I’ve been in a near eight week-long social bubble. Diametrically opposite to the isolation bubble that was the greater part of the year gone by, most of which was spent experiencing and confronting abject loneliness. It hit me somewhere in the midst of hanging out with my family, that it was a circumstance I had willingly, actively, enthusiastically chosen. A circumstance I would previously not go out of my way to make happen. Mostly letting my busy schedule and other preoccupations take precedence.
So what’s changed?
In the before time, so long as I had the option, the choice, to choose connection over isolation, I reveled in dipping in and out of it. Since I had the privilege of creating and protecting my personal physical space, I dug my heels in and made the most of it, often at the cost of connection. When I felt lonely, often from my own making and of my own choices, I turned to things like books, my handful of friends (also loners), therapy and smaller groups of my liking to bond over a set of interests and pursuits that we had in common. Anything outside of that felt like too much.
The vast disparities that extended families usually present have felt too much for me in the last many years. Being physically isolated in Goa (in the years between 2010 and 2018) unconsciously made it easy to remain in my mental bubble, and reinforce the idea that I was on a different page and we could never find commonality. The already glaring differences grew wider still and it felt physically impossible to commune over anything at all.
So what’s changed?
2020 turned a switch in my brain. Something about my craving for connection and touch coinciding with a time when I was forced into physical isolation and distance, did a real number on me. Where I’d once hold my personal space, my boundaries and my solitude hard and tight, I have been watching as the edges have melted slowly away, and I’ve been finding a midway that emerges quite organically, without effort. A way to connect without losing myself or my sense of personal space and identity that I build around it.
2020 made me see how much I wanted to tap into the collective experience of what was a global emotional crisis. That so much of what we experience anyway is collective, wide-spread and shared, and that it shouldn’t take a pandemic to finally see that. Isolation somehow made my radar for what is held in the collective super sharp and I felt desperate to create physical space for our collective experience. At a time when I…couldn’t.
My emotional/spiritual journey has bene largely private until last year when I threw the doors open and put myself in the thick of things by beginning a practice. Until then, I prided myself in processing everything on my own, in my meticulously developed capacity to detach. I wore my ability to walk away, draw hard boundaries and remove myself from situations and people, like a massive badge of honour. And yet, at a time that forced that upon me, I felt glad that I had a heads up on this moving away from the tangible world, but felt a deeply heavy sadness about suddenly having to process it all alone.
2020 was a googly I didn’t see coming, but that in retrospect I can’t thank enough. The isolation, the strangeness, the collective death and grief, the incessant handwashing and germophobia of 2020 has turned upside down on its head, what I thought was my “natural instinct” when life gets hard. I thought isolation was my normal. I convinced myself it’s what worked for me, what I loved and needed. And I was so absolute in my resolve around it.
But 2020 with it’s forced isolation and distance, in repsonse to my desire for connection and intimacy, that was deeper than it has ever been; it’s denial of any collective experience and shared spaces to process the mammoth emotional toll of it all; it’s default mode of detachment from all things real and “normal”, leaving everything uncertain and up in the air; made me see that even sadness, fear, loss and grief made me want to come together. All the thigns I would once take away into private, shut the door in on myself and sit with all alone, convinced the world couldn’t help me, now convinced me I needed to be out and with people. Specifically the people I love, my family and some chosen friends who have become family.
Something about being forced into being sanitised, and in that way less human, I found the very crux of what makes me alive and human.
That’s what changed.
I spent most of 2020 feeling feelings that I believed were rather uncharacteristic of me — craving the warmth of company of more than one body, the comfort that only comes not from the intimacy of shared physical spaces, connection from spening time being with other people. This was all very strange for me considering how much of a self-made, self-declared introvert/loner/not-more-than-two-people-for-me person that I have been.
The last eight weeks though, I have felt a profound relief from sharing spaces, conversations, bodies and warmth in communion with friends, with Goa, with the sea, and with my family. There have been several moments where I felt that relief. That comfort seeping into my cells. That internal settling and relaxing that comes from a bone-deep consolation and reassurance that only someone’s presence can give.
What a ride. WHAT A RIDE.
Two years ago: This too is Bangalore
Three years ago: You can taste the dishonesty
Five years ago: Pain