It’s Spring in the Napa Valley and the vineyards are bursting with golden mustard flowers. The time is coming for us to exit our caves. With many of us already vaccinated, and the rest in the queues, what does it mean to be emerging from our collective covid hibernation?
Like the cartoon bear who steps blinkingly into the sunlight and realizes he forgot his shades, will we rush into a world where we have to re-adjust our focus and orientation? Will we remember to change out of the cozy pajama bottoms we wore for all those Zoom meetings, or will pajama bottoms become the new casual chic?
As we make our way back into the world, I am envisioning many people charging to restaurants, spas, sports arenas or exotic getaways. And I see many who will choose to remain mostly at home, ordering in, continuing to live and work in a ‘virtual’ and ‘contactless’ world, delivered daily through their ever-ubiquitous screens.
For myself, while I am happy to soon fly across country to see my grandchildren, I confess to a certain reticence about re-emergence. I think coming out of hibernation, like so many things, is a question of balanced discernment. I have learned to get on quite well with fewer commitments, more time to meditate, chant, take long walks, and write my book. I have found so much quiet—at home, on the streets and in the towns—refreshing and soothing. I don’t want to go back to wearing my “busyness badge.”As spiritual practitioners, we try to make lighter footprints by consuming fewer resources and giving of our time and skills when prompted by the heart. We strive to create less karma through non-attachment to things and not seeking after rewards. In many ways, this covid hibernation has made it easier to do as Jesus suggested: “Be in the world but not of the world.” In some ways, covid hibernation has made these aspirations easier to attain.
I think we can take some satisfaction in our resilience and ability to adapt and communicate on such a global scale. As a society we have engaged in a deep introspection and have acknowledged some of the injustices and deeply ingrained biases in ourselves and our institutions. Some of us are looking hatred in the eye and trying to meet it with love and equity. Others are dedicated to healing this earth, whose beauty has been a refuge for so many during this time.
Meditation, according to Swami Muktananda, means to “wander in the cave of the heart.” Many of us have found time for much heart-wandering during our isolation. And yet true enlightenment, according to the Bhagavad Gita, means to take the yields of our meditation into the field of life, to engage with our dharma, our highest purpose. To come out of our cave and consciously re-engage.
What have you gained from your time in the cave that you will bring out into the world? What would you just as soon leave behind you in the cave? As we collectively step out into the Spring sunshine, I think it may help to remember the world we are re-entering is a world that is not yet completely formed. The post-pandemic “normal” is something we will co-create with every choice and every step we take as we re-engage. There is a great potential here and great hope. And yet I also have some concerns.
I am concerned that much of the wisdom gained through our covid-inspired sacrifices and contemplative introversion will be forgotten in the stampede to exit our caves and stake out our cabanas in the sun. I am concerned we will revert back to business-as-it-used-to-be, idealizing the pre-2020 era and again leave behind those people and problems that we ignored and rationalized then.
I am concerned that some of the “temporary” adaptations made during the pandemic will become institutionalized without further consideration. For example, on the surface, the new “hybridization” of the work force, with its benefits of increased time and flexibility for at-home workers and the lighter carbon footprint of less commuting, has obvious benefits. But the convenience of staying at home may be masking some concerning societal trends.
Many of us have created Zoom worlds populated by our own socio-political-spiritual-educational “pods.” I question if some of these customized worlds are any more real than those created in the video games like the ‘Sims.’ And as we get attached to these “boutique pods,” will we have less tolerance for those “outside the pod?” Screens create emotional safety buffers that can promote a false sense of intimacy. Talking heads are not the whole human. There is no substitute for full body, in-person interaction.
Given these concerns, still there is much hope for our brave new world. I hope we have truly learned to live without so much stuff and so many activities. That we will all take things a little slower and we will continue to notice the blossoms on the trees and the chirping of the birds.
I hope we will value every person and every relationship for the lessons they teach and the mirrors they hold. I hope that in our dependence on social media, we have not forgotten the value of face-to-face encounters and connection. I hope when we take off the masks and can smile at one another again, that we smile without discrimination and exclusion. And that we don’t turn away when we see expressions of sadness, fear and anger. That instead, we might become quiet wells of compassion. I also hope we don’t return to hugs as compulsory and perfunctory gestures. But rather, when we greet and connect with one another, I hope we do so in the spirit of authentic presence.
I hope as we leave our caves, we clean up the take-out cartons and the karmic debris from guilty pleasures we might otherwise leave behind. Let’s leave our caves better for the next bear, or the next crisis. If you are like me, you will want to leave your cave spotless because you intend to wander in it again and again
Certainly we are due some rejoicing and playful celebration in this Spring season of renewal. But as for coming out of our caves, let it be a gradual, purposeful and thoughtful re-engagement. One that fits with the hard-earned wisdom we gained during our isolation.
What does thoughtful re-engagement look like for you? What are your hopes and concerns? For me, it means to continue my daily sadhana; to fearlessly investigate my own karmic patterns; to wisely weed out the desires and behaviors that don’t serve my dharma and the good of humanity; to reach out, interact with and ‘touch’ those outside my pod; and to pray my vision is in alignment with divine will.
I intend to celebrate the grace I see alive in everything and everyone. I trust that there are benevolent forces at work beyond my capacity to understand that want us to wake up and co-create a more conscious, aware and just way of being in the world–even while not being “of” the world. To me this is the universal love force of the Divine Mother who has been intricately weaving Herself through the turbulence and suffering of the past year. I think She is urging us to see beyond the masks and veils of our human arrogance and resistance. Once recognized and seen, I am certain Her light will awaken and guide our re-engagement in a new post-pandemic world.
In whatever way each of us understands this grace, I hope that as we exit our caves, we don’t mistake the glitter of the world for the light of true wisdom. As we step back out into the world, may we step up to making it a better place for all of us.
I invite you to continue this discussion about co-creating our new normal by sharing this blog and engaging in conversation with friends, family, pod-members, and even strangers.
Begin by asking yourself, what are my hopes and concerns for the world as it re-engages?
Then contemplate these questions:
- What have you learned in your cave?
- What would you just as soon leave behind?
- What are your intentions for how you want to engage in the world as you emerge?
And please remember the Cave of the Heart dwells within. Return at will and wander freely.