Connection – Skill, Art & Necessity
And why we can't blame it all on Covid-19
by Sandra Meisel
This essay isn’t about blame, it most certainly isn’t! I like the title, though, thought it was catchy. And I wanted to catch your attention. Not to entertain, but I wanted you to join me on the following investigation: What if Covid-19 only highlights our longing and thirst for company and connection? What if the more underlying reasons for our ever-present disconnectedness and isolation are to be found within ourselves, in our beliefs, attitude and behaviour?
Covid-19 deprives us of physical connection and that’s a big sacrifice, so much for sure.And it is no big news that loneliness and social isolation can cause significant emotional pain, as well as great negative impact on the physical wellbeing. In her TED-talk, “The power of vulnerability”, Brené Brown talks about how connection gives us purpose and meaning in our life. She states that connection is what we are here for, that it lies in our neurobiological wiring to search for it. The internet is full with observations and studies conducted during the 2020 lockdown, which strongly support the previous findings. The amount of people experiencing loneliness on a regular basis has significantly increased in the course of the pandemic.
Covid-19, this global, albeit involuntary, experiment painfully confirms that isolation and a life with little physical contact does not suit us very well; that we are a social species after all! In ancient times, being kicked out of your flock and banned from your community was a death sentence almost for sure. The community provided shelter, safety and food. Today, when living a life in solitude, we might not lack basic physical necessities but one might still suffer from loneliness and a lack of belonging. Our gregariousness is inherent to our human nature and at least in the early days of mankind it was certainly key to survival.
If we look at “connection” in a broader sense, we find that it presents itself in various forms and that “physical connection”, which Covid-19 makes us sacrifice, is just one of them: We can connect to nature, to art, to a higher purpose, to the Divine, visions and ideas, to our inner self etc.Covid-19 leaves us feeling isolated and disconnected, yes, but not only Covid-19 does that. If we look thoroughly it turns out that there are a number of behavioural habits, attitudes and believes all lying within ourselves that stand in the way for connection to happen. This is good news because it means that we can do something about it! These “connection suppressors” how we can call them, are what this essay is after and which we try to identify. Because if, as so many studies suggest, connection is nothing less but the purpose in life, we want to do our best and set the stage for it to unfold!
There’s no doubt that the governments demand great sacrifices from each one of us in this common fight against the virus. And it certainly is quite easy to get lost in frustration. But we can also try and rise to the challenge, take action and explore how we are standing in our own way for connection to happen!
Over the last months I have spent a lot of time self-investigating and pondering over these issues and I have found several pitfalls worth digging into a little deeper. Let’s see if or to what degree you can relate to them as well.
We are so much in a hurry, that we are missing out on life itself.
Our default mode is ticking things off the list. We are always onto the next thing. This is how we live, work, socialize, communicate, eat, exercise, sometimes even love and parent. We are scrolling down the news, flicking through playlists, posts and tweets. We are jumping from one chat window to the next, calling it communication. Constant rush and forward-momentum characterise big parts of our life. Our fear of missing out (FOMO) is what drives us. Paradoxically, what really makes us miss out, is that very fear itself! Connection always happens in the present moment but FOMO makes us loose contact with the present moment and thus overlook everything it has to offer.
“We get such a kick out of looking forward to pleasures and rushing ahead to meet them that we can’t slow down enough
to enjoy them when they come. We are therefore a civilisation that suffers from chronic disappointment – a formidable
swarm of spoiled children smashing their toys.” Alan Watts (British American philosopher, 1915-1973)
Connection requires a mind that is able to pay attention, to watch and listen closely instead of being pulled away by every ever so little stimulus. We seem to have lost that ability to some degree, and at the same time we have lost the ability to connect.
