We're all in it together: on collective consciousness and COVID-19

Last night I called my family back in Canada for a routine chat, and of course, coronavirus dominated our conversation. Here, everyone I interact with speaks of the same thing. Inquiring after one another’s health, while exchanging non-contact hellos, seems to have become a standard form of greeting all around the world for those who must meet.

All over the planet, people have begun to sequester themselves, whether out of concern for their own health or for the greater good - and we are finally recognizing that the two concepts are indistinguishable.

For all its challenges, here is what I love about coronavirus: we're all in it together.

Whether you are still a skeptic (here!) or have been imparting warnings for weeks, we are nonetheless somehow in it together. From mild inconveniences to massive disruptions, measures to contain the virus have begun to affect each of our lives, and we all want the same thing: for this to be over.

The coronavirus pandemic is making for difficult and uncertain times, yes. But it also comes bearing a strange gift: collective experience on an unprecedented scale.

Like a magnifying glass corralling the rays of the sun, the truly global nature of this event has focused the collective consciousness on one singular point. Even though there are other, more insidious forces which threaten us all, this virus has made us aware that where one of us is vulnerable, we are all vulnerable. That the challenges which plague our planet, to which we must rise, know no boundaries, borders, languages. That we are not only all connected, but are in fact inseparable from one another. Ironically, by driving us away from each other physically, this pandemic has brought us together on another level.

I don't mean to suggest that it has brought us together on some harmonious, peace and love and rainbows level. You need only look at the toilet paper hoarders to see that isn't necessarily the case. Instead, the ubiquity of the subject across traditional and social media, and (thus?) on the minds and lips of friends, family and strangers, combined with the rampant spread of the virus into nearly every nook and cranny of the world we share, has allowed us all to focus our attention on the same thing at the same time. To turn our collective eyes upon one point, and to maintain focus. To not turn away. And I’m not sure what it all means just yet, but it feels pretty powerful to share a singular drishti (in yoga, a focused gaze) with the world. To be acutely aware that we all have something in common.

Watch the virus bloom across a map of the world and you will see that the movement of people is like the movement of blood through the collective body. Some of us are already conscious that we are all of one body, that we are made of the same components, the fleshy, fertile soil of the Earth. Discerning connection on that level is relatively easy. The hard part has been linking our awareness, our minds, our higher selves. But here we are, perhaps.

Beneath the panic and the hoarding, and the compulsive hand washing; beneath the uncertainty and the cancelled plans; beneath worried phone calls and excursions into public spaces fraught with fear; beneath the quarantines and isolation, there is an irrepressible undercurrent of unity. Beneath all the illusory divisions and differences, there flows a deep river of intuitive understanding that there is no you, and no me. That, to paraphrase Ramana Maharshi, there is no such thing as "other people."

When this crisis passes, I hope that we can hold its strange gift, this awareness of our interconnectedness, in our collective hands a little longer. I hope that we can call upon it to coordinate a collective response to the other, more pressing challenges of our time: climate change and social inequality (and the myriad mechanisms which connect them). I hope that we do not squander this moment of clarity. I hope that, when this danger passes, we do not forget that none of us is safe until all of us are safe.

Photo by Priscilla du Preez

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