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Connecting in the Time of Distancing

APR 04. 2020

The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought new words into our vocabulary. But they are not just mere words, as they also carry with them an associated adaptation to a new lifestyle:

Lock-down. Self-isolation. Quarantine. Stay put. Social distancing. Be cautious. Travel ban. Work from home. School at home. Sheltering in place.

All this has happened in just a few weeks. We are all in the same boat, preparing ourselves and our families to weather the situation, and being as cautious as we can. We are minimizing our contact with the external world, where our interactions in a physical sense are limited to survival needs. Anything beyond that is foolish.

It is how we do it that matters. The attitude of poise and care we can demonstrate as we go about our daily lives does radiate out towards others. COVID-19 does not discriminate according to race, gender, culture or nationality. So let us continue to be kind and compassionate to all.

To understand social distancing, let’s explore these two words – social and distancing. Social means companionship, friendship. Humans are social beings and we exist in communities. Distancing means to be separate. Simply put, social distancing is to maintain a distance between ourselves and others, whether affected by the disease or not. But is it actually social distancing we are being asked to do? Not really. Physical distancing, certainly, but does that mean that our social structures need to fall apart? While maintaining our physical distance, we may ask ourselves, are we also emotionally distancing ourselves? Somehow we have to be able to disentangle the two things.

We have always lived with physical distances – spouses working on different continents, and families spread around the world. Today, we stay connected socially and emotionally through technology, and our lifestyle has been like this for quite some time. So, what makes the current situation so different? Perhaps it is because we are worried about our loved ones, and wonder when we will see them in person again. We may feel helpless to support elderly parents on the other side of the world, or unable to comfort a dear friend in person. Whatever the reason, it certainly feels different now for many of us. The question is, how can we practice social distancing without emotional distancing? Can we take advantage of the situation and learn to enhance our emotional bonds?

We have an opportunity to take a pause,
to slow down, and to introspect on

how we interact with
even the smallest of objects.

In today’s world, we are very used to seeking happiness and fulfilment in external objects and in other people. Now we have an opportunity to take a pause, to slow down, and to introspect on how we interact with even the smallest of objects. Have you ever noticed how you handle a pen and a notebook? Or how you write? The way we handle objects, and maybe even use our glasses to see what we’re writing, tells us a lot about ourselves. We’re not used to having such an inner focus and dealing with ourselves. Biologically we are social beings, seeking fulfilment in connections with others around us. So, I wonder, what brings such calamities to a humanity that is already suffering? Is it a wake-up call for us to do more, be more aware, or is it just a reminder?

To be cautious of simple things – such as not hugging our loved ones, not shaking hands, not touching our faces – goes against our very natural instincts. And to those families experiencing the distance of being separated by oceans, it is natural to feel scared and anxious. But we may also remember a much more potent form of communication that is at our disposal: To remain connected heart to heart. To send love. Here is a simple practice we can all do every day with our loved ones:

Sit comfortably and gently close your eyes. Bring the person you wish to send love to in front of you. Feel your heart connecting to their heart. Gently send love and care to the person, from your heart to their heart, feeling connected.

After a few minutes, you will find peace inside yourself, and also in the other person, to whom you’re sending love.

Even turtles know very well how to maintain such mental contact with their family members. When it is time for a mother turtle to lay her eggs, she will swim from her place in the ocean to a sandy beach, dig holes and lay her eggs in the sand, covering them over to protect them. She then swims back out to sea. When the young turtles hatch, after two months, they scurry down to the waves and then, miraculously, swim to their mother. If turtles can maintain such contact, why not us?

There are hidden opportunities in every situation. The COVID-19 pandemic is a possibility for humanity to stay connected and understand ourselves at a deeper level. If we cannot go outside, let’s go within.

There is a little story about a young porcupine, which highlights this very important aspect of our human family, and how we face this current challenge together. It all started with a family group of porcupines, which is known as a prickle. One young member of the porcupine family was fed up, because he kept getting pricked by the quills of the other family members. So, one day he decided to go it alone, but as soon as he stepped away from the group he found himself to be almost freezing to death! At that moment, he realized he couldn’t do without his family, so he rushed back inside the prickle, not caring about how uncomfortable all the quills were. The fight against any external challenge is better faced together; to stand united is more likely to bring success.

