We are not meant to live in isolation from one another. Companionship, friendship, and belonging are essential to wellbeing. The experience of isolation conjures haunting feelings of separation, disconnection, and exile; that is, isolation is a state of suffering. In the age of COVID-19, however, isolation becomes strategy. Physical distancing, maintaining social bubbles, restrictions on gatherings, minimizing interactions with the external world are temporary measures necessary to limit the spread of the virus. In this sense, isolation is a faculty for understanding.

The second wave of COVID-19 is formidable. To combat transmission, health officials at the local, provincial, and federal levels have unanimously recommended that all close interactions remain limited to only those you live with. The holiday season, normally a period in which family and friends gather, we are advised to stay home and, for this year, separate ourselves in a collective effort to contain the second wave. Isolation is contrary to the experience of the Christmas holiday. However, if we refuse to isolate, this holiday season could morph into a veil of tears.

Some people confuse rights with responsibilities. Wearing a mask in public, for example, is a responsibility; refusal to wear a mask is not a right, it’s an expression of immaturity and ignorance. Similarly, the request to avoid gatherings beyond the immediate household this holiday season is a responsibility, not a contradiction of rights. The necessity of isolation is an austere reminder of how we can take things for granted and fail to fully appreciate the fragility of the simple things in life. This year, as difficult and undesirable as it is, the discipline of isolation is an act of kindness, friendship, and compassion.

Isolation allures us back into a conversation with the raw reality of being and the impermanence of life.  Fully inhabiting our isolation is a difficult discipline because of the depth, intimacy, and honesty it demands from us. We are isolated and connected at the same time. This is why we can feel utterly alone standing in the midst of a crowd. We might experience the loss of a loved one and feel the isolation imposed by grief. When important relationships are severed we are wounded by the sharp edge of isolation. This experience is irredeemable and offers no retreat.

When a comfortable and familiar pattern of living ends, we must undertake the challenging work of re-imaging how to live. Initially, we desire to return to normal. This is a natural response to the loss of continuity in our internal narrative. Our course in life, however, is grounded in uncertainty and the unexpected. Ironically, this is normal. Clinging to a pattern of living that is no longer available provokes feelings a isolation. When we desire what we cannot have we become isolated from reality. To liberate ourselves from a period of isolation, we must seek a genuine connection with the reality directly in front of us and accept that the normal we desire no longer exists.

Now, as we move through a pandemic, we have all become liminal beings walking the formidable ground of uncertainty. We stand on a threshold of isolation “betwixt and between” what once was and what has yet to reveal itself. And we are asked to embrace an inherent contradiction. Strangely, at least for now, isolation has become a contribution to the greater good.

Notes

  1. One of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic is the experience of isolation, quarantine, and loneliness. On one hand, isolation is necessary to reduce transmission of the disease and protect the lives of others; on the other, loneliness is a threat to physical and mental health. In this sense, COVID-19 forces on to a threshold between longing and belonging.
  2. Physical distancing is a form of isolating oneself from other people by maintaining a distance of at least two metres. Virtual communications have replaced a great deal of real-life interaction. This means that our normal mode of relating to and interacting with other people is now infused with feelings of perceived social isolation.
  3. Isolation, when it is a conscious choice or acceptance, can have psychological benefits.

[Return to Frontier 2: Mind]