When I first heard about people doing “retreats”, ten years ago, I was a bit confused. They were leaving their homes, traveling to a different country, and then spend one or two weeks, sometimes a month or more, in a different house, all alone. So basically they were leaving their own homes to isolate in a different place.
I was confused because I didn’t understand why couldn’t they isolate in their own homes, if isolation was what they were after. Curiously, after this isolation period, they were all reporting some unusual benefits: peace of mind, less anxiety, better sleep, more self-acceptance, etc. Whatever the reasons, this isolation thing seemed to work out.
If you look carefully, all major spiritual schools have some sort of retreat practice. In Buddhism, for instance, there is a very big one, consisting in 3 years, 3 months and 3 days. I even once met a person who did this and, indeed, it struck me as a more peaceful, relaxed and lucid individual. But all other spiritual practices include some sort of isolation rituals, as a form of mind purification.
Introducing The Coronavirus Worldwide Stay At Home Retreat
So, when the first lockdowns were announced around the world, as a way to fight the Coronavirus pandemic, I thought: “look, finally a proper retreat: people don’t have to travel in order to isolate themselves, they can do it as they should: from the comfort of their own homes”. It was a bit atypical, though, this retreat:
- first of all, people didn’t expect this, it was an unplanned, disruptive event
- second, they didn’t know in advance how long it will take (in a proper retreat, you know beforehand how much time you’ll spend in isolation)
- third, they didn’t actually sign up for it, they didn’t agree, it was enforced upon them
- fourth, the confinement wasn’t an inner journey, but more of an escape from a threat. Isolation was a way to avoid a bigger danger
So, one way to look at this Coronavirus crisis is to consider it the most disruptive enforced spiritual practice on humanity. Because, just like the “normal” retreat, it did have some very profound effects:
- we started to question what’s important and what’s not, in almost all areas of our lives.
- we changed the way we travel.
- we changed the way we interact – more inter-personal distance and less physical intimacy.
- we changed the way we work – a lot of what we see as “work” is done remotely, via internet.
- we changed personal relationships – some of them became stronger, but many dissolved.
Some of these changes are here to stay, while other may last just a few more months. But, nevertheless, they flipped our reality upside down for good.
The War That Nobody Won
Another way to look at the last 3 months is to compare the depth and reach of the changes with similar events in the past. If we go that path, we can hardly find anything of equal magnitude in recent history. The closest thing to it is last century’s world wide war. With a few differences, though:
- one of the most important differences is that the number of human casualties was a few orders of magnitude smaller than in WWII: instead of millions of deaths we had dozens of thousands.
- another difference is that we were always in close contact with everything, information was more available and fast than in the last war.
- and yet another difference – probably the most important – is that, in terms of winners and losers, there wasn’t really any – the war wasn’t between humans, but between humans and a self-replicating protein. So, no human can claim victory over another human in this battle – which, in the history of wars, is definitely a first.
As with any other war, finances and economy are reshaped drastically. Some people became richer, a lot got poorer. Some business sectors exploded: e-commerce and everything that allows remote working, while others got hit hard: travel and hospitality.
But, in many ways, the world after this crisis is just as shaken as it was after last century’s WWII.
So, what’s the point of these 2 angles? Which one is “true”? Is the Coronavirus crisis the biggest enforced spiritual practice on humanity? Or is it the first planetary scale war between humans and another “species”?
To be honest, I think it’s both. And even more.
There isn’t a single angle to anything. There isn’t a single definition of an event. Each and every situation can be defined and understood using many filters, and none of them is ultimately “true”. They can all hold some amount of truth, valid in a specific context, and for a specific observer.
For some, this crisis is indeed an enforced spiritual practice. For others, it’s a planetary scale war. And yet for others, it’s just some conspiracy aimed at enforcing control by the governments. And they all are, in their own world, right about it.
It’s a bit disconcerting when you start to see things like this. We’re so accustomed to think in black and white, in definite colors instead of overlapping nuances, that when we’re faced with uncertainty and confusion, we give in to anxiety and eagerly start to reconstruct, to redefine, to readjust to a new world, more solid and manageable. And then, once we’re finally done with the readjustment, we tend to attach to this new mental construct, only to be thrown apart again, when the next big event hits, and chaos prevails.
Personally, I start to find more meaning in a fluid and unpredictable world that can be observed from a place of acceptance, than to search for a fixed order that requires huge amounts of energy to be maintained.
It just feels more in sync to learn to navigate the waves, than to try flattening the ocean.