I recently took part in my first public ritual and an in-person workshop for the first time in over a year, due to the COVID times we have all lived through these past fifteen months. What struck me the most was how I felt: I thought for sure I would weep with joy and gratitude, euphoric at seeing people again, being able to hug, hold hands and engage with people outside of my own little “pod”.
Instead, I found myself feeling almost feral. No hissing (well, outwardly), just sort of recoiling inwardly when I gazed upon these groups of people, instead of the usual one or two at the most I’d been limiting myself to, during COVID restrictions. Several people began a conversation with, “I’m an introvert, so…” followed by how they still felt a bit hesitant as events are opening up. Other people began conversations with me like no time had passed, picking up when we last spoke. How amazing, I thought. Have these past fifteen months not changed you profoundly? Yet, I couldn’t talk about my own intense changes myself. I was mostly quiet, still getting used to conversing without a mask. I found I don’t react all all towards people wearing masks or not wearing masks now, as it all seems to blur together for me. It is a bit disconcerting.
A term used for this period has been called “languishing“, yet that term doesn’t feel like a good fit for what I am experiencing, either. It feels like I am sleep-walking, yet alert for danger. Open yet careful. Happy yet pensive. A bit of limbo-land, but navigating through it, without feeling stuck. A friend describes walking through these times as functioning “with grace”, and that feels a bit more comfortable. As ever, though, I remain in mostly observer mode.
I see people joyously planning on attending in-person festivals, partaking in more group activities, and in the other direction, people withdrawing more back into their shell. Somewhere in the middle is a challenge for the Pagan community.
Never do I claim to have all the answers, but I do feel that this time with COVID has changed us irrevocably. Some of us have gone through our own personal traumas, shedding or adding layers of who we were pre-COVID. Others have zoomed back into life with a vengeance, seemingly making up for lost time. I read and hear lots of grumbling and complaining. Some friends have dropped their spiritual and magical paths because they found something that resonated with them more, and some are traumatized from so much alone time. while others have grappled with losses of so many kinds. All these experiences have altered us.
For the Pagan community to thrive and move forward, I offer the following, as I try to figure out what I now want in community for myself:
Listen. Listening can seem like a forgotten art. Most listen to respond, but we need to listen more to acknowledge. Acknowledge the pain, the loneliness, the life experiences of the last fifteen or so months. Don’t pontificate, or breezily gloss over what has happened. Be present and listen. That can do a world of good for so many, especially those who are deeply into their introverted selves now.
Be present. It’s understandable as things open up, that people are surging forward with their plans, head in the future with all the possibilities of places to go, and people to see. It’s worth the effort to be present when someone is talking to you. Sink into the moment, and experience that interaction with someone. If you catch yourself doing this, do a quick grounding action, and focus on the person in front of you. I think we all have learned that we are not guaranteed tomorrow, so cherish your conversations and interactions.
Stop complaining, and start doing. We all love a good vent session, but endlessly complaining without a follow-up plan to try and make changes is useless and off-putting. Start with yourself. How can you help your community? Can you help share your knowledge or skills with others? Can you engage in thoughtful, helpful dialogue so that we as a community can change for the better? Are the things you are complaining about worth changing for you?
Focus. If you have a Fear of Missing Out (good old FOMO), have you paused and asked yourself why? Figure out (if you haven’t already) what is important to YOU, and move forward with activities and plans that resonate with those choices. Don’t go do what you always have done, just because you have always done it. It’s okay to step off your path and try something new. The path will always be there. Determine what needs are still not being met, and figure out ways to meet them. Don’t wait on others to do the work, jump on in there and help. Or work on something that means a great deal to you, and share with others.
Figure out what community means to you. It’s not only ritual, workshops, and get-togethers. It can be more one-on-one conversations, or options to include those who still want to social distance. It’s checking on each other, being in contact, finding ways to reach out to others. Maybe you want to get together and sing, or work on a food pantry, or start your own local gathering. Perhaps you would prefer to help others via online methods only. Be really clear about what you want, and the rest will fall into place.
Respect. Respect each other. Act kindly. Don’t assume. And know that you have no idea what others are going through. Politeness goes a long way, so let the snide commentary stop, both internally and vocally. Respect each other’s differences. It’s way more inviting and less intimidating to others who may want to join your community.
There’s talk of a “new renaissance” after a world-wide event, such as COVID. I see glimmers of it happening, and it keeps me going. Consider this time your own personal renaissance, so that when we do gather together, our community is stronger and more vibrant than it ever was. That can be our legacy of these post-COVID times. Continue to be safe, and cherish all that is good in your life, as we move ever onward.