The rapid reward-cycles of modern media have further accelerated this development. We have become terrible at enduring boredom. Already half a minute of a “pause” where nothing happens, is too much for our dopamine-craving brains to handle and makes us reach for the phone. This leaves little time for reflection, for random thoughts and creative aha-moments. We are a distraction-addicted, attention-deficit society. We have created a world that lacks depth. The quantity of fake news and dubious beliefs is only symptomatic because we allow no time to crosscheck and verify the correctness of the information at hand. A world like that makes us feel empty, anxious, dissatisfied and – have a guess! – disconnected. Our bodies are in the present moment – where else should they be? But our minds are…. – well, where are they?
We pretend to be someone we are not
In Buddhist teachings the activity of creating and cultivating an image of yourself is called “selfing”. Social media platforms are big allies in this activity. Selfing is driven by different motivations and expectations, depending on one’s personality. Some want to be seen and stand out, others content themselves with fitting in. Some seek acceptance, others want more and strive for acknowledgement, or admiration and become almost avatar-like creatures 1). We all engage in it to a varying degree, depending on the circumstances, the setting and the roles we play.
Whatever the goal, selfing often comes at a price: The disconnection from ourselves as we pretend to be someone we are not. From that place we can only fail to connect to the people and the world around us. Brené Brown says that in order for true connection to happen we need to allow ourselves to be seen for who we are, deeply seen. The groomed and flawless image of an avatar is beautiful to look at, but artificial, unreal and shallow. Shallow also becomes our contact with the world.
2. Our bubble has turned into a fortress
We very much differ between whom we want to connect to and to whom we don’t. We look for connection and acknowledgement with like-minded people and aren’t very interested about the rest. I guess this is only natural and shouldn’t be a problem as long as the bubble we live in doesn’t become a fortress. This is what often happens, though. And this is when it becomes sort of paradox: when the very drive to connect stands in the way for connection to happen, promoting separation and societal divide instead. But who exactly are the “builders” of that fortress? Let’s have a look:
(i) Strong point of view: The stronger we identify ourselves with our values, tastes and lifestyle, our opinions, stories and background (i.e. the more we engage in selfing and live it), the higher the walls we build and the more exclusive we become. So in all our eagerness to connect with some, we distance ourselves from the rest.
Put this to the extreme, and the result is what we were to observe in the 2020 US election, i.e. the deep divide within the American society. The tone and message of the election campaign was “us versus them” and the goal seemed pretty obvious: to SEPARATE from the unlike-minded in order to INCREASE the connection of the like-minded. We witnessed how comradeship grows stronger the more aggressively one separates from the rest. Not only did connection and separation seem to go hand in hand, but what’s more, one appeared to catalyse the other.
The same defamation strategies are applied with the current Covid-19 crisis, which, according to C. Eisenstein offers „juicy material for conspiracy theories. (…) I wish a lot more people would embrace not knowing. I say that both to those who embrace the dominant narrative, as well as to those who hew to dissenting ones. What information might we be blocking out, in order to maintain the integrity of our viewpoints? Let’s be humble in our beliefs: it is a matter of life and death.“
Instead of seeing the value and creative potential of different perspective and views, we tend to avoid them and if we can’t we become offensive. Much of the public discourse is characterised by this very same pattern: open-hearted and respectful discussions with room for different opinions have become rare. Instead, we see people yelling and defaming one another, drawing clear lines between what is right or wrong and always knowing better. The algorithms on social media platforms further contribute to the polarisation and division of the world. Their only goal is to increase our screen time, therefore they specifically target our preferences, interests and views. Our news feed perfectly reflects the bubble we live in: Show me your news feed and I tell you who you are!
But there is yet another and much simpler reason why we barricade ourselves in the fortress, the reason being….
(ii) …convenience: Our fortress is comfy and provides shelter. The rules are set – our viewpoints, opinions and beliefs, too. Differing opinions often make us feel uncomfortable, sometimes even provoked, they are seen as a threat to the peace and quiet of our bubble. It takes real effort to deal with them and, worst of all, we might feel forced to question our own; and often this in NOT what we are after.
We might call ourselves just happy with our fixed (or sometimes also lacking) viewpoints, opinions and beliefs, but what we yet again sacrifice with this attitude is: depth. We’ve already discussed how our lack of depths may result from our fear of missing out (FOMO). Not only, though. Convenience can also lie at its roots.
(iii) Our fear of standing alone: Some seek the company of the flock less out of convenience or conviction but out of fear: the fear of standing alone. For them it is not about being seen, but of NOT being seen. For them the flock is little more but a shelter, a hiding place. “If people get to see my true self, including my weaknesses and flaws, will I still be worthy of connection? Am I still good enough?”
The fear of losing connection typically involves some kind of shame. Shame can be the driving force to fit in and to hide the true self. And once again (here comes selfing-alert no. 2) do we disconnect from ourselves as we pretend to be someone we are not.
The habit of comparison is part of this dreadful game. We tend to spend quite a significant amount of time comparing ourselves to others 2) . As we do so, we create stories around why we are superior or inferior to the person next to us. Whatever the conclusion, there is nothing to gain from. Comparison undermines connection and reinforces separation.
We can clearly see how the longing for connection and the fear of losing it can stand right next to each other. In other words, as much as we long for connection might we also fear losing it. This leads to another paradox: we want connection, but our fear of losing it sets the stage for the exact opposite 3); not only do we disconnect from ourselves as mentioned above. Also, in our desperate quest for acceptance and acknowledgement from the flock might we watch other people being bullied or even actively join in. Under self-imposed peer pressure do we allow the divide growing bigger, plus we make others pay for our own weaknesses and fears. Instead of trying to unite and find common ground do we become followers 4).
Moving towards connection
We’ve discussed in great detail where our disconnectedness, our sense of isolation, estrangement and not-belonging might come from. The question that arises now is how to overcome the status quo – how to connect!
As usual the initial steps are probably the most difficult; they might even appear somewhat overwhelming to begin with. Moving towards connection requires the willingness to review and reflect on our attitudes, our convictions, values and fears – in other words, the willingness to allow our world being turned upside down! All this being exactly what it takes to open into vulnerability. But why would we want to do that?
Love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee! (…) Practice gratitude and joy in those
moments of terror, being able to say, "I'm just so grateful, because
to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive." Brené Brown
In her TED talk, Brené Brown explains that true connection requires that we open up. She shows how connection comes as a result of authenticity, the willingness to let go of who we think we should be in order to be who we are. For that we also have to understand our selfing activities, the how, why and where we engage into them. All this can be summarised as….
…opening into vulnerability!
The thing is, we don’t like feeling vulnerable and we tend to numb it together with other challenging emotions. But apparently, you can’t selectively numb emotions. So each time we resort to our trusted distraction strategy (a couple of beers, binge-watching Netflix etc.) in order to numb boredom, frustration, shame, anxiety or pain, we do also numb all positive emotions and potential, such as the possibility for connection.
Our aversion against vulnerability might originate from one common misconception:
We confuse vulnerability with weakness. The truth is, opening into vulnerability requires quite an amount of courage, strength and trust. After all, we decide to finally stand by our inadequacies, weaknesses and flaws. The courage, strength and trust this takes come from the understanding that vulnerability is unavoidable if we want true connection to happen. Motivational to know, that we can expect far more than connection in return for our investment. Opening into vulnerability opens a door behind which awaits tremendous empowerment, healing potential and freedom. And there is more: We trade our fragile self-esteem for something very precious, and that is compassion.
Compassion is THE all-round “weapon” against all sorts of self-limiting emotions such as resentment, false pride, anxiety, shame, lack of worthiness etc. It helps us find equanimity and loving acceptance where there otherwise was rejection, aversion, remorse or denial. It certainly is one of the most powerful companions and mentors to have on one’s side when it comes to all big life topics and themes such as parenting, pregnancy and child birth, aging, career decisions, job loss, separation and divorce, death etc. (feel free to complete the list to your liking).