There are hidden opportunities in every situation.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a possibility
for humanity to stay connected and
understand ourselves at a deeper level.
If we cannot go outside,
let’s go within.

The pandemic has forced most of us to stay at home. We read in the news that there are conflicts between spouses, between children and parents, and between elders and the other family members. Since when have the quills in our families become so prickly? Perhaps nature is giving us an opportunity to slow down, spend time with each other, and build stronger emotional bonds than we have done in a long while, because of our too busy lives.

Why is it that in this increasingly global world, where even a virus has no respect for national boundaries, we find ourselves to be lonelier than ever? When was the joy of solitude and silence replaced with the sadness and anxiety of loneliness? Divorce, alienation and separation have increased so much, so perhaps by staying at home we may have time to reflect and come out emotionally stronger – with stronger bonds of friendship, with more love for our spouses, and higher respect for the wonder and curiosity our children hold for the new world that is facing them. It is at times like this that we realize the importance of family.

In earlier generations, a child’s education began at home, and this went on for some time before the child was sent out into the world to learn new skills. How to engage children? First, read books with them. Read a chapter aloud together, understand it, and engage in discussion. If you complete one book a week, that’s over 50 books a year, and 500 books in ten years. Now is a good time to work on our lifestyle choices. I’m not against Internet-based technologies, and while some of you may have the tolerance levels to use them for long periods, why engage with them all the time? We have an opportunity to remember how to live without constant radiation and screen time.

Find opportunities to reach out to others in simple ways. Whether it is bonding over a song, meditating together, watching a movie, sitting down to meals, or sharing jokes, for it is no secret that liveliness, joy, and humor dissolve pain.

While it is difficult not to be pulled down by the suffering that is all around us, there is no need to give up or sink into a black hole of negativity about the state of the world. Instead, we can choose to remain prayerful. Our prayers will join with the echoes of the prayers of others, creating a resonance and an egregore everywhere. And when we focus on our inner purity, it will help to dissolve the negative thought pollution that is around us.

We can choose to remain prayerful.
Our prayers will join with the echoes
of the prayers of others,
creating a resonance and
an egregore everywhere.

This is not to deny the severity of the situation. It would be foolish to stay in denial and we must increasingly accept reality and act accordingly. The more we are able to accept, the better we will adapt ourselves for the future.

Simple habits, such as saving groceries, will sustain us for an extended period. We can also try fasting. While housebound, we may not need to eat so much food anyway. It is wise to also be careful about finances and not indulge in panic buying. We can help our elders, and those who are less fortunate. Let us remember to be kind, and volunteer for work that needs doing, while always remembering to maintain social distancing.

There are so many small tasks that generally we do not find time for, and we can now get done, like organizing the clutter around the house. We can connect to our inner artist through writing, drawing, painting, dancing, singing, cooking new dishes, sewing clothes for loved ones etc. It is easy to be lazy and waste time at home, but why not use this opportunity to create healthy lifestyle habits, such as home-cooked meals, five minutes of relaxing breathing exercises, meditation, and Yoga asanas to stay fit? Also, spend time with your loved ones, and learn some new skills either online or at home. These things can go a long way to finding a deeper sense of satisfaction and inner fulfillment. The importance of creating discipline and a routine, even in these times of lock-down, will be so beneficial. Try it for yourself. Experiment with lifestyle choices.

A simple and very effective use of our time is to become experts in our Heartfulness practices. Taking refuge from the external crisis can lead to the very positive step of taking refuge in our hearts. The heart is a sacred place, and it offers us a doorway to the vast inner universe, a place of wonder and wisdom. Through the wisdom of the heart, we can live simply, heartfully, and joyfully. Heartfulness practices offer a sort of protection in our energetic structure, which is important for balance, even if it is not a remedy for everything.

Practice for yourself. Practice for your loved ones. Practice for humanity. Practice for the universe. We have an opportunity to spend our time for the benefit of all.