The Covid 19 pandemic had turned our lives upside down on a global scale. What we as a collective could not possibly have anticipated ever happening to privileged Western people has become our new normal as we are forced into lockdown and social isolation.
Ironically, apart from travel plans being canceled, my day-to-day life hasn’t changed that much. As a freelance writer, I’ve always worked from home and my workload and deadlines remain unchanged. In fact, many freelancers and remote workers feel pressured into greater productivity now that they are “stuck at home” with few other diversions. To me, this pressure to carry on business as usual amid a news stream of ever increasing infection and deaths feels sickeningly schizoid. Jocelyn K. Glei, in her brilliant podcast series Hurry Slowly, discusses this phenomenon of productivity shame.
On the other side of the coin, countless people have been forced out of work as businesses have shut down for the duration of the pandemic. Many people, especially young people and women, face the double-whammy of losing their income and having to homeschool their unhappy, cooped-up children. As families are put under pressure with no escape from abusive partners, domestic violence rates have soared. Meanwhile, many have been forcibly separated from vulnerable elderly relatives, causing untold distress.
This pandemic is undeniably a catastrophe, a staggering tragedy.
As governments step in to attempt to slow down infection rates, we find our civil liberties eroding and we don’t even know how long this will last.
Many days I can’t even bear to face the news. I feel as though I’m trapped in a badly written science fiction novel.
So how can we cope spiritually and psychologically with our new normal? Is it possible to find grace and blessing in these most frightening of times?
Before the pandemic, many of us led hyper-busy, verging on burnout lives that were very outward-directed, with precious little time for introspection and contemplation.
In summer 2019, during a super-hectic period of travel, conferences, speaking engagements, and looming deadlines, I found myself longing for respite. If only I could go on a long retreat, I found myself thinking. Or a sabbatical.
Had I only known that just over half-a-year later, the whole planet would be forced into retreat. That we would have no other choice but to slow down. That our outer-directedness and busy-ness would come to such an abrupt and shocking halt.
Now that the whole globe is on pause–apart from medical professionals and supermarket employees who are working long and grueling shifts to keep the rest of us alive–could we embrace this moment as a chance to take the time we just didn’t have in the Time Before? Could we view this as a retreat? Could we open our hearts to soulful contemplation? Can we view this as an invitation to creative gestation? To spend our lockdown in mindful presence with our spouse, our children, our animal companions?
In a recent talk, author and teacher Mirabai Starr discussed how the Hebrew word mitzvah means both mandate and blessing. For example, the mandate to keep holy the Shabbat opens devotees to the blessing of a day of rest, replenishment, and sacred connection. Likewise, Starr said that lockdown could be seen as the mandate to turn inward and take refuge in spiritual practice so we might receive the blessing of sanctuary and renewal.
Julian of Norwich and Social Distancing: A beautiful essay on how people of earlier times sought spiritual consolation in an era of plague and annihilation.
Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. Her most recent novel Ecstasy is about the composer Alma Schindler Mahler. If you enjoyed this article, sign up for Mary’s newsletter or visit her website.