This is the sixteenth blog post in the series Sixteen Psychological Reflections on COVID-19 by Robert Romanyshyn
At the end of the last blog, the first reflection on the theme of finding our way home in the age of the pandemic, I posed these two questions:
In the age of the pandemic are we more and more homeless?
Is there at the heart of our homelessness a homesickness, a sickness of the spirit left adrift in the digital wilderness of our increasingly constructed technological world?
To reply to these questions, I return to the issue of loneliness in the digital world explored in Blog 7, where I asked us to consider if there is a connection between the pandemic and the technology that has created a digital Utopia, literally a no-where place where one can be everywhere and anywhere.
I emphasized I was not seeking a causal connection but a psychological one that attended to the Covid-19 pandemic as the other side of the creation of a digital world, calling us back to remember what we are in danger of losing and forgetting about our humanity. I also discussed specific examples of events and experiences that were reminding us of what we are in danger of losing. In addition, I situated this sense of loss within a discussion of the Monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. His isolation from a human community and his terrible anguish of being alone is a prophetic omen of how, as Sherry Turkle notes, we are alone together in the digital world. Omen and emblem of our condition today, the Monster wanders throughout the story as a homeless orphan.
In the context of that earlier blog, I am proposing that finding our way home in the pandemic world begins with noticing and staying with the sorrow of being alone together in the digital world where we are increasingly out of touch with all those intimate, familiar embodied rituals, customs and actions that bind us to each other.
Quarantined by Covid-19, which is necessary as it is also painful, the computer screen is our window on a world that connects us with others even while there is no haptic sense in the digital world, even while we are quite concretely out of touch with them. This paradox marks the symptomatic quality of the digital world reminding us of what is missing even as we understandably forget the absence of the other as this technology coats our sorrow.
But what is covered over, especially as our quarantine isolation goes on and even seems to continue unabated as wave upon wave of the virus sweeps the world, lingers below the surface as an uneasy feeling of grief over the losses, as an undertow of being lost and homeless in the digital world.
Grieving, however, can be the beginning of a healing process even as it is a difficult one. Learning to be with each other in the shared sadness of our suffering opens the heart to its ways of knowing and understanding. Being able to see each other through the veil of tears can break one down thereby opening a portal to the imagination and a breakthrough to new and different ways of seeing and being present to each other and to the world.
In workshops on the grieving process over the years, I have witnessed how grief work opens one to wonder, enables one to be surprised by the unexpected and unnoticed miracles in the mundane, the extraordinary that is nestled in the folds of the ordinary, like the play of light and shadows revealing the hidden dimensions of a landscape that one has perhaps passed by so often and without notice, or the beauty of the rose that softens sorrow.
The grieving process also can heal the broken heart by teaching one to cultivate the virtues of patience, silence and hospitality, as well as the healing power of reverie, of taking time out to dream even while awake, and, perhaps even learning how to breathe better within the natural, rhythmical exchange between us and the world of nature, thereby reconnecting the broken bonds between us, a severance which is only worsened by the uncritical use of our digital devices, especially now in the age of Covid-19 as our reliance on them seems so seductive that it weakens even the attempts to learn from our loneliness, or to practice patience and cultivate silence.
Imagine, however, what can change within and radiate outside oneself when one begins to feel the con-spiracy, the breathing together with the trees, the wind, the flowers, the sun, the animals, the stars and all creation that still holds us within its grasp. In this sacred conspiracy something of the holy union between us and all that surrounds us unfolds in a harmony that is a glimpse of the eternal. With every moment of in-spiration, we breathe in the world that inspires us, and then in the moment of pause when what the world has given to us is transformed, we give our gift back to the world in the moment of expiration. In such a conspiracy each of us is continuing the work of creation, transforming nature into culture, a work, which Rilke in The Ninth Elegy tells us, we are not the authors of but agents in service to it:
Are we, perhaps, here just for saying: House
Bridge, Fountain, Gate, Jug, Olive Tree,
Possibly: Pillar, Tower?
Note the caution in these lines. They do not declare that we are most assuredly here for saying, they propose it as a question, as a possibility, which is underscored with the words ‘perhaps’ and ‘Possibly.’ In the con-spiracy between us and these still unnamed things waiting within the question, we are inspired by them and draw them in to ourselves where, in that brief pause, we give back to them a name that may possibly be what they are or wish to be.
Recall the earlier remarks in these blogs about Victor Frankenstein who, seeing himself as the author of a new creation in service to nothing but his own dream, refuses to name the creature he created. Not in harmony with the Monster, refusing his appeals to be recognized by him, has Victor Frankenstein created a world in which we, who are still living within that dream, cannot breathe?
When George Floyd said, ‘I can’t breathe’ as a policeman pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes, were his words testimony to the many disharmonies—political, economic, racial, ecological—of the technological world we have made in our own god like image?
And, as questioned throughout these blogs, is Covid-19 the shadow of that dream of acting as if we are gods apart from the order of the natural world?
Is Covid-19 the current guise of the monsters we make and will continue to create as long as the psychological conditions that have made them possible are ignored?
As I come to this moment of these psychological reflections, I am thinking of Don Quixote. His name has become associated with a quixotic attitude, with someone who is naïve, impractical, romantic, dreamy and unrealistic. Is he a mad fool, and is his story a foolish quest? In this context I wonder if these psychological reflections, especially these last two, about finding our way home, are foolish, quixotic enterprises?
If so, then so be it for his story, written more than 400 years ago, endures and he, the knight of the sorrowful countenance as he has been described, haunts the collective imagination as an emblem of one who dared to dream his impossible dream to recover a world of noble, courtly and heroic values being forgotten in the avalanche of the dawning scientific materialism of his age.
Does he dare us now to dream our impossible dream?
Might he be an emblem of one who is speaking to us from within our own sense of loss and sorrow?
Might he be an image of one who can inspire us to be the fool and dream our impossible dream of finding our way home through the multitude of sorrows, losses, conflicts, anxieties, fears and angers by attending to the crisis of Covid-19 as danger and opportunity?
Quixote dared to imagine windmills as giants. Do we dare pause long enough to imagine Covid-19 from soul’s perspective as a symptom and dream calling us to remember what we have lost, forgotten and left behind?
Is it now our time to dream impossible dreams and sally forth toward the margins as knights in service to soul making to help midwife those many seemingly impossible dreams for change erupting on the margins?
In this time of crisis, whose roots lead us back to such actions as to separate, decide, distinguish, sieve, sift through, discriminate, which itself is related to the word crime, between what is good and useful from what is neither, such actions point to the need not to remain naïve about the dangers and opportunities for transformation that Covid-19 brings. Such actions call for judgment, for the ability to be a critic who can, in the midst of the chaos in the spirit of the times, bring to the task of finding one’s way home in this age of the pandemic the spirit of the depths that presents itself in wisdom of the dream.
Is not that wisdom useful and good and necessary today?
Is not soul’s vision critical in these critical times?
Enjoy all the essays in the series Sixteen Psychological Reflections on COVID-19.
You might also enjoy Robert Romanyshyn’s course Reflections on Ecology and Soul. In this course, Robert takes us on a journey into the depths of the soul of the world and into those places where nature, psyche, technology, and humans meet.
Robert D. Romanyshyn is an Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute, an Affiliate Member of The Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts, and a Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. He is also a Core Faculty Member at Jung Platform.More Posts by Robert Romanyshyn