March 24, 2020 Pearson Blog: Beyond Disinfectant, Cleaning Wipes, and Toilet Paper: Our Pandemic Challenge


by Carol S. Pearson

This is the first of two blogs that address the coronavirus pandemic.

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939

Jesus said we must love one another as ourselves and that would be the doorway into experiencing the kingdom of God—also known as heaven—right here on earth. The Romans took over this religion with a Ruler/Warrior archetype fusion and turned it into a justification for killing the infidels and the heretics and addressed their own out-of-control orgies by demonizing sex. Similar distortions of the injunction to love have happened throughout patriarchy when viewed through a Warrior/Ruler lens. The commandment to love our neighbors has long been included in the teachings of Judaism and Islam (especially in its Sufi forms) and in most indigenous religions as well. I was once invited to attend a workshop conducted by a Hawaiian volcano priestess (who, I was told, could walk on hot lava and be unscathed). She closed her day-long seminar by summing up all the teachings she had given us, saying, love yourself, love one another, that is what it all comes down to. My incredulous response was: I learned that in Sunday school!

W.H. Auden is said to have hated the stanza of the poem this blog begins with and eventually omitted it. I imagine this was the way any of us can loathe the thought we have that is too true to bear. But Auden’s lines fit our time very well. We currently are in a situation where we need to love one another or potentially many of us will die, taking our economy and prosperity with them. Paradoxically, we need to stay home, go inward, and face ourselves. And we need to do this to protect both ourselves and others, since even if we are young and in optimal health and likely will not suffer much from this illness, we undoubtedly will share the virus with others, some of whom will die if we remain out and about (unless doing essential tasks).  

We need to stay away from others to save them and us. Otherwise, there is no way to slow the progress of this disease, because the hospitals will be overwhelmed and people will die unnecessarily because they do not receive treatment.  

If we trust synchronicity, we can realize that this is a time to go inward and reconsider the lives we are living and their consequences. The antidote to the virus is not just about the virus itself, but about a cultural virus of selfishness, greed, and willfulness. Together, these result in our so polluting the earth that we are changing our climate, while we also turn a blind eye to how many children and adults are going hungry as billionaires build underground shelters to escape the growing likelihood of nuclear war or climate disasters. The fear of seeing the reality of that plight has led to fake news, conspiracy theories about who is to blame, and a generalized denial of facts and the deeper truths behind them.

On the surface of things, the coronavirus threat requires us to wash our hands, disinfect our bodies and our immediate environments, and thus wipe away the virus that could make us sick. Those of us who apply depth psychology to our lives can decode this, so we know that it is true as well for our psyches. Those hoarding disinfectants, cleaning wipes, and toilet paper are missing the message that we need to love one another as we do ourselves, and also the symbolic message that it is time to disinfect ourselves, our shadowy, greedy, selfish sides, let them go and wipe the residue away. The act of washing our hands can become a ritual for cleansing and healing not just our hands, but ourselves and our world.

Collectively, we need to face the impact of our lifestyles on our earth, our environment, on the air we breathe, the water we drink, and our weather. With this lockdown, we can see that the environment is beginning to have a chance to heal, with pollution abating and clear skies where previously there were none. 

Countries that have been under stringent lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus have experienced an unintended benefit. The outbreak has, at least in part, contributed to a noticeable drop in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in some countries.

Although grim, it's something scientists said could offer tough lessons for how to prepare—and ideally avoid—the most destructive impacts of climate change.

Water: The Threat, the Antidote

Rebekah Lovejoy, in her blog “Frozen II: Disney’s Response to Social Isolation in a Time of Coronavirus,” tells us that “The coronavirus travels through our saliva, landing on surfaces and hands, and transferring to those around us. It is billions of molecules of water that will make us sick, and spread throughout our societies and bodies, linking us and also possibly killing us.” She urges us to understand the message of Frozen II and how damming our water but also polluting it is at the root of our cultural sickness.  

In depth psychology, the archetypal element of water is associated with the unconscious and with human emotions that can carry us away. Considering only the boundary of our skins, we may feel separate from one another, but all humans are composed of up to 60 percent water; the brain and heart are composed of 73 percent water, and the lungs are about 83 percent. This means we are walking pools of water, confined within skin and held up by bones that are watery too, though less so. In this way, we are alike, all one species. The element of water as an archetype relates to feelings and the unconscious mind, which can sweep us into being overwhelmed by fear and our shadowy lesser selves, or, alternatively, infuse us with cleansing faith in our futures and love for this earth, one another, and our lives. 

The Buddhist symbol of enlightenment is the lotus flower, which grows out of the mud and through the water toward the sky. Any yoga practice, even at your nearby Y, will similarly draw you inward so that you can connect with wisdom deeper than your rational mind and also learn to practice loving kindness, both to yourself and to others. Jungian psychology tells us that we visit the mud in our shadows to learn from it, starting from what needs to be transformed and then moving to the gold we might also find there. We can begin by noticing who we hate or blame and what that tells us about ourselves—often that we have some of what we judge in others within us that we do not want to see.  Yet, consciousness can disinfect that mud, if we can get past the rush of feelings that a confrontation with our own shadows often unleashes.   We do this by

  • having compassion for parts of ourselves that do not measure up to our desired self-image; 
  • revisiting times we were mistreated or traumatized and learning from them, even though they are experiences we would prefer to forget; and 
  • processing experiences that were repressed because they occurred when we were not yet capable of doing so. 

When the mud in the shadow is washed by the water of our forgiveness and love for ourselves, the seeds in it begin to grow, moving through cleaner and cleaner water toward the air of the conscious mind. The resulting organic growth results in a blossoming of consciousness, so we can express forgiveness and love for those around us, including even some who may have harmed us. 

Beyond the needed focus on keeping social distance, so that more of us can just survive, is the possibility that we can use this time to evolve personally. We can start by recognizing that in so many ways—from this or another pandemic, from nuclear war, or from climate change—Auden was right: We must love one another or die. Maybe not every one of us, but many. Yet, if love does win, there is just the chance that we will achieve a healthier and happier world.

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