With compassion we also see more clearly that others face struggles similar to ours. And instead of comparing ourselves with others and looking for differences, we get more and more interested in seeing what we have in common, what unites us. We begin to understand that most of us share the same longing for connection, but also the same misconceptions of how to achieve it.
So in the same way that we found compassion and a sense of good will for ourselves, we find empathy for others. Our actions, speech and thoughts reflect that. We let go of our judgemental attitude and presumptuous behaviour. All this becomes apparent in our appearance and makes people feel safe in our presence. Before, we have been barricading ourselves in a fortress for a variety of reasons. But now, through kindness and heartfelt bravery we create a space around us where others feel safe and welcome to be who they are. Where different opinions and viewpoints – even those we disagree with – aren’t considered a threat anymore, but welcome. In this space, true connection can flourish.
Just a few more words addressing the sceptic, who might argue: Why would we want to cultivate compassion, if that only means to suffer other creature’s pains? If we could alternatively mind our own business and just turn the head away… What to gain from it?
Think it through, the moment you connect to other people’s suffering and pains you ALSO connect to their joys and feel them as your own! Compassion acts as an amplifier, so to say.
The implication for our own feelings and emotions is summarised in S. Robinson’s famous quote: “Pain shared is pain lessened. Joy shared is joy increased.” Sharing your own joys and pains, with authenticity, generosity and compassion, is part of what opening into vulnerability is about.
If you still aren’t convinced, please remember: We can’t selectively numb emotions. This is probably the strongest argument for cultivating compassion: no joy without pain. So if we want to experience true joy, we have to open our beating heart to all sorts of emotions, not just the comfortable and “easy” ones. So this is the price if we really want to feel alive and connected. And connection is what we are here for, where lasting and sustainable happiness is to be found.
A curious mind connects – about finding presence and depths
Once we leave the fortress walls behind, curiosity takes over. This sets the stage for entirely new discoveries, possibilities and insight. We add depth to our life!
We can see this in children and how they approach the world. The secret behind their effortless connection to the world, their creativity and ideas, is that they are naturally curious, attentive and easily inspired.
A toddler observing his surroundings usually holds himself upright with his spine perfectly erect. His posture reflects pure attention and presence, it manifests a permeable, unrestricted and unrushed mind that is not grasping, not pushing away, just completely open for anything to happen. It is beautiful to look at, and wise to take as an example.
A similar mindset you find in babies, although their way to connect is different. Their focus is broader, it almost seems like it is lacking. According to author A. Gopnik, babies explore the world with what she calls “lantern consciousness”. They take in their surroundings like a lantern casting light in all directions. They are highly attentive when they do so. Their apparent lack of focus is purposeful and not to be mistaken for a lack of presence or a distracted mind. A distracted mind spaces out, it does not “take in”. The broader focus enables them to light up everything around them simultaneously. Such operating mode promotes rapid learning; it facilitates making new connections, discoveries and sense of the world.
Once a child grows older, the mind learns to channel the attention. This is when the broad “lantern” focus is exchanged for the ability to zoom more in onto details. But the anything-is-possible-mentality, the mental flexibility, depth and attention remain.
This is quite unlike the general adult mind, which is often helplessly stuck in deep mental grooves and patterns, missing out on everything the present moment has to offer. But if we want to restore a sense of awe and wonder, if we want to SEE the opportunities that lie right in front of us, we have to shed our narrow-minded and biased attitude first. Otherwise, if we never get to leave our comfort zone, bubble, fortress, whatever image works for you, chances are high that many possibilities, moments of joys and discoveries remain hidden.
Not all of the adult way of doing things should be vilified, though. Clearly, the “lantern consciousness” isn’t very helpful when conducting daily chores. Going on autopilot and lasering in on a single task is exactly what is needed in certain occasions. Nonetheless would it probably do us all good to stretch our imagination from time to time; to try and maintain the plasticity of our brain in the same way we try to maintain the flexibility of our body.
