COVID19 2.0: WORKING WITH DISTANCE IN SEARCH OF TRUTH:
JAMES N KRAUT, PSY.D.
If you read some of my older articles, you will find that I often discuss how far we humans have drifted from each other in the last few decades. I discussed in those pieces the unpleasant, at times unsafe and occasionally tragic effects that we encounter from this psychological distancing. Many of us have realized that one of the most harmful places where it shows up is in the increasingly problematic relationship we have with what we refer to as the “truth.”
These days that which is intended to be accepted as truth is created through news and social media with different beliefs and perspectives. They spin their stories, always ultimately qualifying more as sources of entertainment than information. What they say reflects their orientation. Consequently, when we speak to each other from different truths, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to connect and often aggression and anger ensue. We have become increasingly intolerant of the belief of the other when it is not our own way of understanding things. As a psychologist, it has long troubled and worried me that reality cannot be understood as an objective condition. As this has become more prominent, the distance between people who disagree has steadily grown and the aftermaths of their conflicts have become very serious problems.
Our present difficulty with the truth has been resulting in just as much disruption and confusion during the covid19 pandemic. In fact, the virus’s ultimate death toll will no doubt be higher than it would have been had we all gone in the same direction and believed the same thing.
The cacophony of wildly differing theories and conflicting claims spew out and are expanded upon daily and as we try to keep our fear at bay and figure out how best to deal with the pandemic, we find ourselves the lining up according to our learned “truths,” listening to President Trump, Dr. Anthony Fauci, or any of a host of other politicians and scientists advising us. In addition to having to deal with all the health concerns associated with the virus, we literally don’t know which end is up in so many respects. So we are still feeling, even in this dire global crisis, the distance between us.
One of the first things we were told, with respect to limiting the spread of the coronavirus was to practice social distancing, which, ironically, is forced separation. The thought occurred to me that although the distancing here is strictly physical, this is somewhat like a physical version of what has been happening with regard to our national conversation.
No meeting in the middle, first ideologically and now physically.
If I think outside the box a little, it occurs to me that maybe we are engaged in the exercise of being forced to stay apart because we have been doing such a terrible job coming together. But keep reading for some of the deeper and more unexpected effects of social distancing.
A friend of mine, who has been practicing social distancing, was in her kitchen last week when she got a call from a friend who told her to go to her window and look out at her driveway; there was a surprise there for her. She followed her friend’s suggestion and looked out the window. What she saw was her friend waving to her from the driveway. Upon taking in the surprise, she began sobbing, overwhelmed by the unexpected sight of her friend. As you read this, can you relate to my friend’s increased sensitivity to connection and understand why she became so moved?
When I heard the story of my friend and her visitor, I personally resonated with it because of my own experience. I have found that the longer I have been practicing social distancing, the more I have found the presence in my life of other people, and even other nonhuman beings, including dogs and trees, becoming more important to me. Even beyond that, I have felt that there is more room in my heart for people, which is what I thought might have been a factor in my friend’s crying.
It dawned on me that I was experiencing a bit of what Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing.” Interbeing is a term that refers to the interconnectedness of everything. It suggests that, rather than the world being made up of separate entities, as we become conditioned to see, in the ultimate reality, everything is connected; we are all waves in the same ocean. As one unified force, according to interbeing, we move through what we perceive as time into what our culture conceptualizes as the future. Those who are at all in touch with the existence of interbeing understand that the more mindful of it we become, the more firm becomes our commitment to serve each other with the awareness that we are all in this together and that suffering ends when all suffering ends. You can become completely unaware of it or you can find ways of getting closer to it. Or you can keep living for yourself.
I believe that one of the most potentially positive effects of social distancing is our chance to feel more connected with and appreciative of our fellow humans. I see how powerfully ironic it looks; nevertheless, when a socially oriented animal is deprived of something it needs, it can be reasonably predicted that the reconnecting with that needed object will be met with great appreciation and gratitude.
As you continue social distancing through your pandemic days, try this one thing: When you think of it, bring interbeing to mind. Amazing teachers have believed in it, so just for the hell of it, we can too. Try little exercises to bring interbeing more in mind. When you sit down to eat a meal, look at the food on your plate and think about everyone – farmers, fertilizer manufacturers, tractor builders, truck drivers, shelf stockers, cashiers, etc., all doing their own thing to bring that meal to you. Be grateful that all those people have helped you.
On a personal note, a couple of days ago when I was walking my dog, I had an experience that brought to mind interbeing. I have a love for trees and I am particularly fond of the ones in my neighborhood. On this one particular evening, I found myself standing beneath a huge, beautiful tree and I just breathed, bringing awareness to the fact that the tree was taking my carbon dioxide and giving me its oxygen. It was a lovely experience, bringing me closer to the conscious experience of interbeing.
So, as you continue the difficult task of social distancing, take advantage of the increased sensitivity that has probably come with it. Use this pandemic as a way of opening your heart to the world as you protect your body from a terrible danger with us right now. But as horrible as many of this virus’s tricks are, if we can emerge from it with a greater sense of love and compassion for others, covid19 will have been carrying with it much blessing. To live together in a world that recognizes its oneness would be amazing.