I recently had the novel experience of gathering with a group of 10 people indoors, without masks and without social distancing. We shared hugs, lots of hugs, sat close and talked, and really cherished the opportunity to freely connect with each other after more than a year of isolation and separation. It was incredible. I want more!
What is “normal,” anyway?
As I prepare to teach an in-person workshop again for the first time in a very long time, I’m really sitting with the lessons of the past year. I’m also considering what I want to create going forward. There’s really no “going back to normal.” Normal is defined as “conforming with, adhering to, or constituting a norm, standard, pattern, level, or type.” Yuk. Let’s just toss “normal” out the window and vision and create something new.
The gifts of shadow
The year of covid has revealed a lot of collective shadow aspects, and that’s actually a really good thing. It means that what’s been hiding under the rug has been exposed to the light so we can make choices about how we want to process and integrate these collective shadow pieces. It’s shown up in spades on Facebook, where people with different perspectives and opinions sometimes go to war with each other with their words and their energy.
We are all tender. Our nervous systems have been on a wild ride. In addition to isolation and separation, we’ve witnessed and participated in massive political upheaval, further exposure of entrenched systemic racism and demands to overhaul these hideously outdated systems, unemployment and loss of income, the death of friends and family members, just to name a few, all overlaid by a constant barrage of fear-based, heavily biased, and often inaccurate or downright false media hype.
Zoom isn’t enough
Gathering in person again is not optional. We cannot thrive in isolation. We require touch, connection, and love. It’s great that we’ve had zoom gatherings to tide us over, but it’s not nearly enough. The most important aspects of connection simply cannot be duplicated on a video call… things like eye contact, body language, social cues, and most of all, HUGS!
Vive la différence
As humans, we have different perspectives, ideas, and opinions, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. So how can we come back together in ways that respect individual perspectives and choices without our differences creating divides and destroying connection? I have some ideas to share that I’ll be putting into practice in just a couple of weeks as I gather a diverse group of women into sacred circle.
Acknowledging my privilege
I’ve enjoyed immense privilege through the pandemic, as I have a loving partner, a secure home, friends that I’ve been able to get together with, and I have not lost any close friends or family members to covid. My husband and I already both worked at home, and while I lost my primary source of income, he did not. We have access to high-quality food and medical care. I count myself among the extremely lucky and blessed to have had so much privilege through this pandemic, and I’m well aware that there are millions of people all over the world who have suffered immensely and continue to suffer.
In her interview with The Guardian, Esther Perel said, “After a year of viewing spontaneous connection as dangerous and threatening – as a vector of literal contamination – people will be desperate for surprise and spontaneity, but they’ll also have to learn to trust again. Every person will have different levels of risk tolerance; every person will have been psychologically changed by Covid in different ways.”
I was struck by the idea that we’ll have to learn to trust again, and that got me diving deeper into why and what that might look like. Here’s what I came up with:
7 powerful, positive guidelines for gathering
1. To vax or not to vax? I am vaccinated for covid, and I did not make that choice lightly. I did not plan to get a vaccination, but ultimately decided that as a workshop leader, I want people to feel safe around me. I fully respect people’s decisions not to vaccinate. I do not judge them for it. This is one of the areas that will potentially be very volatile and divisive for people as they begin to gather.
2. Honor individual risk tolerances. Everyone has a different physical constitution and tolerance for health risks. One of my sisters had to have her spleen removed a few years ago, which made her immune system very susceptible to all manner of invasions. Her doctor advised her to stay home (like, really stay home) during the lockdown, and she didn’t leave her house except to take walks for 13 months. Not even for groceries. I honor her risk tolerance as very low. I’ve personally continued to shop for groceries all through the pandemic and have a strong constitution and healthy immune system. My risk tolerance is higher. If someone needs to wear a mask and distance themselves in my circles, I will honor and respect that without judgment or even needing to know why. Why really doesn’t matter.
3. Consent is more important than ever before. Ask before you hug someone or touch them in any way. Be sensitive to other people’s needs and risk factors. When you ask, wait for a clear answer. It may be verbal or non-verbal, but wait until you are sure. Because I often work with women who have been sexually wounded, I developed a protocol of asking before hugging a long time ago. Being an enthusiastic hugger, it took some practice for me to ask and then wait for an answer. In the beginning, my arms were already opening as I asked… no pressure, haha! But seriously, never assume anything. Always ask and always wait for an answer.
4. Leave judgments and politics at home. If you’ve spent any time on social media over the past year, you may have witnessed or experienced the hate-filled, vicious wars that erupted over differences of opinion. Instead of focusing on what we don’t see eye to eye on and trying to convince each other to change, let’s explore finding some common ground. I’m not saying you need to like everyone or be liked by everyone, but we are all humans here. At the very least, we have our humanity in common. Start small and explore gently. Pretty much everyone loves to talk about their kids, pets, or grandkids. I have a family member that I love who has a very, very different perspective on politics from mine. We talk on the phone from time to time, and we find common ground and leave the politics out.
5. Come back to your heart. In times of crisis, the things that matter most are brought into sharper focus. Be tender with yourself and with others. Do your best to drop out of your head with all its mental blah-blah-blah and connect through your heart. Your heart has an energy field all its own, and you can learn to cultivate that loving place with intention and practice. Bring to mind someone or something (like a beloved family member or pet) that you love dearly. Really feel what that feels like when you bring them to mind. That’s the energy field I’m talking about. Cherish the people you choose to connect with.
6. Up your self-care game. If you find yourself around someone who cannot connect in a loving, respectful way, remove yourself. You are always at choice. It may be more challenging if it’s, say, your boss, but that indicates a larger issue that may need to be addressed. You do not have to subject yourself to anything that does not feed and nourish you. Connections with people should leave you feeling uplifted and happy, not drained and exhausted. Cultivate the habit of monitoring yourself and notice when you need to withdraw and take care of yourself.
7. Only you can determine what’s right for you. In my world we remind each other, “Don’t go co!” meaning notice when you’re heading toward codependence: adapting to other people’s needs and wants while sacrificing your own, taking on other people’s judgments and projections, that kind of thing. Don’t let anyone push you around or bully you about your risk factors, your choices, or your needs. If you choose to wear a mask (for example), that’s your choice, regardless of what anyone else thinks about it or says about it.
Gathering isn’t optional
It’s imperative that we begin to gather in person again just as soon as it feels safe to do so. And “safe” will mean something different for each person. I am beyond excited to be moving forward with my in-person retreats again this summer, starting with graduating my current cohort of Certified Spiritual Sexual Educator students in early May. What was supposed to be a 6-month program turned into an 18-month program, and we’ve stayed connected to each other and to the program with monthly zoom calls. Now, these 10 amazing, courageous, visionary women finally get to graduate!
I’m deeply excited about rediscovering the joy of connection with people, in person. My next offering is in July in Colorado, a weekend retreat. In August, Goddess willing, we’ll be gathering in Glastonbury for a weeklong retreat that was postponed from 2020. And in September, a weekend in Pennsylvania. It’s good to feel like there’s movement again, at least in the US. I know that in other parts of the world, especially Europe, things are still very locked down. I pray that begins to shift soon so that we can all remember who we truly are as connected, loving, transforming, expanding human beings.
Love & blessings, Amrita