We want a mind that is both flexible AND able to focus. Just in the same way that we wish for a certain flexibility AND strength in our physical body. It’s the right balance between both qualities that optimises our physical and mental performance and wellbeing. In that regard it’s also quite helpful to develop awareness which operating mode, which state of mind we are in; it’s about getting a feel what mode serves the moment best. Small tip, go for the “lantern mode” when exploring a foreign country and culture and – even more important – when playing with your 2-year old!
Let’s revisit the pitfalls and sum it up: We have learned that disconnection comes in the wake of the constant rush and getting-things-done mentality that characterise big parts of many people’s life; that we need to be very careful that our initial drive to connect does not end up in self-abandonment, separation and societal divide; that we need to be who we are and stretch our imagination in the same way we stretch our hamstrings.
Certainly, self-reflection is key in order for these thoughts to have real impact. But being open to new ideas and different viewpoints is just one thing! In order to break old habits and internalise new ones, we need to go deep into our neurological wiring and software. For that to happen action, embodied action, needs to follow. Otherwise it all just remains theory.
So each time we translate the attitude of openness and welcome into embodied experience, when this very attitude can be felt with all our senses, this is when we create deep and more lasting impact on the brain and successfully rewrite our code. We need to smell, hear and see through our own nostrils, ears and eyes, feel through our own skin and bones… Therefore, let’s get into the body and out into the world!
Unplug the phone and reconnect with life
What does connection mean to you? When, where and how do you find it? Ask yourself, which activities create a sense of connection, which people or places support you find a sense of integrity and belonging. This is where you want to invest more of your time!
“The more time you spend in a state of curiosity, enthusiasm and dedication, the more depths you add to your life.
Connection will grow as a consequence.”
As mentioned before, connection always happens in the present moment and activities that cultivate presence are manifold. What they all have in common is that they bring the mind closer to where the body is, which is here and now. When we do arts or handcraft, play an instrument, climb a mountain, when we deeply reflect on things or have a conversation with a friend, when time is not an issue, when the outcome alone isn’t the goal and no expectation drags us away from the experience itself: this is when we connect.
Once again, we can learn a lot from children and how they play: they play for the sake of playing, nothing more. Task-orientation is not involved. A. Gopnik puts it this way: “A child’s brain does explore, not exploit. It is good for learning, not accomplishing”. Children’s play is driven by deep curiosity; it brims over with enthusiasm, creativity and imagination. They connect naturally to the present moment and to the unlimited potential it holds.
It is that state of possibility that fills their days with fun and joy. Through their imagination children turn literally any place into a playground. Boredom rarely lasts long. Not because they turn on the TV or check the latest messages or news. Because it is during those moments of boredom where they are checking in with the presence, reconnecting with it and making literally the most out of it. To children, moments of boredom are a source! Adults tend to quickly give in to the impulse of filling them with irrelevant stimuli. Each time we do so, we lose another chance to connect to the present moment, depriving ourselves of sudden realisations or creative breakthroughs.
What helps is a change of scene! Leaving deeply ingrained patterns is not easy in our usual environment, but it happens almost naturally when we expose ourselves to new surroundings and experiences.
So, whatever your go-to activities, break your usual routine from time to time and try something new (and don’t let your self image stand in the way)! Reinvent yourself! Let the lantern mindset infuse your leisure time and guide you! That means if downhill biking is your thing, try yourself at West Coast Swing for a change, sign up for a Wild Edible Workshop or learn to identify the different birdsongs in your backyard. Whatever it is, surprise yourself with something that is totally not on your radar! You might find passion where there was none!
Find your personal rest ethic
When it comes to choosing and planning your activities, there is one more thing to consider: In order to connect we need to be well rested, physically and mentally well rested. It’s a non-negotiable prerequisite. We don’t have the mental, physical nor emotional capacity to properly connect if we are tired, stressed out or overworked.
In their recently published book “Time off” J. Fitch and M. Frenzel say that a proper rest ethic is key for finding “success without the stress”.
