To offset loneliness

Self-isolation or “social distancing” (preferably called “physical distancing”) seems to be the main weapon societies have against the highly contagious Covid 19. Humans are social animals. We love to congregate; many of us love to show our affection through hugs or kisses. These are exactly the conditions under which this virus loves to spread. Such distancing can be very dehumanizing. Remember the psychologists who told us we needed eight hugs a day?

So how might we convert this terrible restriction into spiritual practices that could help us weather this pandemic? Let’s look at a couple of possibilities:

      • Physical distancing as a spiritual practice

Authorities are all talking about “social distancing” as the most important single measure to slow down the rate of infection. We probably should call it “physical distancing” rather than social: we desperately want to keep our social contacts up, but without the physical contact which hastens the spread of this virus. The trick is how to decrease social distancing while increasing physical distancing.

We might remember that the monastic attitude insisted that separation from others allows deeper prayer for others. Perhaps we might consider such physical distancing as a temporary monastic time, or a “Lenten practice.” We remember that “Lenten” practices remind us of the value of what we give up, in this case, connectedness. We might use this time to recall and celebrate our traditional connectedness – with family, with friends, with colleagues.

As with any Lenten practice, we keep ourselves firmly aware of what we are giving up, so that we might appreciate it even more. (Remember what it felt like when you had that first cookie after a Lenten fast?)

Physical distancing also frees time for things you have put off because you were too busy with the daily grind which has been put on hold – reading, hobbies, de-cluttering, gardening. Take this forced distancing as an opportunity to reconnect with your passions which you have probably neglected for too long.

      • (Re-)establishing contact with God

Our lives have been so busy… Often we have neglected our regular spiritual practices. We simply haven’t had time to pray or meditate. With more time on your hands, we might find a way to establish or re-establish a regular connection with God. We can establish, or re-establish a regular time for meditation.

If you enjoy writing, journal your experience during this time. What are you learning? About yourself? About your family? About your community? About politics and politicians? About the helping professions? About our interconnectedness?

      • Relearning the art of letter-writing and phone-calling

Physical distancing does not mean we stop our social life, especially with those we love. As we continue in our “monastic” mode, perhaps we can rekindle some lost arts of connectedness. Perhaps we can rekindle the ancient practice of writing letters, especially letters of thanks and appreciation to people who matter to you.

Or perhaps this monastic time can rekindle a practice of writing letters to the editor of local papers in gratitude for everyone working to contain the spread and treat the sick.

Or again, you might consider starting, or being part of, a phone-tree for your local church or community to make sure everyone remains well and connected.