Spring has arrived and the world is in lockdown. A tiny organism that looks (at microscopic level) like it escaped out of Willy Wonka’s candy factory has brought mighty nations to a standstill.
Here in the UK we have gone from laughing at the absurdity of toilet paper shortages in supermarkets to installing video conferencing software on family computers so we can keep in touch during our ‘isolation’ – all in the space of less than a week. Humour is waning as the critical nature of this illness hits home, no longer ‘somewhere over there’ but suddenly ‘right here’ in our midst, affecting family and loved ones. And as economies and health falter, we are seeing the emergence of a new way of being in community.
It didn’t take long for a push-back against the terms ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ to create ‘social spaciousness’ and ‘self-care’. Maura Bairley wrote in a Facebook post:
What if we thought about it as Social Spaciousness rather than distance? Let’s give each other space (and grace) to breathe, space to move, space to protect our siblings, grandparents, and friends. Space for rest, space for medicine making, space for prayer and ritual and magic. Space for breath, for feelings, for tears, for laughter, for hope. Spaciousness and community care support strategic thinking and wise action.
Now more than ever, we need more community, more care, and more connection, not less. And language matters, in how we process what is happening and how we make sense of it for ourselves and for each other.
As our teacher, Camille Helminski, said this week:
Unprecedented times have arrived, and yet we have known such challenges in centuries long past and have much to remember of trust in our Sustainer’s infinite support, and care for our neighbors, our planet, and world upon worlds, long hence, arising now, and yet to come.
What I’ve witnessed the most is the undeniable need of people desperate to connect – to each other and to God. Perhaps there is no difference between the two sometimes. And while some may say that this is a hard-wired response to fear and the unknown, I believe it is something more, beyond fear; our innate nature knows that harmony is with others, in spaciousness, not isolation.
My favourite lines from Mevlana Rumi come to mind:
Didn’t I say, don’t sit with sad companions?
Don’t sit with anyone but those whose hearts are glad.
Since you are in the garden, don’t go to thorns.
Sit amidst the roses, jonquils, and jasmine.
In the current situation, ‘sad companions’ makes me think about the fear-mongers and negative voices that are clambering over each other. These voices would have us shutting ourselves in, only thinking about ‘me, me, me’ instead of WE.
It has been heart-warming to see community groups and organisations reaching out to make sure the vulnerable in our society are not forgotten. For every toilet paper hoarder, there are countless other folk creating ‘self-isolation-care’ communities; shopkeepers providing free sanitary products; restaurants delivering meals-on-wheels…while the airwaves may be full of world leaders bungling through messy press conferences, on the ground the average Jack and Jill are getting on with it.
And so quickly we have found that we really can cope without so much travel; meetings have become streamlined and working from home is not the economic disaster so many thought it could be. Justine Huxley writes about the long-term opportunities we may gain from this challenge:
One obvious opportunity we are being shown is some of the behaviours we need to transition to a zero carbon economy. A month ago, humanity was struggling to commit to the rapid change needed to stay under two degrees of global heating. Now we find out just how quickly our attachment to air travel can be put aside. When the motivation is there, meetings can be conducted online and holidays can be relinquished…
Maybe there is a message in there about how transition might not just be bleak sacrifice, but could yield hidden benefits. What else could we discover when we disrupt ingrained assumptions behind our extractive work ethics? What happens when are forced to slow down and prioritise our local neighbourhoods and a simpler way of life?
And the greatest illumination has been the unveiling of those who are the bedrock of society. No, not the bankers, hedge-fund managers and political advisors. But the zero-hour contract workers – our healthcare providers, retail staff, cleaners, delivery and maintenance personnel; those who are risking their health, leaving children at home, and selflessly putting the needs of the community before themselves. I am in awe of these mirrors of the Divine and grateful for the growing awareness of the importance of these workers.
Gaze upon each person’s face.
Pay attention. Perhaps through service
you might come to know
the Face of the Beloved.
In our Threshold Society circles, we are moving from physical gatherings to virtual prayer spaces. And weekly connection is not even enough. There are daily prayer chains and circles, folks connecting with circles in other countries and time zones, sharing, sitting in silence, Being together. While we have lost our in-person contact, we seem to have gained so much more in this relatively short time as we expand our capacity to hold sacred space with each other.
It is still early days and we do not know how long this will last, how far our humanity will prevail. But I am hopeful that this challenge and the opportunities it has shed will lead us into a different future, a different path from where we were before. As Camille Helminski says,
May we be taught through these difficulties how to be more Real in alignment with our Truest Source. Ya Haqq, Ya Wadud, Ya Wakil! [O Truth, O Loving One, O Trustee!]
1 Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi: 1518, The Rumi Daybook, translated by Helminski
2 Mathnawi I: 314-315, The Rumi Daybook, translated by Helminski