“Social Distancing” What to distance from, and what to hold close?

~by Rukmini Walker

I returned from India over a week ago after traveling there for the last few months. While I was there, I  attended retreats, conferences, weddings,  meetings, and gatherings of many people in the densely populated subcontinent. Sometimes in a temple there would be a thousand or more worshippers attending an aarti* ceremony. Our happiness doubles and triples when it’s shared.

Today, in order to flatten the curve of the spread of the corona virus, we’re being asked to take precaution and observe social distancing. As humans, we are social beings, and social distancing is so contrary to our nature. We meet to share our lives, our thoughts, our joys and pains; to break bread together, to laugh, to dance, to tell each other stories…

There is also an epidemic of loneliness in the world today.  The UK has appointed Tracey Crouch as the Minister of Loneliness. Research has shown that loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. John Cacioppo, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Chicago, wrote in his book, Loneliness, Human Nature, and the Need for Social Connection:

“We found that loneliness somehow penetrated the deepest recesses of the cell to alter the way genes were being expressed.”

So in order the counteract one epidemic, we are in danger of exacerbating another.

Now as we all go home, to hunker down and bunker down to wait out the fallout of this virus, we can choose to lean out – to the shadow of loneliness and fear… or to lean in – to take deep shelter of love, of meditation, of prayer, of hearing, chanting, remembering uplifting songs and stories of loving pastimes between the Beloved Lord and His most cherished devotees – the saints of all traditions.

In Bhakti, we learn that Sri Krsna, our original Source is a loving Person, our dear-most friend, master, parent, child or lover.  He is a social Being, waiting for us to turn to Him in love.  For so long we have turned away from Him, feeling existential isolation and loneliness. But from today, we are free to again turn our faces toward Him, to try to hear about Him, and chant His name in love.

Maybe these epidemics are meant to be a clarion call to our sleeping minds and hearts… to wake us up to who we really are, to see reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of us all.

How have holy people of all cultures dealt with suffering? By remembering that they are spirit, in loving relationship with the Supreme Spirit, and not simply these external bodies, in this temporal world.

We are meant for a much higher life, beyond this temporary world of matter. Beyond this world of viruses, and the loneliness of separation from each other, and from our Supreme Beloved. Our sweet Lord Sri Krsna, is ever inviting us to associate with Him in an offering of our love, today, and whenever we choose to turn our faces toward Him in devotion.

All my prayers for you,

Rukmini Walker

*arati: a ceremonial worship of “greeting, or welcoming” the Lord where incense, a light, a flower, and other items representing the elements of the earth are offered to the Deities on the temple altar.