This virus is an X-ray of our society, I heard writer David Brooks say last week. It exposes the deep structures and vulnerabilities of our community. Things that until now could comfortably remain hidden in the everyday busy-ness of our unquestioned autopilot mode.
In “normal” times (personally I think the “old normal” is very radical but that is for a later blog) we do not have much time to dwell on important things for too long. We are always so tremendously busy! Too busy to feel how we are doing in our important relationships, or what we want out of life, or what we think about our work choices – let alone reflecting on how the larger community is doing or where this world of ours is heading.
Through our collective self-generated frenzy, unimportant matters are made urgent so that the really important life questions are put on hold. Busy-ness as an addiction and escape. “It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when they have lost their way,” Rollo May observed sharply.
This virus is now forcing all of us to slow down. And slowing down primordially causes one thing: it brings to life what was numb before. We notice more when we slow down, we experience more – both inside and outside us. And although it does sound very romantic to talk about ‘slowing down’, I see it in my practice (and myself) every day: the art of noticing more first entails that shadows and disowned parts of us, which were held under the surface with all our unconscious might, are now mercilessly poking through the veils. The distraction of our collective acceleration disappears. “This great big festering neon distraction” grunts the frontman of Tool in the venomous song Aenima.
We all notice that, as it quiets around us, it simultaneously gets louder on the inside. Just like the ducks, herons and storks, cats and foxes that are taking back the local streets now that the human animal is forced to stay inside. And then we are faced with a choice between two options: do I keep shying away from that which has grown so much louder than ever before, or do I gently move closer to that which seems to bring me discomfort? Experience teaches us that what we push away continues to grow in volume, and returns mercilessly to us in various guises. We know it in the form of dreams, toxic unregulated stress, binge eating, partner quarrels, stubborn children, burnouts, workaholism, midlife crisis, binge-watching and so on. It cannot be otherwise: that which is inherent to us can never be far away. Pushing away what is ours only increases the inner division, the pain and emptiness that belong to our unlived life.
We have, bottom line, two ways of living. To soften or to harden. The most tempting option is armouring ourselves: we push away outside what we have suppressed inside for years. We harden inwards and outwards. We close our hearts, we set boundaries and we guard our gates with all our might. At the same time, we lose our innocence, our magical not-knowing, our desire for surrender, for life coursing through us unabated. And the biggest sin: we lose a large part of our unlived life, of our very essence. We become untouchables. The drama is that being untouchable becomes highly contagious. Armouring leads to more armouring, a domino effect of closed, inaccessible fortresses. And fortresses are the stuff of war stories. They fight each other, because that which we have no relationship to, frightens us and is always threatening.
Too big a price to pay for me.
Or we soften. We let our guard down, we welcome what we don’t control, we let ourselves be carried away. We’ll be touched, we’re vulnerable. Vulnerable means that impressions can be left in our hearts. Yes, we can be hurt, imprinted. It takes courage and gentleness. But what we get back in return is the gift of the full and experienced life, a rich palette of tastes and scents, and the ultimate human experience: the connection that comes with an open heart. A touched heart is a connected heart. Allowing yourself to be touched is essentially an ode to Being Together, to the experience of ‘Us’.
This time calls us to order: do we allow this virus to harden us into emotional separation (and then we hoard, close our hearts, and crumble in isolation) or do we collectively soften and let the whole life rage through us like a wild river, untamed and alive, so that we may coo and scream again as young children, holding nothing back, so that we may celebrate that our willingness to be touched is the source of our most precious gift: our communality, our inter-dependence.
To close, a quirky joke from the Dalai Lama. He recently joked: “in the West you say “Help! we don’t control anything! ”, and people panic. In the East we say “Cool, we don’t control anything!”, and so we relax and let life do its thing.
The choice is ours.