Covid-19 and Social Isolation as Rite of Passage
Western Culture has become a casualty of consumerism. We prove and high lite our success as individuals and as a society in general by collecting “Stuff”. It makes us appear prosperous. We’ve made that a priority. Even the arts suffer in this way. Music, theater, literature. If someone isn’t making money from it, we don’t consider it worthy.
Let's look beyond the “science” of Covid-19 or at least what they want us to believe. It has cultural causes. We see species-ism at the root of this pandemic. The virus has made the leap from animals to humans. Species-ism is the assumption of human superiority leading to the exploitation of animals. It’s true. I don’t care if you don’t want to believe it. Really, I don’t! Do your own homework and find out for yourself.
As such, there are some who believe that western culture is stuck in a perpetual late adolescence. It's characterized by preoccupation with physical appearance, asserting independence, and feeling invincible. These in and of themselves are not harmful. But we have taken it to the extreme. Immediate gratification has become paramount. It’s “Me first and the rest of my community can go squat.” Bill Plotkin points this out in his book, Nature and the Human Soul. Plotkin goes on to say that in the cycle of life elders, teach and pass on ancestral wisdom. Many cultures consider this a sacred rite.
Children move from childhood and into full adults with guidance from grownups. But today even mature adults have fallen easy prey to the idea that “more stuff is better”.
Adolescence is also characterized by testing boundaries and pushing the envelope. This is how societies tend to move forward in their thinking. It allows us to move forward and evolve toward tolerance and acceptance. "And the children shall lead". Or something like that. But adults need to be present to offer guidance and pass on the "ceremony" of growing up.
There are some transitions that have survived. Mostly religious in nature. Bar Mitzvah, Baptism etc. A few secular ROP can be a bit hair raising such as Fraternity hazing. Some gangs have forced members into criminal activity. These exist because marking transition has always been important. They are a natural extension of any civilization. But we have lost touch with what is healthy, nurturing and fills the human desire for wholeness.
Rites of Passage can take many forms. Initiation, Ceremony and Vision Fast are important aspects of celebrating the transition from childhood.
Can the current pandemic serve as a “Rite of Passage” out and away from our perpetual adolescence? We are fasting from socializing. We’re staying home or otherwise isolating. The newLexusPorscheJeepGrandCherokeeFourrunnerSpecializedfullysuspendedcarbonmountainbike
is parked in the garage of the 12,000 square foot house you just built. You know. The one constructed on top of an ancientburialgroundelkcalvingareasimplybecauseyoucouldbuilditthere. And now, no-one can come see it or the new 80” wide screen T.Vs you put up in each of the four living rooms in said house.
There are generally three phases to a Rite of Passage. They follow in order as such. Separation. During this phase the individual is prepared through initiation into cultural norms for the experience itself. In more primitive cultures, children have already learned much about surviving on the land in preparation for adulthood. ROP initiation often includes ceremonies for purification and other spiritual practices. It may also be learning to endure the physical, emotional and psychological challenges of the solo fast. Participants are not only fasting from food. There is also refraining from all social contact. Contemporary western culture understands the “wilderness” as an absence of consumer goods, conveniences or being without cell service. The second phase is the fast itself spending time alone in isolation. What the French Ethnologist Arnold van Gennep called, “The Betwixt and between”. Neither here nor there. It is a liminal space where one becomes ghost like, belongs to nowhere and no one. It could be described as walking the margins. This can last anywhere from 3 or 4 days to a year. This second phase might be the most difficult to manage for people, especially modern western society. The participant finds they have very little control of their surroundings. An individual begins to rely on their spiritual practice and relationship with whatever gods or spirits they may believe in. They hope and wait for a “vision” or if you will, for their inherent gift to be revealed. The third phase is the return. When a seeker carries the knowledge of their gifts back to the community. All designed to help the society thrive.
In some ways we are all living this liminal space through our social isolation and doing without our conveniences. I personally know quite a few people who are relying on their spiritual practice to get them through this weird and wonderful shift. But this is making many people uncomfortable. And that is the point of a fast.
The Corona virus is bringing out the best in some circles and the worst in others. Profiteering, hoarding and price gouging to name a few of the worst. Charity, volunteerism, service to name a few of the best. But as the crisis fades into the dusk what's left? Will we learn anything? Will consumerism and bragging rights continue to be our motivation? Will it be business as usual? Will we wipe our brow and exclaim with a loud sigh, “Whew that was a close one. Glad I survived!” and go back to the business of sucking the planet dry to prove our worth? Will we find ways of making our addiction to consumerism look good? Maybe this time it will be different.