Kelly Wendorf, MCC, MECD
The Spiritual Awakening of Confinement
2020 will be known as the year the world abruptly halted. The pandemic locked down more people at the same time worldwide than in any other period in history. By April – more than half of the world’s population was confined indoors. We thought then it was only going to be temporary, and now as we enter the darkest part of the year, we also enter the darkest part of the pandemic.
Hope flirts on the horizon, yet we have several more months of loss in-store––loss of lives, of livelihoods, homes, holiday gatherings, opportunities, of friendships, memories and security. Nothing has been left untouched by the wraith hands of the virus. While our most vulnerable die terrified and alone in ICUs, an entire generation of young people’s lives withers on the vine. And for a country like the US that holds a fanatical pledge to personal freedom, our confinement has unleashed more darkness. Even our fragile self-image as a country has been lost. All of this collateral damage to human dignity will be felt for years to come.
It’s a pretty bleak ‘holiday’ message I’m sharing here, I realize. And many folks I speak to are quick to say, ‘let’s move on from 2020 and look to the bright side of 2021. “Not so fast people,” Life seems to be saying, “let’s look at the dark side.” Let’s pause for a moment and peer into the opportunity that is upon us now. For right here in the dim messy ugly middle of the grief, despair, anger and defeat is a ripe moment of spiritual deepening that may not show up for us in this way ever again.
The Buddhist nun, teacher and author, Pema Chödrön, writes in her book When Things Fall Apart; Heart Advice for Difficult Times, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. Perhaps there is no solid obstacle except our own need to protect ourselves from being touched. Maybe the only enemy is that we don’t like the way reality is now and therefore wish it would go away fast. But what we find as practitioners are that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
So my question to us all right now before 2020 departs is has it taught you all you need to know? Take a moment and really pause to consider this question. Did you thrash, fight the conditions, keep your mind in the future and the past? Is there some depth or wisdom still calling you? And is it possible, that in these darkest of moments, such wisdom might be awaiting you?
“If we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive,” Chödrön continues. “It just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.”
Humans are challenged by an existential hunger born from a false belief that we are limited, separate and alone. Under normal conditions, this breeds your garden variety materialism, greed, consumerism and individualism. Shackle that hunger indoors, lock it down for months on end so that it cannot prevail and progress and we devolve into a downright frenzy, thrashing against the walls, screaming at the door.
Many years ago I was trapped (or I felt trapped, rather) in a toxic marriage with a narcissist. I was frantic to get out, yet frightened to do so. Looking for help, I went to speak with a spiritual mentor. And he said these words to me:
“You are like a wild horse in a tiny corral (funny, he didn’t know I was a horsewoman). You have worked yourself into a lather running along the rails of the fence, just certain that your freedom and peace lies out there in the fields beyond your captivity. You must stop running, get quiet and look to the freedom that resides inside your heart.”
Back then, I was only able to grasp his logic intellectually. But I was not willing to quiet myself and learn the lesson I needed to learn. It felt like martyrdom and resignation. So I shattered the fencing and galloped off into the hills. But my habits and belief systems came along for the ride and for years to come, I kept recreating similar scenarios with new names, forms, manifestations, only to wind up penned and frenzied once again.
It wasn’t until the fencing became so high and so impenetrable that I learned to stop and go in. Life in all its mercy created conditions where not only was I yet again faced with a bad situation, but I simply could not escape. To do so would break too much. So I slowed, quieted, turned inward to find the freedom and peace that resided deep in my heart regardless of external circumstance. Life began to unfold in ways I could have never imagined possible…certainly not if I had busted out of my ‘apparent’ confines.
So right now, collectively we find ourselves in a similar opportunity. So much captivity and limitation…do we work ourselves into a lather? Do we shatter the boards? What a perfect holiday invitation––to simply stop and turn in towards the Christ-consciousness that abides within each one of us.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene describes an alchemical nexus between limitation and limitlessness, between being human and being divine. She uses the term anthropos which translates as ‘someone who is fully human AND fully divine’. “He has prepared us so that we might become fully human,” she says. To become fully human is a modern translation of the words “to become an anthropos,” a completed human being, meaning someone who is fully awakened into their divine nature.
Recently a dear friend was addressing this very issue of limitation and restraint. She said, “The obstacle is the Way.” Those words resonate with Mary’s message, with the invitation for these dark times, in the darkest time of the year. It is my hope for all of us that we engage these current conditions so that our brightest humanity might come forth.
So here is my holiday message just for you—May you find the courage to cease your striving for more, for different, easier and better. May your obstacles help you to find your way; may you settle into deep rest within yourself, and there may you discover your limitless divinity.