The COVID Pandemic as a Call to Transform
There are times when we must sink to the bottom of our misery to understand truth, just as we must descend to the bottom of a well to see the stars in broad daylight.
~ Vaclav Havel
The COVID19 Pandemic could never be created by human design. It is much larger than any of us. It has placed our world in a collective pause. Life as we knew it stopped and transformed into one we would have never voluntarily chosen. How and why can an invisible virus paralyze us at so many levels?
At some point over the past few months, we have all asked this question. Each one of us may have our own version of an answer, as there is no one answer to this question. This pandemic pause is affecting all of us in unique yet precise ways. But for us to use this time for transformation is imperative, both collectively and personally. Understanding its grand design will require deep insight.
COVID has affected each one of us personally. It has plummeted each one of us into massive change and a confrontation with death, death of an old way of being, or the death of a loved one or a relationship. From a mythic perspective, after death, new life always emerges. We experience this as the season’s turn as generations die and are born, and also when we become ill or go through a trauma or crisis. Birth is followed by death which is followed by birth. Death and birth are part of the cycle of transformation.
The COVID pandemic is a clarion call for us to transform. Sheltering in place has required us to withdraw from our familiar routines, alter our lives, spend more time with our families and ourselves more than ever before. In a time like this, it is important for us to go deep within, to reflect on how this has personally impacted us, to take inventory of what in our life is no longer serving us, what parts do we need to leave behind, and what we will bring into the future. I believe we are being asked to bring a clearer, more conscious, more authentic version of ourselves to the fore. We compromise this in favor of our imprinted adaptive ways of behaving in order to fit in with the collective. This is too great a compromise to make for the pursuit of societal values, which begin to lack meaning over time.
I see this pandemic as a time for both collective and individual initiation. In tribal cultures, initiation is required for a person to undergo a transformation from one phase of life into another. Initiations are consciously performed in a way that follows the mythic path. This path has been embedded within our deep unconscious as it is a universal context for growth, yet in the West, we have forgotten this. Going through initiation with awareness is necessary for us to transform in order to live a meaningful life. Since we do not go through formal initiations, we are initiated by illness, death, divorce, loss, or any crisis. The larger intent for these is for us to connect with our authenticity, grow in wisdom, and learn to love better. Anyone who has undergone these experiences consciously emerges stronger, wiser, and transformed. Joseph Campbell called this the Hero’s Journey.
There are 6 stages involved in the transformational process:
- Initiation through shock, trauma, or loss
- Descent into the underworld
- Confrontation with the shadow
- Connection with the Authentic self
- Integration of our lessons
- Return to the community transformed
Every initiation is designed to take the initiate through a process where the death of the old self or an old way of being is experienced. It often begins with a shock or trauma, an altercation in our life. Then begins the descent into the Underworld, where we wrestle with the ‘demons’ of our shadow for a period of time. This is a time when we deeply feel loss, despair, struggle, and suffering. As we confront these shadow aspects and struggle with them, we earn humility, open-heartedness, and compassion as gifts from the deeper Self. These are qualities that we may not be living from in our adapted or conditioned life, our familiar way of being before being initiated. Remaining in the underworld until our time is done at this stage requires great courage and patience.
In the next stage, we experience connection with our inner spirit and parts of our authentic self that have been buried, neglected, or forgotten in favor of what family and society have expected from us. These parts contain the ‘best of us,’ our authenticity or True Nature, which we often ignore while adapting to the ‘herd or collective consciousness.’ Their awakening marks the end of the descent, after which we must integrate these into our behavior, before returning back to our community with renewed clarity and consciousness. This is not an easy process, in fact, it is extremely difficult, but necessary and required for us to grow and gain higher consciousness.
This process of growth, requiring struggle and suffering is hard for people in our society to endure. Since we don’t have a context for initiation and transformation, we shirk from struggle and suffering. As soon as we are touched by anything that does not ‘feel good’ we are conditioned to numb it with pharmaceuticals or addictive substances. In fact, our medical system normalizes medicating this phase of transformation. An additional way we cope is also through denying our feelings or dissociating from them. We are not comfortable expressing them in our society. This is seen as a sign of weakness and we are shamed when we do. Sadly, this interrupts our process of transformation at its earliest stages and stunts our growth and wisdom.
In many cultures, these authentic parts are considered expressions of the Feminine Principle, also called the Self. When Patriarchy became the ruling principle 5000 years ago, the Feminine Principle was pushed underground and this way of being was normalized over time. We began to behave in disconnected ways, disconnecting from ourselves, one another, and even nature. Fear is at the heart of Patriarchy. We have been conditioned to undermine and devalue the Feminine Principle and still do, 5000 years later. We treat ourselves with little to no compassion and compromise even our health in order to fit in. Much of how we behave towards ourselves is abusive. Many of my patients tell me they would never treat their worst enemy in ways in which they treat themselves. These behaviors make us ill in mind and body. We treat our bodies like garbage dumps and when we get sick, we say that “our body has betrayed us.” This kind of thinking has never worked. It turns us against ourselves and creates further separation from who we really are and how we must treat ourselves. Transforming our relationship with ourselves to one that is aligned with our True Nature is urgent. In fact, I believe the COVID pandemic may be urging this level of healing that we need.
The Feminine Principle eventually rises up by creating a ‘destructive’ process to restore balance. Eastern cultures understand this to be a natural cycle of restoration of balance. This is the way it has been throughout history. Our way of life prior to COVID has caught up with us. Our materialistic values are no longer working. We have consumed without limits. We have tipped the balance in Nature, and she is settling the score to restore balance.
It is incredible to see how quickly Nature has healed. Around the world, we see pictures of blue skies. Smog has virtually vanished in places where it was thick and hard to breathe. Canals and rivers are crystal clear, teeming with life, and animals in the wild have come out of hiding. It is with remarkable rapidity that within a few months of decreased human activity, Nature is rebalancing.
Since we too are a part of Nature, we too can be restored and renewed and made healthy and whole again. Since we are no longer living in harmony with nature, our way of life cannot be sustained. Like nature, the body’s biochemistry changes within ten days of adopting a healthy lifestyle. My hope is that in addition to gaining insight and transforming our consciousness we will choose to use this time to detoxify our bodies and emerge in better health.
The COVID pandemic has taught us many things. It has taught us the importance of health, relationships, consciousness, and meaning. It has also stripped us from collective values that are shallow and unhealthy, values that place materialism above relationship.
Our initiation is not yet complete. The pain we are experiencing during this time is worthwhile and necessary for positive change. Who we become after this will entirely be up to us. This is both an individual and collective process and we must stay conscious during every phase of this Hero’s journey. Our authenticity is waiting to be embodied, and each one of us who transforms will add consciousness to the world.
I hope this prayer brings you solace and peace as you navigate through this initiation:
May I transform into a higher consciousness.
May I honor those who are suffering during this time of collective change.
May I honor my own suffering and begin to treat me with the compassion I deserve.
May I live from my Soul more than my Ego.
May I find the courage to live Authentically.
May I transform into who I was born to be.
©May 2020Kalpana (Rose) M. Kumar M.D., CEO and Medical Director, The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine, Pewaukee, WI. www.ommanicenter.com Author of 2nd Edition – Becoming Real: ReclaimingYour Health in Midlife 2014, Medial Press. She is currently accepting new patients-call 262.695.5311 for an appointment. During this time of the COVID19 pandemic, she is offering telephonic or in-person appointments for those people free of symptoms.