Sunday, May 03, 2020

Social Isolation 4

It's been a month since I last wrote- a month of learning how to do remote learning for my teaching and of juggling home and work along with the rest of my family. As one might expect, the experience has been an up and down one- sometimes good, sometimes not so much. We've been in social isolation now for nearly eight weeks and we are only now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, albeit a long way off. That is a good thing, but it is hard to stay patient.

What gave me the idea to write again was an article which has been circling around my feed in Facebook for the last couple of weeks- We're all monks now- America Magazine. In this article, the author discusses the experience of social isolation with three Trappist monks- 2 from the Abbey of Gethsemani, one from the midwest United States. Of course, monks are, in general, experts at social isolation. That is the point of being cloistered, so monastics might know a thing or two about  solitude in community. The article points out that  social isolation has stripped away from rest of us in the world many of things that we rely on to distract us- busyness, dreams of power and of wealth. What we are left with are ourselves and those we live with day to day. What the monks offer are suggestions from the monastic tradition about how to live fruitfully in simplicity. Practices like lectio divina or reflection can help us deal with the enforced isolation, just as they help the monks dealing with their chosen solitude.

It's a good and hopeful article. It makes the important point that this period of social isolation can offer an opportunity for spiritual and emotional growth. And it can. I think we all realized this early on as the self-isolation was beginning, when we made plans for all the things we could do while at home-projects, more baking, more projects and, of course, spiritual renewal. Surely, we'll have time for all that.

 Of course, it took a couple weeks for reality to set in that our experience in social isolation was going to be different from what we had envisaged. We found ourselves busy, sometimes even busier as we juggled remote work with the needs of our families without our normal supports. Or more stressful because of restrictions on us have made some of our daily or weekly tasks or activities like cleaning or food shopping much harder. And that precious time of reflection and prayer we thought we'd find  has become even  more difficult to manage because those hard feelings of stress, fear and frustration are also blocking our ability to settle down and pray without our thoughts chattering like an over-active ticker-tape.It isn't that God can't be found in this mess, but there is so much more emotional and mental interference than we thought there would be.

Don't get me wrong. I really do think that the article's essential point is right that the experience of social isolation for many of us  is very similar to the experience of the cloister. Yet, I also recall, as the author himself states that

                                 "Because of Covid-19, many of us are living, in a 
                              way, like monks, enclosed and isolated in our
                              homes. But unlike the monks, we did not ask for
                              or want this situation, nor it is one for which many 
                              of us were spiritually prepared."

Right now, I think social isolation for me is like a cloister, but my experience in the last few weeks is  that this 'cloister' is a huge echo chamber for my heart. If I'm in a good headspace, good things echo. I like that.

However, if I'm anxious, my fears echo. If I'm angry, my resentment echoes. All too often, all my emotions, good, but often difficult,  are echoing around in here; each loud, each insistent, creating a cacophony that is overwhelming and confusing. It takes time and work to separate that noise all out. When I take that time and use that energy, there is opportunity for growth and for good. If I'm honest, though, I have to admit that often I just want to shut it all off and block it all out with something, anything. Sooner or later, everyone gets tired.  So, emphatically, do I. 

 I think this helps explain many things about our communal experience in this time. No wonder people are struggling emotionally, mentally and spiritually. No wonder that some people have become hyper-vigilant in reaction to COVID-19, even getting furious when other people take different precautions because they will delay our return to our normal. No wonder why a mercifully small group of  people have moved into denial, believing conspiracy theories about how this isn't as bad as the media is saying and railing against the government for ruining the economy and, ultimately, their sense of the normal because of the COVID-19 restrictions. The irony is, of course, that both of the hyper-vigilant and the deniers are eagerly seeking their escape from this 'cloister' and their return to their normal. I think most of us, especially those of us who aren't spiritual giants, are also doing much the same thing, if less dramatically. 

What I'm saying is that this is a time in which we are stripped down and vulnerable, so this is a time where conditions for growth- spiritual, emotional, mental- are highly favourable. We are being forced to change our way of living and interacting. We can learn from the monks in this article ways to help us to grow gently in this time even in the ways that we had hoped at the beginning of our time of isolation. Yet, growth is never easy and it isn't any easier in this time of social isolation.  We need to be gentle with ourselves in this time as well, acknowledging our weaknesses and limitations. The key is balance.

None of us know what the lessons of this time will be for ourselves or for society. It is still too early to know any of that. My hope is that we might learn something about the preciousness of our everyday lives and appreciate those who we love more. I'm sure that is as aspirational as we all were at the beginning of this time, but no one experiences growth without some sort of aspiration.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

1 comment:

Weekend Fisher said...

I enjoyed the article. Good to see that you're safe and healthy!