Some Thoughts About Archetypes In The Midst Of A Pandemic
If some incredibly enthused person – friend, family or otherwise – should approach me with eyes-wide excitement about this New Thing!! that I simply Must Try!!, my immediate inner response is usually …. “aaand I’m out”.
Maybe it’s my aversion to anything that feels like an order; I’m way too Leo for that nonsense. More likely it’s a wee bit of wisdom gained from growing up in a culture where practically anyone has the freedom to offer (or sell) The Truth – about life, money, relationships, finding happiness – you name it, we got it. Having engaged myself with a few of these trends (New Age, anyone?) and watched many more fall into fad, or worse, I’m now quite happy to watch from the sidelines for a bit before participating. To quote the brilliant film, The Big Short, “We live in an era of fraud in America. Not just in banking, but in government, education, religion, food, even baseball.” Truer words….
As the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold, individuals and agencies of all sorts offered the public their version of the truth about the virus and how to respond. Predictably, in these days of attention-seeking, click-baiting extremes, we had some options to choose from: “it’s a serious illness!”, “it’s no worse than the flu!”, “stay home!”, “it’s all a hoax!”. For a short time, there was enough noise in the signal that some became disoriented and susceptible to external pressures to be fearful and to act fearfully. Soon, headlines about panicked buying, price gouging, hoarding and the like began springing up everywhere, as news and social media quickly passed around the most eye-catching examples.
Personally, I found these initial stories a bit worrying as there are plenty of examples from our recent history to suggest this could have been the beginning of a fall into violence. Every country and community seemed to be grappling with rushes of people seizing goods in response to their fear of the unknown. Would empty store shelves spark more panic and rioting? Would we recover our collective balance after the first rush of fear? And what if the COVID disruptions continued for months, as some were starting to predict?
Soon, compelling stories from people experiencing the first waves of the pandemic made their way around the world – videos of overwhelmed caregivers, pictures of makeshift medical equipment,wrapped bodies and grieving families. It seemed these were the catalyst that quickly clarified the signal and allowed us to collectively attune to a shared reality. Stories about toilet paper faded to trivial as we absorbed near real-time data on the spread of COVID-19 and countless stories of how the human family was fairing. Despite living in this age of global communication, I don’t recall a time when one event consumed so much human attention and action for such an extended period of time – and it’s not over yet.
As weeks turned into months, we were quickly in uncharted territory as businesses closed, people lost jobs and rents came due in the dawning of day-to-day practicalities. Isolation measures created gaps in the availability of goods and services, inviting each of us to recognize how dependent we are on others to keep our lives comfortable. And here’s where things got interesting. Sure, some of us struggled to adapt and got a bit stressed out and angry about the whole thing. And on some level, I think most of us can relate, even if humorously. So nothing new there.
What is new are all the novel and inspiring ways we quickly invented in order to connect and care for one another in the face of this historic event. On the spot, business owners pivoted to new products to keep employees working – or donated space, supplies and time to their communities. Neighbors reached out to find and support those in need of help, be it food, money, pet-sitting or just some company for a few hours. Teachers and others quickly adapted to remote teaching tools; hilarity ensued. Families, schoolmates, co-workers, strangers – all looking for and finding ways to help.
It’s very encouraging to see how quickly we’ve been able to challenge our daily habits, as if we were already itching for things to be different. In spite of living in cultures that divide us, we’re clearly able to set aside flimsy labels when an immediate need to help each other emerges. And on a planet experiencing the kind of environmental and social changes we’re living through now, was there ever a more immediate need for this unity? As an aside, the numerous videos, songs and funnies celebrating our solidarity are also a great source of quarantine entertainment. And so we should celebrate; we are groovy and one must celebrate such grooviness.
As I survey these stories of connection and caring, the pattern suggests to me the emergence of an archetype in our collective response. And by archetype, I’m using the Jungian definition: a primitive mental image present in the collective unconscious. Thought of as inherited potentials, archetypes describe universal patterns of human nature we all recognize: yearning for freedom, desire to serve others, longing for intimacy, etc. These archetypes arise within the individual – or collective – in response to life’s journey; which archetypes arise can be seen as a reflection of our fundamental nature – the artist, the healer, the teacher, and so on.
In response to the pandemic, I’ve been streaming the psychedelic wisdom of Terence McKenna, who is well-versed in all things Jung. In a lecture, Terence explains archetypes with the story of Soteris, the Greek goddess of safety and preservation from harm, who risks the lives of many to save the one who is lost. This archetype has worn many faces over time; in the Bible, it’s the shepherd who leaves the flock of ninety-nine to rescue the lost sheep. It is this – this deep seated instinct to find those in danger and get them to safety, even at the risk of own safety or life – this is the voice calling out through us now.
This pandemic is helping us understand what is essential in our lives. Though we’re still awash in our old habits, we’re also getting glimpses of what a different reality might look like, for better or ill. The pandemic is gifting us with the chance to stop our manic daily momentum long enough to better recognize our interdependence before we make our next moves. In taking this pause, we are seeing past our divisions and finding cause to continue questioning how much of the status quo truly serves the human family. The time is ripe for a new story about how we humans share this living planet; perhaps COVID is inviting us to get on with it!
On some level, I think we all sense that for many of us, life will never fully return to ‘the way it was’. In Part 2, I’ll share some thoughts about what we face next.
In the meantime, sharing these snippets of good news. Enjoy! (That’s an order.)
Vanessa ValentineApril 23, 2020 at 6:44 pm
I was looking forward to seeing your take on what’s happening due to COVID-19 right now. I’m lucky enough to have a roof over my head, enough food to eat, heat and hot water (my two personal favorites), a working car and, most importantly, I have my cat, Evinrude. I wake each morning and go to bed each night expressing my gratitude to Her (my comfortable gateway to the Divine); most notably, Tara—a bodhisattva who will help all others attain freedom from suffering before Herself, similar to Soteria.
And I have been heartened by the collective of kindness that has risen amongst the ashes of loss and fear. One need not look farther than the neighborhood social connection, NextDoor, to see people reaching out locally in our small neighborhoods in the Bellingham area. Then to see how all the people are showing their appreciation (in such wonderful myriad ways) to our first responders, medical personnel, delivery drivers, grocery workers, sanitation people, etc., state wide, nationwide, and world wide. It makes my heart sing!
I am seeing more gratitude expressed than I’ve ever witnessed in 60 years. That energy is what will see us through this and – with any luck – provide a foundation for better future.
Thank you for yet another incredibly well-written, thought-provoking blog post.