odern culture venerates the new. Yet, there’s a reason wisdom from the past is still part of today’s discourse. Our ancestors knew a thing or two about struggle, conflict and pestilence. They would have recognized Covid-19 as a plague, just as we do. Yet, we also have an opportunity to use their wisdom to clarify our purpose in the face of it. They used rituals, such as rites of passage, to find belonging and purpose in times of uncertainty and large transition. Because that’s what the global Covid-19 pandemic is: a liminal experience, where we are between who we were and who we are to become, as a society.
The Liminal Collective team, in collaboration with Collective contributors Preston Cline, Sue Phillips and Peter Rea, has taken the opportunity to share insights from ancient wisdom to shed some light on our current situation. This is the third in a series of articles on the topic: The value in Covid-19’s liminality.
If you missed our second article on what we can learn about Covid-19 from rites of passage, you can check it out here. It’s certainly helpful to name the phases in rites of passage, but we need to learn from the value these ancient practices can bring.
Our current situation was not a choice - for most of us it was a violent introduction to a transitional paradigm. So are there any tools we can take from the past to support us or use as a reference point for today?
Grasp this opportunity because, no matter how unthinkable your situation is, there is an opportunity here for growth and a better future.
Use nature- at an appropriate social distance - to help you reset and reflect. Research has shown that isolation is stressful, causing increases in cortisol (known to contribute to anxiety, depression, weight increases, sleep issues and other more serious problems). Spending at least an hour a day in a natural environment combats this.
Invite people to help you and help them. The two following points are examples of how to connect with strangers, friends, family and community to get you through this. They, and you, need each other.
Be kind; don’t judge. We’re in the liminal phase so, at a psychological level, we are all affected by a lack of certainty. Negative emotions or swings in your emotional state are a natural response to your situation. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so go easy on yourself. Take time for yourself, be kind to yourself and others...those you know and those you don’t.
Reflect and share. Prioritize your own reflections, no matter what the demands on your time may be. There is no wrong or right way to move through this liminal phase - just a very personal and private journey that is yours alone. Give your heart and mind a chance to catch up with what just happened. And share your experience. It is a way of connecting and deepening all of our collective consciousness. Community, friends and family are more important than ever, so be sure to take time here and remember that your insights into your own experience may be very powerful to others, and vice versa.
Consider your character, because when we face adversity, uncertainty or trauma - like now - our character will determine whether, and how, we respond. Our friend, Peter Rea, can inform us all more on this topic (we’re posting an interview with him very soon because it’s fascinating). He suggests that the virtues of Trust, Compassion, Courage, Justice, Wisdom, Temperance and Hope that comprise our character have been known to human society since the earliest days. They’re so close to our being, you already understand them.
Understand that you are sacred. In most rites of passage, those who undergo the rite are considered sacred, leaving the profane (or normal) behind. This is true of soldiers deployed overseas, considered sacred to those left behind. And it’s true of the medical staff and other frontline workers, attending to our needs, sacred to our humdrum profanities. Only something in this situation is different. When we are over the worst of the lockdown, and people return to society with their new insights, we will all carry with us a little bit of the sacred. Everyone will have been touched by a new awareness of what is essential, elemental and most important. And in our new awareness our life can be ennobled with a kind of dignity and focus that everyday life lacks.
Grieve. Grief is loss of previous ways. It could be for a lost loved one. Or for a past lifestyle, past assumptions, previous ways of relating to yourself and others. Whatever the grief, grief is hard. Notice it, share it, be sad and grieve. This is part of the liminal phase and will help you move forward to re-integration and a new way of being.
See the world a-new. This is the most important insight we can offer. Know that, in the end, we will have a new way of seeing the world and potentially a model of how we can take on future challenges that we come up against.We must not lose these new insights because they will shape a better future. The process of intentionally making meaning from the experience will help us know more about who we are, how we are and what we're for, as individuals and as a society.
Tell the story.Capture your own thoughts. It’s a great tool for self-reflection and learning. And if you make them part of a sharing experience, as a community we can all return and incorporate our learnings for a better society and a better future. A rite of passage is inherently individual, but for it to be considered valid or sacred, the community must endorse it. Storytelling, or narrative, as an expression of the experience is therefore a critical part of the process. As we said in our second article, it’s also a part of belonging. That is why rites are often associated in the retelling with the monomyth, or hero’s journey. We are all heros of our own tale and our society, post-Covid-19, will need a tale of societal heroism.
This is a long analysis of wisdom we can draw from rites of passage, because wisdom goes deep. The Liminal Collective team and our contributors, Preston Cline, Sue Phillips and Peter Rea are grateful for your attention, open to your comments and questions, and excited to hear about any rituals or ceremonies you have developed to help with this transition. We have been moved to laughter by all the memes that have gone viral (pun intended) on social media, and to tears by the many rites of kindness such as applause given across nations for front line medical staff. For our previous two articles, please find the first here on purpose and belonging during the pandemic, and second on learnings from rites of passage here.