The transition from social separation to connection seems like a “road less travelled”. The freedom of movement and connection with the outside world is finally allowed to happen, yet, the subtle and less subtle effects of the lockdown on people’s minds are less obvious or talked about. In the middle of trying to break out of the imposed separation, it may be easy to miss out some psychological aspects.
If it is possible to search your memory for experiences you have been having during the lockdown, that have moved or changed you in any way, apart from maybe being physically away from other people, services, facilities, hobbies, or other things that used to be part of your life, then why not look at some of the new layers that have been added during that time to the person you knew yourself to be in the past.
In case you were fortunate to avail of some quiet time during those days, weeks and months that seemed to have no end in sight since the beginning of 2020, you may have noticed not only what was changing or missing in the external world, but also something that was happening inside you. Maybe it was fear, worry, doubt, loneliness, disconnection, loss, some emotional churning, past mental content being dug up, or perhaps also some joy, peace and acceptance.
As hard as feeling imprisoned can feel, literally and metaphorically, there is also a benefit in having a chance to consciously or unconsciously turn towards one’s own mental and emotional content which can surface more especially during periods of pausing from the habitual movement and activity. This reminds me of being on a meditation retreat, when the pausing from the daily routine can bring up many new discoveries.
Then, what happened during the never-ending lockdown that led to this new kind of separation created by the differing views and beliefs about how fast to move forward “back to the past”? I wonder, is experiencing separation a new road to creating new connection? Whatever connection means for each of us. Fortunately, life is naturally moving forward rather than backward, and some old layers of our beliefs and values are unavoidably falling off during this process. The flow of life cannot be forced return to the past, no matter how comfortable the past used to be. That is a view, of course.
And so the contact lenses are falling out, symbolically speaking, when we begin to see our perceptions of the reality through own eyes, and maybe borrowing less other people’s views, that may be useful for them to hold. And it can be almost earth-shattering sometimes, when you discover that there are other ways to live life than the ones you were used to.
Ajahn Sucitto, Buddhist monk and author calls these beliefs ‘programs’ that people end up adopting based on upbringing, experiences, past or existing social values, and other influences. And these factors are useful, too, in helping discover and shape a person’s natural inclinations and aspirations. We cannot but influence each other all the time, and perhaps we are constantly changed through relational interactions, yet, sometimes the differing views can cause conflict and thus create divisions, internally and externally.
Writing about “Floods of Views and Ignorance”, Ajahn Sucitto unpacks the meaning of views and looks at their effects on human mind:
“ ’Views’ refers to the instinct we have to hold beliefs, opinions and dogmas in order to gain a standpoint. […] There are several salient features to the flood of views. One is that it puts life into the abstract, sums people into groups, and makes a ‘something’ that we can stand back from. From this perspective the mind can form neat divisions: between my party and the others. The flood of views therefore isolates; and more tellingly it draws a dividing boundary across which negotiation, empathy and at times even ethical standards, do not cross. […] With the adopting of views, empathy and ethics are under threat.” (p.19, 20, 21)
The discussion on views goes on to suggest ways of engaging with the challenge:
“A remedy that is recommended then is to note a view as a starting place from which to investigate or enter a dialogue with others. In this we acknowledge that we have a personal perspective and can’t avoid having one. This is already a breakthrough, because the fallacy that supports the flood is that any individual can have an all-encompassing view – whereas the very act of holding a view immediately places the viewer in a state of isolation from scrutiny. To acknowledge subjectivity may lead to the recognition that ‘my’ position isn’t really mine, but one that is conditioned by the information I’ve received or an experience I’ve had, and is therefore capable of being reviewed and moderated. […] Thus we overcome the sense of division, and specific kindness gets established.” (p. 21, 22)
In case you are wondering what the word ‘floods’ refers to in the above context, the author describes them as follows:
“The term ‘floods’ speaks for itself: the overwhelmed, swept-along feeling that comes as we get plunged into stress and suffering.” (p.16)
The mouth is covered literally and perhaps symbolically, too, in whatever way one wishes to perceive it. Whether the mouth covering is experienced as a necessary measure of self-protection and protection of others, an object limiting self-expression or sharing through verbal communication, or maybe as something else, it is up to you. Now, having an experience with the covering, one can really begin to question one’s views on other types of face coverings, such as the hijab worn by women in certain cultures.
The eyes, though, are not covered, unless done intentionally. What can be seen when, so to speak, the eye contact lenses are falling out? To pause for a moment and watch one’s own “flood of views” in relationship to others’ may be a starting point in an ongoing conversation about how to move forward into the future.
Sucitto, A. (2012). Parami. Ways to Cross Life’s Floods. Amaravati Publications, Amaravati, UK.
Ajahn Sucitto is a Buddhist monk born in the UK, who writes on life topics and travels internationally on teaching engagements. His book, “Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods”, is available for free download from www.forestsanghapublications.org.