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Soulful Distancing

by | Apr 16, 2020 | Blog

SA Lockdown Week 1 – what makes me feel alone at this time is how all around people are succumbing to fear. Calling this a period of social distancing (rather than physical distancing) has been an unfortunate choice of words. What is this “social” danger that we apparently need distancing from? Could we be speaking about what we need from one another at this time? How have we managed to use a language that strikes fear into our hearts so we do not dare greet at the shop or look into another’s eyes in the queue? I have been standing in queues this week, among the other privileged urban shoppers waiting their turn at the entrance to the supermarket. I have not in my nearly 30 years in South Africa seen a queue so glum. People were standing with hunched shoulders and eyes downcast, some were eagerly inching away from others they deemed standing too close to them. Each with our little shopping bag, designating that we are all legit: “just going to the shop quickly”. The atmosphere is tense, dense and sad. We have indeed bought into social distancing rather than keeping a healthy physical distance without losing our social connection. Maybe we did not have that connection, and now is our chance to look into that mirror?

Language can always feed into Othering. Surely it is well-meant and obvious why we need to take a step back from distributing our bodily emissions unto anyone else. It is clear to many, by the looks. Yet our language points perhaps to something underlying that goes with dis-ease, namely that we want to single out this who “have it” and then “isolate them” so as to protect the others. In pure biological terms and for germ control this may well be it, but what happens when we are speaking about the social in this way? I have my doubts. We are most certainly not at ease and cannot be. The shift and changes at present are significant, reach far and deep and wide and affect us all. They also connect us all.

In a conversation among our women’s circle that has been meeting weekly for the past 8 years, we came across an alternative: we called it “soulful distancing”,  a conscious act of taking the time to separate and be alone. Clarissa Pinkola-Estes puts it this way in her timeless book “women who run with the wolves”:

“In order to converse with the wild feminine, a woman must temporarily leave the world and inhabit a state of aloneness in the oldest sense of the word. Long ago the word alone was treated as two words, all one. To be all one meant to be wholly one, to be in one-ness, either essentially or temporarily. That is precisely the goal of solitude, to be all one. It is the cure for the frazzled state so common to modern women, the one that makes her, as the old saying goes, “leap onto her horse and ride off in all directions.” […] Solitude is not an absence of energy or action, as some believe, but is rather a boon of wild provisions transmitted to us from the soul.” (Pinkola-Estes 1992: 292)

So – this pause is be received as a gift. It may be the chance for some of us to go feed those who are hungry, for others to stop saving the world and start looking inward. It may change from day to day.  There are so many individual movements at this moment. They all make sense, in their own way. During this time of being confined to our homes, at a time of separation, may evolve that consciousness of becoming all one.