“How can we say we’re separate from the very atmosphere that we breathe?” – Roshi Joan Halifax
The coronavirus was transmitted through respiratory droplets (ie: sneezing, coughing, shouting, breathing, etc.). When there is no treatment or vaccine, the only option to reduce transmission is to have people physically distance. This is when people distance themselves at least six feet apart in order to prevent virus particles from spreading and infecting other people. This is a huge change in behavior and a monumental ask of the American people whose culture is greatly steeped in physical, social gatherings. Restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, and big city living are just a few examples where physical separation is uncommon and often impossible to implement. It became clear that it would take our collective effort to reduce the suffering caused by the virus.
Another example of our collective responsibility in reducing the negative effects of the virus was wearing masks that covered our mouths and noses. These are the areas that respiratory droplets come out. By wearing a mask, that person was reducing the distance that their own droplets could travel. This kept other people protected. If other people didn’t wear masks, viral particles could reach the mask wearer and the mask wearer could become infected. Therefore, everyone had to wear a mask to protect each other.
The wearing of masks was vital around the vulnerable population. The elderly population has a greater susceptibility to viruses in general. This greater collective consciousness around the elderly’s fragility brought a whole new meaning to the phrase “respect your elders”. It was in one’s own interest to protect the vulnerable. By wearing a mask, asymptomatic spread is prevented, which accelerates the reopening of society, which benefits everyone economically. It was our collective action or inaction that determined the toll that the virus would take on our society.
Many families that had never used a food bank before found themselves waiting in long lines. Some of those in need started volunteering at the food banks because they now found themselves needing the services. They appreciated food banks in an entirely different way. This was a physical reminder that we all co-create life together. We are all dependent on each other whether we like it or not. Selflessness via serving others allows us to reduce our obsession with the physical form. Service work connects us to all of life and teaches us to be in the world, not of it. You influence all, all influences you.
Matter cannot be spontaneously created from nothing and it cannot be destroyed. Said another way: that which exists – used to exist in some other form. This is the essence of the Law of Conservation of Mass. The Hindu god Krishna teaches this, that creation is a law – not an event. Liquid water doesn’t appear out of thin air. Perhaps it was previously expelled out of an exhaust vent. Perhaps its hydrogen and oxygen atoms used to make up components of a cell wall. Or perhaps its atoms were part of a prescription drug, the drug was consumed and dissolved, excreted from the body, returned to the water supply, and is now consumed as drinking water. Those same hydrogens and oxygens that existed in the drug, now exist in drinking water. New amounts of material are never created. Elements simply change form.
We are all made out of the same physical matter. At the risk of oversimplifying, we are perforated bags of water. Like the planet Earth, we are mostly composed of water. Our cells, our blood, our joints are all mostly water. When we smell someone, their vapor enters our nose, travels into our lungs, and enters the rest of our body. We may be able to classify that as cannibalism. Ironically, that same water that is vital in sustaining us, can be weaponized against us via the practice of waterboarding.
We are not only connected to each other, we are connected to our environment. Plants take in sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to release oxygen that is consumed by other living species. We breathe in that oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide which is consumed by plants that return oxygen to us. That’s the definition of a feedback loop. Psychologically we have boundaries, but biologically there are none. The food we consume, the germs we share, the very air we breathe – we are all continuously connected. The matter that is housed in your physical form today, will be housed in someone else’s tomorrow.
When two forms interact with each other, they are in symbiosis. There are three types of symbiosis: mutualism (both forms benefit), commensalism (one form benefits and one is unaffected), and parasitism (one form benefits while the other form is harmed). We are living on Earth. We are using its innate resources (ie: water, energy, gas) without replenishing them.
It’s like always taking cookies out of a cookie jar without refilling it. They’re not your cookies. They’re the jar’s cookies. Eventually when dad and grandpa want a cookie, they’ll be out of luck. The jar cannot spontaneously create more cookies (Law of Conservation of Mass).
We have been parasites to Earth. We constantly consume Earth’s natural resources and thank it by dumping waste and burning gas. It’s like finishing all the cookies in the jar and then relieving yourself in the jar before you leave. This external actor, the virus, that’s a parasite in the realm of the human environment, has caused the human-world relationship to move from parasitism to mutualism.
Our interconnectedness previously went unacknowledged. That denial has allowed us to survive and grow as individuals. Society tells us that we can have it all. If we put our self first, have a “take no prisoners” attitude and climb the ladder of success, we can be “self-made”. This resulted in a lack of compassion and respect for others. Simple humanity was lost.
Most of the time, this inability to acknowledge our interconnectedness was unconscious, sometimes it was self-imposed. Triviality became mainstream through social media where narcissism thrived. A shallow culture plagued society and exacerbated the need for validation which gave birth to the pandemic of self. Divisive words were consciously used to dissolve the links that bound us together. Employing mental labels desensitized us to the very human being that we cloaked in the term. When we identify someone by their function and not their role, we increase the degrees of separation between us all.
Society’s concept of the “American Life” that is indoctrinated in us at birth was also responsible for our collective uncoupling. We’re taught to chase status, security, and abundance. This does nothing for our happiness, but rather drains our spirit and robs our fervor. Our society tells us that we must be pulverized into dust to maximize our productivity to ultimately achieve an image of professional success. The patriotic energy that founded America had been distorted by concrete jungles, computer screens, and material accumulation. A soul pandemic was brewing long before the virus appeared.
The Gaia hypothesis looks at Earth as a single organism, much like the idea of homeostasis in the body. We are all parts of the earth. One could argue that we’re all cells in the greater planetary body that we call Earth. The illusory separate forms of all beings are actually being synchronistically orchestrated by an underlying divine order. Epictetus once said, “If it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be”. As a human race, we were on the verge of retreating into global isolationism. All man for himself. The virus was an external force that tried to pull our humanity and unity back in balance.
This was a time in our lives when it had never been clearer that we are one world. The concepts of skin color, social classes, education, and wealth are all abstract and man-made. The more we focus on those segmentations, the more we shrivel up as humans. We all breathe the same air – virus particles and all. Because of this, we learned that we must consciously co-create life together. We had no choice. We would either defeat the virus by changing our actions and evolve together as a human collective, or we would be stuck in a cycle of immense suffering.
Humanity was tested on multiple fronts. Our bodies endured biological stress tests due to the virus. Our acceptance of facts, perseverance through difficult times, and willingness to do the next right thing were also tested by the virus. How much suffering would be allowed before we shift our consciousness toward our collective unity? Global events like this one have the ability to tie the world together in new ways. Ironically, that tying together was achieved by a physical untethering.
We had collectively succumbed to reckless individualism. The United States needs to stop thinking and acting like we are the world. We are not the world. We are part of the world. We are the leading nation of the free world, but like it or not, we have to live with others, and that’s much more enjoyable when done with an open heart. No one exists independently. Nothing exists on its own.
“We first share the life by which things exist and afterwards see them as appearances in nature and forget that we have shared their cause. Here is the fountain of action and of thought. Here are the lungs of that inspiration which giveth man wisdom and which cannot be denied without impiety and atheism. We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson