So the shala has been closed again for the past two weeks and the lovely old room that you’ve all infused with your good energy lies empty. It’s a small hardship compared to what many people have had to go through but, nonetheless, it’s sad to see the place so lifeless. Those days in the shala when the energy is high, the mats are almost overlapping, and the steam hangs in the air, seem like something from another age by now. It’s hard not to feel nostalgic for those times, or to long for them to return soon.
But the reality is that we are in this for the long haul. We have to get used to the rollercoaster of lockdown and reopening, lockdown and reopening, and at the same time, we have to be conscious of the toll that it’s going to take on our collective and personal psyches.
There has been a lot of talk of “The New Normal” but we have to acknowledge to ourselves that none of this is normal, nor will it ever be. Humans, as well as so many other species on the planet, are social animals. We live in packs, herds, tribes, whatever you want to call it. Our evolution towards being the dominant species on the planet (for better or worse) depended on our ability to live with and to communicate with each other. When we’re not together we are diminished; somehow less than human.
And while we must, for our own sake, accept the situation we’re currently in, show equanimity in the face of these restrictions, and even try to embrace the whole thing on some level (because to rail against it just causes us more suffering), it’s also incumbent upon us to find ways to stay connected to one another.
At the beginning of the lockdown here, in March, we all took to online channels of communication with enthusiasm (remember table quizzes on zoom?) but I feel like the novelty of all of that has worn off.
In theory, we’re more socially connected than we’ve ever been before, with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Whatsapp, Linkedin, Snapchat, TikTok but, in reality, both the art of conversation and our ability to make deep connections have been dying a death for a long time. Can we really get to know someone on Instagram or Twitter?
So sixteen years after Facebook arrived (and after we’ve all realised – on an intellectual level at least – that social media are, at best, just scratching the surface of what used to be normal in terms of social connection) we’re left in a situation, because of a pandemic, that we are more reliant than ever on social media to fulfil our need for human connection. And it’s not fit for purpose.
So what do we do?
I suggest that we need to be aware of the limitations of these platforms and to really realise the fact that they are more useful as entertainment than they are as a way to fulfil our need for social connection and interaction. That’s not even to mention that these platforms’ whole reason for existing is to exploit and subvert our need for social contact in order to sell us stuff (or, more accurately, to sell our attention to advertisers).
The reality of the current global situation is simply that we need to work harder than we’ve ever done in order to nurture our friendships. Meet your friends for a coffee, talk to your Mum on the phone, have a video call with your cousin, go for a walk or a run with your work colleague, go to the playground with your brother’s kids. Don’t just share, like and retweet things that your friends post on their social channels. That is not going to be enough this year. And in the long run, you will feel isolated, unseen, and unfulfilled.
We have to stay together, in our own tribe, and connected across others, or our very humanity will suffer.