Why is that? Surely, because successful people connect, and a proper rest ethic makes connection easier to happen. The better the rest, the deeper the connection, the greater the success (“success” can be defined in a broad sense and stand for the fulfilment you find in your relationships, your career, your spare time projects etc.).
Again, deep connection relies on a proper rest ethic, but also on a certain consciousness around it. According to the authors the essence of a good rest ethic is “becoming conscious about how you spend your time, recognizing that busyness is often the opposite of productivity, admitting and respecting your need for downtime and detachment, establishing clear boundaries and saying “no” more often.” What it all boils down to is trading FOMO for JOMO, the “fear of missing out” for the “joy of missing out”.
So yes, we want to engage into activities that cultivate presence. But at the same time, and probably even more important, do we want to disengage more and more from activities that cultivate busyness, distraction and mass consumption of any kind. Because eventually, we want to get to a place where we are missing out intuitively (and happily!) on everything that undermines connection.
Let’s remember where we began: our ability to connect and to find a sense of belonging is most likely blocked by a number of self-limiting behaviours, attitudes and beliefs. Since connection is why we are here, identifying our “connection suppressors” a matter of some urgency.
Not shying away from certain questions can help a great deal to reveal what lies at the very bottom of our disconnectedness. For instance, what is it that makes you struggle to deviate from the well-trodden path? And if different opinions and views tend to give you a hard time, what exactly stands behind that scepticism? Is it convenience, self-righteousness, self-protection or a combination of those? Which selfing activities are at play? Some of that stuff might be so deeply ingrained that we are totally oblivious to it. But there’s a way out of “habit hell”!
To interrupt a habit is to make it visible; it is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice.
Charles Eisenstein (public speaker and author)
Only attitudes and behaviours we find easy become a habit. So, if we want to replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones, we need to work on making them effortless. No question it needs sustained effort to build and strengthen a new habit, attitude and behaviour. And it needs discipline. But the moment we no longer have to make an effort, we’ve achieved independence and freedom of choice! Eventually, discipline will lead to freedom.
We can almost think of connection as a skill; an indispensable skill when it comes to finding fulfilment, contentment and joy. The very same skill we need when it comes to finding solutions for the challenges of our modern world. Fact is, we need some innovative, bold and creative ideas to solve the cultural conflicts, environmental and societal problems we are facing. For that we need to unlock the anything-is-possible-mindset, the enthusiasm, curiosity, playfulness and imagination of our inner child and learn how to switch into lantern mode from time to time. The ability to connect lies at the root of all of these qualities. In the same way that the ability to connect helps improve our personal life and relationships it will also help us find peaceful and sustainable ways of living on this planet at large. Connection is the foundation upon which changes happen, great and small.
A mind that is trapped in its deep mental grooves and patterns, blinkered, judgemental and offended, is no good for problem-solving; it tends to divide into different camps, (knowingly or unknowingly) wasting resources, time and lives; it doesn’t allow for unhindered exploration of far-fetched solutions and the creation of new ideas, which is exactly what is needed. Only unrestricted, imaginative and outside-the-box thinking imagines the unimaginable and leads to the sort of breakthroughs we are looking for.
For that we have to shed our hurt pride, we have to watch and listen carefully, and be truly interested in hearing the underlying fears and needs of the “unlike-minded” 5), the less privileged and those that have no voice. We have to connect. We have to connect because global problems require being tackled in a common and united effort.
Now, if saving the entire world isn’t on your agenda, bear with me! You don’t need to develop cutting-edge technologies against the climate crisis or work for Doctors Without Borders to be contributing something of value. Through the ability to connect, we become more reflected, more thoughtful, and more caring people, we basically become better versions of ourselves. The ego gets out of the way and that’s not just for our own sake. It’s something we radiate out into the immediate world we are part of. In doing so, trust me, you do your part to make the world a better place! Recall the metaphor “imagine there’s war and nobody joins”? – We can choose what to join and what not. We can choose connection over alienation, separation and isolation. But it takes more than hoping for the day when we can tear off our facial masks and enjoy a concert surrounded by masses of people.
