How will social distancing leave its mark on humanity? Could it serve to enhance our sense of human connectedness in the end?
Back in January, I published a post about Mindful Eating that’s hitting home for me today in a far more profound way than it did when I wrote it. In the article, I share a practice of bringing mindful awareness to the food we eat. There’s a special focus on how the act of eating connects us to the entire food chain – from the sun, rain, and microbes in the soil all the way up to the people who cultivate, harvest, transport, and otherwise make our food available to us. It’s a way of honoring the energy exchange that occurs as a natural part of life. Something that, in our modern way of living, can be so easy to lose sight of.
I learned this mindfulness practice from reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on How To Eat, and it has completely transformed my relationship to food. But recently, the world’s shift into widespread social distancing has left me reflecting on a far broader scale of interconnectedness. It’s got me thinking about how it’s not just the food we eat that connects us in a long chain of energy exchanges. That relationship exists within just about every aspect of our life.
Social Distancing Highlights Our Interconnectedness
The spread of coronavirus, and the social distancing measures put in place to contain it, have brought our vast and intricate chain of human connectedness to the forefront. It’s more observable than I can recall it ever being in my lifetime. Perhaps the closest correlation would be the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center. That crisis produced a rare coming together for a common good, but what’s happening today feels notably different. It’s as if the whole world is coming to a standstill. So many of the gears that keep our society moving are grinding to a halt. And social distancing has made it clear, WE are those gears. Each of us, in our own ways, is what makes this whole system work.
People are paying attention, it seems. Everyday, I’m seeing memes and messages all over social media about it. The words may vary, but the message is the same – when all this is over, let’s not take it for granted again. Let’s remember what a blessing it is to have access to food and other basic supplies. To be able to go to work, and have our kids educated in schools with professionally trained teachers. To hug and shake hands, and enjoy restaurants, bars, sports events, concerts, and other outlets for entertainment. The list could go on and on, encompassing all the services social distancing has cut from our lives. Let’s not take any of it for granted again, we’re saying.
Then there’s the front line of workers who are being called upon to rise to this massive challenge, while placing themselves at risk. From government and hospital administrators to doctors, nurses, and emergency responders. People who work in essential services, such as labs, grocery stores, pharmacies, delivery, and the whole long supply chain for food and other necessities. I’ve seen heart-wrenching posts from nurses and doctors talking about the reality they’re facing – having to go to work and come home to their families, potentially placing their loved ones at risk. Still, they’re stepping up.
All of this, for me, speaks to the strength, courage, and resilience of the human spirit. And it tells a story of human connectedness I hope we all will carry forward in our hearts. Not just as a sentiment or an isolated series of events we look back on with relief, but as an entirely renewed understanding and respect for each other – our collective wholeness as well as our individual contributions to it.
What If We Were To Start Really Seeing Each Other?
How easy it’s been to not really SEE each other. To walk past each other on crowded streets without smiling – looking away or never noticing. To be so preoccupied with our own little world we muster the barest of courtesies for the strangers with whom we’re so intricately connected. Or, on our worst days, to complain about, judge, or otherwise aggress against people who’ve disagreed with us or somehow frustrated our daily lives. Now that we’re cut off from each other, we’re beginning to realize what we’ve taken for granted. It’s becoming clearer how valuable we all are to each other, on so many levels.
I find myself contemplating what we uphold as measuring sticks for our worth, whether openly or tacitly. It feels so flimsy and foolish, when you think about it. And even more so today. I’m wondering how this might change if we were to bring mindful awareness to every person we encounter. If we were to really SEE them. Not only for how they fit into this extraordinarily complex chain of survival we’re all connected through. But for their own unique life story. A story playing itself out across countless generations of DNA expressing creative energy on this planet. Because that’s the reality of who and what we all are. Unique expressions of divine creativity.
To be mindfully aware of someone is to see them as they are in a given moment without judgment. It means to give space for their essence – just as it is – to be acknowledged. But to really give this mindful acknowledgment, we have to slow down and open more than just our eyes. We have to open our awareness, which means we have to be awake in each moment. That’s a level of attentiveness we’re not used to giving freely. We tend to reserve it for the things or the people that, for various reasons, seem to warrant it more than others.
Times of Crisis Can Serve to Awaken Us
It’s times like these – times of crisis and scarcity – that wake us up. We go on higher alert, which makes everything move in slower motion. Our minds more easily attend to the details. And suddenly, we’re more acutely aware of our surroundings and our blessings. We stop taking things for granted as much as we once did. But in time, perhaps much sooner than we think, this pandemic will pass. Social distancing will come to an end, and we’ll all get back to doing what we do to help this whole system we’ve created as humans keep moving.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if what we gained from it was to really see each other? If this time of being cut-off from each other helped us value each other more? If every time we bought toilet paper, hand sanitizer, eggs, meat, milk, and every other supply, we remembered who makes it possible to find it on the shelf? And when we went to a restaurant, sporting event, or any other entertainment outing, we acknowledged all the people and pieces that came together to make it possible? When a nurse took our blood pressure or a doctor gave us an exam, we considered all the study, hard work, and commitment it took for them to be there, able to help us?
How would we look at each other differently if we truly saw our symbiotic relationship?
In the movie Avatar, the Na’vi species greet each other with this sort of mindfulness. I see you, they say. How beautiful is that! What if – even if it’s only in our own hearts – we started extending this sort of greeting to every person we encounter? What if we were to let that be the mark social distancing leaves on us?
At the very least, we would live our life in full color instead of black and white. And we would freely give the world one of the most precious gifts we have to offer – the gift of being seen.