A Golden Thread?

Maze, Graphic, Render, Labyrinth, Design

As I reflect on how many states are now again recently declining after major spikes of covid19 cases, it appears this is due to an increased emphasis on masking and social distancing in the national media and governing actions this past month.  I say this as a New Yorker, who has witnessed the dramatic effect these measures have had in our state over time.  For all of the hardships and trauma the pandemic has wrought and continues to wreak upon individuals, families, schools and businesses, I see here yet a golden opportunity.

IFF, or perhaps by the degree to which this dire threat to human wellness and basic survival can be approached collectively by people uniting and agreeing to step up to protect themselves and one another by masking, social distancing, testing, staying home especially if feeling not well, and disinfecting, we then CAN reach the other side of this mountain, together.  We can bring down the scourge to a much more manageable level while yet awaiting effective vaccines and treatments.

The opportunity I am recognizing here is that we can UNITE to face our common enemy; then this era could serve to help us advance spiritually as a whole.

There is a golden thread that we can follow–like Theseus in the realm of the Minotaur–to re-emerge from the perilous labyrinth we are in.

Contemplation, Woman, Meditation, Sun

The interwoven triad of awareness-responsibility-freedom means that when we act responsibly on the basis of our highest awareness (e.g. responsive to scientific data and medical as well as spiritual guidance), then we can discover our measure of freedom within a given range of experience.

Your freedom ends where another’s begins.”

(Sri Harold Klemp, spiritual leader of Eckankar)

I have the freedom to be in a public space, of course, but I need to act responsibly in that arena on the basis of my own and collective awareness. So, I always carry a mask and put it on whenever other people are present especially within six feet (I try to at least double that myself when I can).  Acting responsibly means looking out for the other person’s freedom in the process of expressing my own.

If we can learn this deep lesson we can emerge from this pandemic stronger and healthier as a global species than we have recently been. We can be more united, more caring, more whole.

Woman, Walking, Dog, Leash, Leg, Foot

But yesterday I had an experience that brings me to add a caviat with regard to this optimistic hope.  I was walking with Sophie (my Shorkie girl) at a lakeside park nearby. We walked along a sidewalk on the perimeter of the park. Usually we would have walked along a path next to the lake itself, but no one was masking except me so I did not feel safe there. Honestly I became perturbed as I realized the park had lots of people organized in couples and small family clumps, walking amongst and past one another freely, but no one was wearing a mask. A woman with two children came along on the perimeter walk and crossed my and Sophie’s path at close quarters to get to her car, no masks. I involuntarily let loose verbally at her:

“Why isn’t anybody wearing a mask?” I asked.

“Go Home,” was her swift as if well practiced reply.

I was miffed, but of course I also felt chagrined and mad at myself for my angry outburst in front of this mother and her two little daughters. “Go Home,” indeed!  What was she saying? That as someone who masks I am not welcome in open public spaces? That non-maskers have claimed this park as their own?

Monalisa, Mona Lisa, Mask, Painting

images are from pixabay.com

I am actually preparing for a move back to my hometown from high school days. Visiting recently while searching for a new home there, people are masking in that slightly more populous town.  So, maybe my harsh encounter with this mother was a waking dream or “golden tongued wisdom;” confirmation that I do not belong where I am currently living so that I should in fact Go Home.  As well, spiritually Home is beyond this physical plane altogether, so maybe she was reminding me to maintain a higher awareness so as not to be perturbed by the course illusional states of this lower plane arena.

Responsibility is the key word of the triad of Awareness-Responsibility-Freedom at least insofar as living in a society is concerned.  For myself, I aim to act in a manner that serves the Whole, not just my own selfish immediate interests. 

We have an opportunity to grow and we might even begin to heal our divisions by respecting one another (my lesson in this encounter) and, yes, by wearing a mask in public spaces during a global pandemic.

Masked Messages

This summer semester as I have been teaching Anthropology remotely online, I have held Microsoft Teams (like Zoom) weekly sessions with students. This past 8 weeks we have been developing a discussion about the emerging cultural messages associated with masking and not masking in the U.S.. The following is my final week announcement to the students about the results of their observations over the semester. Then I have added some of their specific observations below that.

Man, Mask, Blue Eyes, Hand, Mystery

Some of your (students’) key findings:

that women are tending to mask more than men; that masking matters (e.g. spikes have occurred after the Tulsa campaign rally and other mass gatherings); in Colorado Springs students observed more people 30’s to 50’s not masking; that not masking can be a rebellious statement (claiming civil liberties); that whether or not to mask can be confusing due to mixed messages and ambivalent leadership; and that masking is generally perceived as caring and protective as versus not.

I observe that masking has quickly developed a cultural patterning: it adheres to partisan and other divides and becomes a marker of identity when used to draw attention to itself (either to a specific kind of mask–e.g. a fishnet mask observed at a gym, and Black Lives Matter masks) or to not wearing in situations where it is clearly mandated.  WHY has masking, a basic public health measure, become such a cultural phenomenon in America? It mirrors social segmentation and masking behavior may also reveal subtle issues around FACE: e.g. ‘losing face’ or feeling emasculated–nice pun!–when masking  esp. for men; losing a display of individual identity; concern with being perceived as criminal or threatening; though masking can also be associated with superheroes, e.g. caregivers!

Some specific observations:

  • A woman repeatedly attending a gym that has a sign requiring masks, wearing a fishnet mask as a form of defiance.
  • A Chase bank in Seattle with a sign outside stating Blacks do not need to wear a mask (purportedly to defray profiling but isn’t it actually profiling so that security cameras can see Black clients’ faces?)
  • A bus driver bludgeoned with a baseball bat in San Diego, CA for being asked to wear a mask
  • Parents rewarding their 6 yo child for always masking
  • More women masking than men (do men have issues around ‘demasculating’—pun intended?)
  • More 30’s to 50’s year old not masking
  • A student of color sharing that his friends and he are afraid to mask because they fear white people might perceive them as not smiling and therefore threatening
  • Political partisanship showing in degree of masking compliance (more democrats) or not (more republicans)
  • Confusion generally about the effectiveness or need to mask due to ambivalent media statements and ineffective national or state level leadership (versus e.g. in New York state, with strong science based leadership and effective response).
  • Art, Mask, Head, Human, Psyche

 images are from pixabay.com

In a diverse, complex society like the U.S. today, the covid19 pandemic has struck at a vital weakness in the divisive political and social climate here.

We can use masking to declare our CARE for ourselves and for one another.  Not masking can be a dangerous form of protest and may be perceived as a selfish lack of concern for others’ wellbeing.

To build bridges for Better Endings, it helps to talk with one another and to stand up for positive messaging.