I've seen many memes and posts telling us how bad a year 2020 has been. As if somehow all that happened in the past 355 days was the year's fault. While those memes are certainly funny, they reveal something about the unconscious belief many still seem to hold; that the pandemic has simply befallen us like this – without realizing that it is an existential warning sign, a direct consequence of the dangerous imbalances in our global civilization.
If I was to use one word for the "2020 experience," I would say that it was humbling. Individually and collectively, it kept on reminding us of how little we know and how little is under our control. There couldn't be any more potent metaphor for this truth than that of a tiny virus, not visible to the eyes, bringing down high-tech humanity to its knees.
We can also see the virus as a symbol for our fear of the invisible and uncontrollable. As C.G. Jung and others suggested, the fear of the invisible is in reality a projection of the fear of our own unconscious, of the dark parts in us that we cannot control and analyze with our habitual minds. In the midst of this experience, there is a profound sense of uncertainty. Rumi has a beautiful verse for us to ponder on:
All your uncertainty comes from your desire for certainty. / Desire uncertainty, then certainty will come to you.
Rumi himself experienced profound uncertainty at an early age when his father Baha al-Din Valad decided to leave his native region in Central Asia and take his family more than 4,000 kilometres westwards to settle in Anatolia. What would be waiting for the family in those foreign lands?
In the above quote, Rumi invites us to break our impulse of wanting to stay in the realm of the known. If we’re honest, where does that impulse of having to know come from? When we go to the root of our fear of the unknown, we find that it’s the ego that wants things to be predictable and under control. It’s the voice that says “I know it already.” It's the same ego that has contributed to the collective calamities on our planet at this point.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I attempted to create a list of 16 teachings from COVID-19 which was published at DailyGood. A lot has been said and written since then, but let me quote something I wrote about the art of not knowing:
Tired by the constant flood of information, statistics, opinions and predictions we gradually come to a humbling conclusion: the fact that we simply don’t know. This pertains to the current situation, but on a deeper level it touches our very human condition. The realization of not knowing can bring about deep humility on both an individual and collective level. Instead of rushing forward in self-importance with our answers and solutions, we learn to surrender to a greater place — call it God, Life or Nature. Learning to stay in the unknown allows us to prepare the grounds for fresh, authentic, well-rooted knowledge to emerge. This kind of knowledge comes with a profound intuitive quality that originates from a focused and fearless mind. This goes for both groups who hold on to solid views: those who follow the dominant corona narrative and those who oppose it.
Today, on the day of Winter Solstice, there is a sense of transiting into a new period of time, of leaving behind the old and turning our attention towards the new. Traditionally, this day is said to hold a powerful energy for self-reflection and renewal. As the pandemic continues to impact our daily lives and short-term measures of damage containment dominate the public debate, it's a good moment to connect to a higher vision for ourselves and humanity:
People have been derailed from the tracks of their habits. The grip of normality has loosened. Some are longing to return to normality. But if humanity is to evolve, we need to remain strong vis-à-vis the pull towards business as usual. In the words of Eisenstein, “to interrupt a habit is to make it visible; it is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice. When the crisis subsides, we might have occasion to ask whether we want to return to normal, or whether there might be something we’ve seen during this break in the routines that we want to bring into the future.”
How will life be like when we are all back on the streets? How will we relate to each other? What will we have learnt? What will we do differently? During this period of sitting in the “darkness of not knowing,” we can hold the vision of a more beautiful, more loving world in our hearts. We begin to understand that “the system” is not somewhere out there, but in fact we are ourselves the system. Everything we do from a place of love and connection strengthens the field of love and connection.
Renowned meditation teacher Jack Kornfield wrote in one of his covid essays that “the veils of separation are parting and the reality of interconnection is apparent to everyone on earth. We have needed this pause, perhaps even needed our isolation to see how much we need one another.”
In our current global situation, we can indeed see more clearly how the destiny of other human beings is interwoven with our own, how in fact all of creation is a web of intricately interconnected relations. As one of my favorite Persian Sufi poets Saadi spoke almost 800 years ago:
Adam's children are limbs of one body / That in creation are made of one gem. / When life and time hurt a limb, / Other limbs will not be at ease. / You who are not sad for the suffering of others, / Do not deserve to be called human.
May we become more and more able to perceive the underlying unity of all existence. May 2021 be the year for us to act from this truth, more and more.
Note: All photos in this article were taken on a 3-week bicycle pilgrimage through Turkey - more on that by spring 2021!