“There are two ways that disease outbreaks can change us. The first is through reflection. As anyone who has ever had a cold has realized, illness lends itself to introspection. John Donne was suffering from fever when he wrote his famous ode to cooperation—and possible attack on puritanism—starting, “No Man Is an Island.” Virginia Woolf argued that illness involved “a childish outspokenness….things are said, truths blurted out, which the cautious respectability of health conceals.”*
I don’t think the outbreak has to actually make you sick, however, to make you introspective. I think this introspection comes naturally to everyone affected by the outbreak. And I think we can watch for it, and use it, with one caution.
I do think there is a way introspection can change us for the worse—and I think if we pay attention, there is a way to avoid it.
When we are ill or affected by an outbreak, our thoughts can be quite toxic. Illness itself is simply our way of rebalancing from a toxin.
But an outbreak–whether or not we ourselves become ill—is frightening, heart-wrenching, an outrage beyond everyday outrages, humbling. Fear, sadness, anger, loss of control. Each is stressful, accentuated in a pandemic, and taken together, overwhelming.
Added to that: however we process our emotions normally is how we will process these larger-than-life feelings now. Wherever we have lodged trauma in our bodybeings, we may go right on lodging new traumas emerging from this once-in-a-lifetime-or-less, global, archetypal drama we are part of.
So it matters that we take time to notice our feelings. We should introspect. But we should pay attention to the quality of our introspection. Is it uniformly morose and cynical? Is it anger-seeking? Like a heat-seeking missile, any anger-seeking patterns we have cannot fail to find sources of anger. And when those have been exhausted, we will invent them. Our media make this easy. We can avoid falling prey if we notice ourselves falling into an anger spiral.
But don’t move the way fear makes you move.” (Rumi, tr. Coleman Barks)
Or are our thoughts despondent, despairing—even martyred? We can observe this and use our very best tools (prayer, meditation, talking with friends willing to listen dispassionately and lovingly, journaling, drawing, dancing, bodywork, long baths, creativity) to move our emotional energy and keep it moving. There’s no need to move it to a “higher” place. That will happen on its own, as we are healthy beings meant to stay healthy; keeping our energies moving will help our introspection remain healthy and fruitful.
Now what is healthy, fruitful introspection? Let’s talk about that too. To share out the two halves of the exploration I’ve been doing, I’ve divided it into two posts, one here, and one at my RAISING CLARITY blog. I welcome your thoughts!
* Completion of the opening quotation: “The second is structural. The Black Death accelerated the disintegration of English feudalism: so many peasants died that the landlords lost their grip. The First World War accelerated the rise of working women: once they had replaced men in factories, a Rubicon had been crossed. If the 1918 epidemic left an imprint, it was perhaps accelerating the arrival of public healthcare.” –Henry Mance, FT Weekend, 3/6-8/20, “Shock to the System,” Life and Arts section.