Covid-19 has revealed quite bluntly, in the most painful way really, that connection is what we are here for. It is worth contemplating if we just want to return to where we left off over a year ago, and “proceed as before down the path toward greater insulation, isolation, domination, and separation”, or, instead, if we want to refine our connection skills and become better at it. It is a skill, we might even call it an art, it certainly is a necessity. C. Eisenstein further suggests that “we can take advantage of this pause, this break in normal, to turn onto a path of reunion, of holism, of the restoring of lost connections, of the repair of community and the rejoining of the web of life.”
My hope is that reflection and lived experiences will help us come to the understanding that we aren’t separate selves but part of something bigger. C. Eisenstein sees us in the midst of a transition from what he calls The Story of Separation into The Story of Interbeing. In The Story of Interbeing it is no longer rational wanting to conquer nature or to dominate and exploit the other, because in that story the way we treat the world is how we treat ourselves; eventually all will be returned to us. So if, for example, we impoverish nature, we impoverish ourselves too. “The ecological crisis comes from treating the Earth as an Other. (…) If we really were in love with the planet and incorporated that love in all of our systems, into our money system, we would not have an ecological crisis.” We probably would not have an ecological crisis if compassion were the driving force of our actions.
Eisenstein explains that The Story of Interbeing really is a story of love, an expansion of the self to include the other; a story in which we are no longer just separate selves but where the other’s happiness is one’s own happiness. In that story we all become part of the tribe of all Life on Earth. We’ve been long taught that the logic of separation is the ultimate truth and how the world functions. It is time to dismantle and to challenge that logic, and we do so as we connect! What it needs is open-heartedness, courage, trust and certainly some inner work as well. I hope that, by now, you’ve come to the conclusion that you can only gain.
I like to add a few Covid-specific thoughts on the subject. Because there are a number of things we’ve discussed above that this virus not only supports but teaches the most painful way. Therefore it isn’t a teacher we necessarily appreciate. But as we know, our best teachers often come in the form of our worst enemies: they are a nuisance, totally inconvenient, BUT – they make us reflect on things.
Only the moment the whole world paused, when home suddenly became workplace, kindergarten and school all-in-one and our hair started looking funny, only then did it dawn on us how much we depend on one another. Covid-19 forced us all into isolation and in doing so it taught us that everything is interconnected. There are people who take care of our kids while we are at work, people who sell us groceries across the counter, who cut our hair, empty our garbage bins, provide our homes with electricity and water or take care of the elderly and sick. Once all this falls away our existence becomes pretty desperate pretty quickly.
The realisation that we are part of something bigger might almost come as a revelation; it can generate a sense of belonging, but also be quite scary. I rather like to look at interconnectedness from a positive angle – and this folds back into Eisenstein’s before mentioned Story of Interbeing – where it is much more about being of service to others, than being dependent on others. Interconnectedness simply implies that our behaviour, that everything we do, has an effect, good or bad, on the people next to us. During Covid-times this very fact is presented in visualised form even: Statistics and graphs show the daily development of infection and hospitalisation and it becomes entirely visible how our own choices and actions affect the wellbeing of our fellow citizens.
Covid-19 teaches us that the bubble we live in is permeable, not just figuratively but even literally speaking: That is because we all share the same body of air, we are inherently connected through the air we breathe. No one can escape that simple truth. Obviously, this is not the most popular notion during “aerosol-conscious” days like these, but it’s an image, which is also commonly used in Yoga in order to visualise the interconnectedness of beings. If we continue this train of thought, then Covid-19 exactly confirms what we’ve discussed before: that we have to make ourselves vulnerable if we want connection to happen; everyone knows that physical connection comes at the price of increased infectious risk. And although this may sound cynical, even morbid, I’m somehow drawn to the idea that this little virus opens a discourse that is almost philosophical in character.
After everything that has been said, even the lone wolves and those that consider themselves highly autonomous and self-reliant can no longer escape the truth of being part of something bigger; with a clear emphasis on “part of”.
If mankind, the self-proclaimed “Crown of Creation”, can be overthrown by a thing as tiny as this virus, a virus that puts the whole human-made world on hold, then we are required to question our human self-righteousness and the image we have of ourselves as human race. Covid-19 puts us back into our place. And by that we shouldn’t feel humiliated, but humbled. We are neither wearing the Crown, nor are we just visitors, but we are PART of this place, we belong.
It’s over a year that many of our go-to activities and pastimes are no longer available, meaning that there is much less distraction these days. In some way, our life has become simpler. I don’t mean simpler with regards to the problems to solve, but with regards to how full and varied our daily schedule looks now compared to before. This is certainly true for my own life and day-to-day routine; it hasn’t become easier, but simpler. And because of that, because distraction is less available, unresolved issues and emotions, all things that have (unknowingly) piled up become all of a sudden quite visible. Of course, many of the challenges we are facing since early 2020 are entirely Covid-generated. Some, however, are pre-existing and Covid-19 only turns the spotlight on them.
This offers the chance for self-discovery, a chance to dig deeper into what lies at the very root of our suffering in general, including our disconnection, fear, resentment, anger, pain, confusion, mistrust etc.
Of course this opportunity isn’t available to everyone; certainly not to the ones for whom the pandemic becomes a question of survival. And here, Covid-19 puts the finger on something else: The social, economic and geographical injustice and imbalances we’ve already known for long (which are part of The Story of Separation). In the beginning, it was often talked about all of us being in the same boat, fighting the virus in a common effort. Well, truly, there’s a huge range in the struggles and hardship individuals are facing and the pandemic realities look all but the same. How much you are able to protect yourself, your access to vaccination and related health care, all this depends on your social background, your education, the country you live in, and the colour of your skin. Furthermore, there will always be the privileged receiving priority care because of having the “right” contacts.
Returning to our previous discussion: The world is full of inequality and disparity, of frontiers, trenches and walls. Let’s make sure that our own behaviour, our action, speech and thoughts, do not add to the divide but instead help to eventually eliminate it.
According to C. Eisenstein “every act of compassion, kindness, courage, or generosity heals us from the Story of Separation, because it assures both actor and witness that we are in this together”.
I noticed myself as I am writing all this that I still have a lot of deep inner work to do; also, that it is quite easy to content oneself with the fact to understand intellectually. But it makes a tremendous difference if things only remain in our heads or if we really cultivate change, take responsibility and action! So, please, don’t just leave it there, but know that you are needed, that you belong! Know that you are needed – BECAUSE you belong!
1) From Sanskrit avatāra: a god appearing in a physical form
2) Parents are particular prone to fall for it; to the chagrin of their children in particular.
3) Same as with FOMO: our fear of missing out is what makes us miss out.
4) Of course, what has been said is only applicable for free, democratic societies. In repressive regimes the “peer pressure” is real and people who think for themselves have far more to fear than standing alone.
5) In order to avoid misunderstanding I wanted to briefly mention that opening up to new perspective and views certainly doesn’t mean you want to consider becoming racist, homophobe, fundamentalist ect.. BUT it can certainly be of value to connect and listen, trying to understand what lies underneath some people’s ignorance, hatred and perception… – and hopefully change things for the better from there. Going into further detail is certainly beyond the scope of what we can cover here.
Sources & Inspiration
Brown, Brené: The Power of Vulnerability
Eisenstein, Charles: The Coronation
Eisenstein, Charles: Campfire Stories – On the Story of Separation and the Story of Interbeing
Eisenstein, Charles: Moving Towards Interbeing
Fitch, John & Frenzel, Max: Time Off
Fronsdal, Gil: Selfing
Gopnik, Alison: The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life
Netflix Documentary: The Social Dilemma