Many of you – like me – will be working from home. Among you, there will be many going beyond that, self-isolating, to protect themselves, partners, and family members. The coronavirus pandemic may be a public health emergency, but it is something else, too: it is an ethical emergency. Ethical, because it asks us to question all the invisible and banal ways in which we usually interact with those around us – our families, colleagues, and strangers – in order to care for us all. Emergency, because it does so with a suddenness, urgency, and ubiquity that is not found in the flow of ordinary life.
The word distance means ‘to stand apart’. We often don’t like this: we call it aloofness, detachment, disengagement, or apathy. Distance doesn’t seem like care. It seems all the more strange to be in a situation where ‘taking care’ means being physically distant from others. Now, care is measured in metres, rooms, and buildings apart, and the new rules of caring for ourselves mean we must even be distant from our own faces: keeping those hands where you can see them
Physical distancing asks us to imagine and enact a new kind of care for ourselves and each other, a care in which distance is an act of love.
This week’ practice is a ‘metta’ – the Pali word for friendliness. It invites you to draw on your experience of when others have been kind to you, and bring that friendliness and kindness to yourself. However, you might be feeling in this moment, and in these times.
Metta practice demonstrates the paradox of distance and closeness beautifully. Formal meditation practice is in itself a kind of distancing, a deliberate stepping out of clock time and of the ordinary day, to move in close to and cultivate the qualities we will need to take back into it. ‘Stay close to yourself in this practice, if you can,’ Ruth guides. In so doing, we move in close not only to ourselves, but also to how others can care for us, and how we might for them.
Sometimes, to distance is to move in close, and in that movement, a new horizon appears.
It’s quite a long practice (40 mins) but I hope you all find time for it. Enjoy!