I’d like to send this reflection to our community in Italy as they, with their 60 million compatriots are in lockdown because of the coronavirus. All our community worldwide would like you to know that we are thinking of you in these extraordinary days. More than just thinking about you, we are holding you with loving friendship in our hearts at meditation and in our prayers.
It is for you to tell us what you feel and what it is like for you and your families – and we will happily welcome your posts on our website or blog. I will speak with our national coordinator to see if they would like this connection with the wider community. But if I imagine what it must be like for you I think of two comparisons. The first is a Hollywood disaster movie. Much of the media coverage of the pandemic encourages this and indeed the scenes of empty streets and the cancellation of transportation suggests it.
But the other comparison I think of is a retreat that starts in one way and ends in another. The obvious difference is that a retreat is a free choice about how and where we spend our free time. Yet when Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was released from the Gulag forced labour camp where he had been imprisoned for eight years, he said he looked back at it and wept. His tears were a mix of relief at his departure and gratitude for what the camp life had taught him about himself and the human heart. The experience he underwent and the people he met there inspired his books for years to come
Sometimes, when we are forced into something and feel imprisoned by a coldly impersonal, external force, we may burn up in rage at it or go into depression. And yet sometimes, just sometimes if we are fortunate, the experience of being compelled liberates us into new and surprising views of reality. We encounter something unexpected, a hidden grace that could not otherwise have been able to find us.
As in meditation, there are times when we sit in a desert, dry and endlessly distracted by our anxieties or losses. An empty desolation stretches as far as we can feel in every direction. Better, we think, to do something useful or self-indulgent. The solitude is not the open space in which we feel connected to a greater whole but aloneness, constriction, abandonment or the feeling of being forgotten. The spectre of affliction haunts our soul.
Then from an inner point, without location, an invisible ray of light touches and restores our shrivelled soul to life and hope. Not that all our wishes are fulfilled, in fact none of them may be, and the pain or loss may still be only too present. But a joy emerges that opens a pathway to the source of being, our being.
I hope that in some way for all our Italian friends, who are feeling trapped by external forces, some peace of this inner freedom may at least occasionally arise. We hope that the time of the shutdown and quarantine may be short. We hope this for your sake and because the rest of us need the beautiful things – of your temperament and your country – that makes us love you.