According to Joseph Campbell, the hero’s journey is always the same.
At some point, the hero retreats from the world, and after some kind of dark night of the soul, comes to a great insight, the most profound universal truth, that of “unity in multiplicity.”
Covid-19 is trying to make heroes out of us all. The question is: Will we rise to the call?
Through this pandemic, nature has given us the opportunity for collective awakening. It is a great equalizer, affecting us all equally, regardless of nationality, race, religion, or economic class, and showing us how tangibly connected we all are in ways unseen.
“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” ~ Rumi
A shoemaker in Italy ships out a pair of shoes. The mail carrier and myriad employees of the shipping company handle the package, which arrives at my doorstep in Alabama. I touch the package, then get in my car and go to the grocery store, where I fondle several pineapples (themselves already handled by myriad people in the supply chain coming from Costa Rica), before choosing the one I take home. The next shoppers who touch those pineapples have now come into contact with the Costa Rican farmers, truckers, custom agents, the grocers, my UPS guy, me (and everyone else I’ve similarly indirectly been in contact with), and the Italian shoemaker.
The great Zen master Thích Nhất Hạnh says, “Each time you look at a tangerine, you can see deeply into it. You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine.”
How is this so? When we look deeply, we can see that in order for that tangerine to grow, it needed the sun, the rain, the earth, and the soil. In order to arrive in our homes, it took the farm workers, truckers, and grocers. Our world is so deeply connected in ways most of never notice. Covid-19 is changing that.
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
Not only are we connected to other humans across the globe through our DNA, our breath, and our every action, we are fundamentally and inextricably connected to the natural world, to the nonhuman animals, to the forests, the rivers, the oceans, the air.
Scientists tell us that unique coronavirus Covid-19 likely originated in wild bats and was passed to a carrier species, probably one being sold for food at a live animal market in Wuhan, China, where this pandemic is believed to have originated.
The vast majority of pandemics like this originate in wild animals. The more we encroach into wild areas, whether through direct hunting, the wildlife trade, or bulldozing and slashing and burning forests in order to graze other animals for our consumption, the more we destroy habitat and pillage the natural world, the more we expose ourselves to these unique viruses.
Right now, the world is focused on containing and mitigating this particular pandemic—and understandably so. We should all be staying home now as much as possible and limiting our contact with others in order to slow the growth of this deadly and highly contagious virus. But even more importantly, in our isolation, we need to be reflecting on the causes of this pandemic and what we need to do to prevent the next one.
There is a powerful truth being revealed to us right now—that of our interconnection. Nature is clearly, if sternly, teaching us the secret to our own survival, or our own destruction, and unveiling the most sacred of wisdom, known by enlightened beings from the beginning of time and all the heroes of our religions and sacred traditions.
Covid-19 is a clarion call to us all to wake up and look deeply into how we as a civilization are living, how we as a species interact with our world. The current paradigm of anthropocentrism, of exploitation of the natural world, of dominance over all other species and the whole of nature has led to environmental destruction, and to this pandemic, not to mention to the most unbearable suffering of the billions of fully sentient animals we confine in dirty and dark sheds and slaughterhouses, which for all the West’s racist indignation are no less barbaric or cruel than the live markets of Wuhan. Pandemics spread quickly in these fetid and devastating places, and the next pandemic could easily come from any factory farm.
The culturally assumed superiority of the human species has led us to pollute the oceans, the rivers, the streams, the air, has led to climate change, and to this, and every other pandemic in our history.
Before this pandemic, we were already on the brink of self-destruction. Climate change is real and many experts think already irreversible. More optimistic scientists think we might have another few years to turn things around before it’s too late.
COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on the world, from the thousands who have already died to the millions suffering economically. But it could, if we are wise enough to pay attention, be the event that helps us collectively pause, reflect, and transform our way of life in order to save our world.
In our quarantines, in our solitude, in these quiet moments the world has enforced upon us, we can all embark on the hero’s journey.
This is the formula: Retreat from the world. Look within. Recognize the deep wisdom this pandemic is awakening within us—a wisdom that has always been there. The wisdom that we are all connected and that our own survival and well-being are inextricably connected to the well-being of others and the planet as a whole. And then, transformed, we can return back into society ready to share this insight for the benefit of not just human society but our world as a whole.
This is an extraordinary moment in human history. A test. And how each one of us responds will literally determine the future and the fate of our world, not just during this pandemic but for the future of our civilization. We need a paradigm shift if we are going to get through this. We need to stop exploiting and pillaging the natural world and each other.
Right now, if we can, we need to stay home, where we can breathe, watch the wind blowing through the leaves of the trees, enjoy the quiet and the space, and take the time to understand the cause of this pandemic, to see our deep connections to everything and how vital our roles are in healing and transforming the world.
And then when it’s safe, we can all come out of our houses and our solitude, and re-enter the world as the heroes we’ve always known we could be, filled with the knowledge of the “unity in multiplicity” and manifesting this wisdom in our lives by living with love and respect for our neighbors and the people on the other side of the world, for the animals, and for this fragile and miraculous planet as a whole.
And in doing so, we can save ourselves and our beautiful fragile interconnected world.