orbs hanging from an unexpected grapefruit tree, they transformed our interim yard into eden. We drove here from San Francisco, and as we crossed the Bay Bridge, we got an eyeful of the Grand Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of Oakland. A ghost ship. We’ll never look at those behemoths the same.
One of my online yoga teachers, Ashley Albrand, says, “I’m having a healing,” when she’s sick. Humans are having a healing. And we’re not all going to make it to the other side in human form. A tragedy because we long for each other. We have skin hunger. Most of us would stay on this enchanting planet forever if we could.
Regardless of our feelings for Mother Earth, collectively, we have become an abusive lover. For centuries we have lived and worked and died as though her simple pleasures were not enough for our complex human needs. We have continuously pushed our economy to go faster, longer, harder. We want to see more, do more, have more. It doesn’t matter how much we already have, we invariably want more. We are an invasive species and now it appears that the earth’s organisms are fighting back.
COVID-19 might be our generation’s world war. Instead of fighting each other, we share a common enemy. We will soon find out, which is worse, a human enemy or a non-human enemy.
Before COVID-19, I was personally struggling for some months, uncomfortable in my own home, my own skin, my own life. If each of us are a micro reflection of the macro, then this was inevitable. We’ve been running towards this total disruption of normal life. The old way of life was not sustainable.
This is our wake-up call. Our healing. The whole planet is sick, not just us humans. We’re forced to rest, stay home or die. In the process, we’re carving out channels of compassion for each other, coming together while staying apart. We’re bathed in the blue light of our devices, refreshing infinite news feeds, starving for an update. A morsel of something we can suck on. Whether it’s getting better or worse, we want to know. We bubblewrap our discomfort with information. We think that if we know more, the future might not take us by surprise.
The unknowns are sleeping beside us at night. They’re soliciting our dreams. They’re loitering in the six feet we keep between us. They’re propositioning our bank accounts.
For generations, we optimized, we took graveyard shifts, we padded the bottom line with human lives. Capitalism is a bottomless pit. You stop feeding that kind of beast and she will swallow you whole. We’re on the edge of our couches, watching the ripple effect, trying to predict the unpredictable, hedging against the future by hoarding.
The reactions on my social media feed speak to the resilient side of humanity. People are advertising themselves as strong, fatally duped yet stubbornly positive. They’re turning to music, meditation, dance, yoga, nature, and countless creative expressions. They’re acknowledging the slowness medicine as it begins to penetrate their lives. “Our grandparents were called to war; we’re being called to the couch,” relays the popular meme, because we’re more comfortable with marginalizing our pain than accepting it; we grew up knowing that it’s a bad thing to cry.
Real conversations tend to tell a different story. Extroverts think they might become depressed if this doesn’t end soon. Parents of young, active kids feel trapped. Parents of school children feel pressure to keep their children learning and “on track” with their grade level. Everyone’s worried about Grandma and Grandpa. Investors are watching their money drain into the cesspool of cell-hijacking droplets. “Coronavirus particles have spiked proteins sticking out from their surfaces, and these spikes hook onto cell membranes, allowing the virus’s genetic material to enter the human cell,” says the New York Times.
This mean, spiky little virus has taken, threatened, and changed lives. It’s also offering an unprecedented opportunity to connect with yourself and those you love most. There’s no where to be anymore. After lifetimes of conforming to the extrovert ideal, introverts finally have the advantage. Introverts are psychologically better equipped for a pandemic because we’re energized by time alone. We’re actually relieved to have a break from tea activities and the small-talk. We have the permission to inhabit ourselves more fully. (If you’re interested in learning more about the extrovert ideal, see Quiet by Susan Cain.)
My inner-type-A introvert salivates over this empty stretch of time laid at our feet like its a magic carpet; it could take us anywhere. Give the imagination enough time and isolation, and worlds will spring up from the dust, like Elsa conjuring her ice castle in Frozen. However, rushing to fill the space created by the virus is not the answer. Don’t you remember Marshmallow, the giant snow monster that Elsa created out of fear?
If we want to create something during the pandemic, we must be careful to not create out of fear. If we continue to glorify fear, if we stuff the fear down into our hips or save it somewhere in the body for later, it’s only going to weigh us down. It’s only going to make every step forward that much heavier and our lives that much harder.
The dystopian fantasies we love are making us sick and tired. This virus is forcing us to take a pause from normal life and re-think the narrative. How do we stop hell on earth from taking root?
In this strange new world, when we do eventually encounter one another again, whether we are six feet apart or not, we can choose to see a potential carrier of the virus, or we can choose to see a reflection of love. Both possibilities are true, but perspective determines how we walk in the world, whether we vibrate with fear or love. A miracle is a shift from fear to love, and with every miracle, we raise the vibration on this blue-green planet.
Everyone has a responsibility to do their part for our collective healing. When fear is released, it can be used as fuel for love. We can leave space for miracles.
Many of humankind’s biggest cities are spacious where they were recently crowded. Skies and roads and waters are clearer than we’ve ever seen them. A civilization has been vacated, frozen by a proliferating virus that is crawling its way through our bronchial tubes, our tender-hearted bodies, inflaming our membranes and compromising the delicate balance that keeps us alive: oxygen in, carbon dioxide out. If you can take a deep breath, take one now. Feel the spaciousness in your lungs and the world. Take as many deep breaths as you can.
“First the pain, then the rising.” – Glennon Doyle