Week four of the virus lockdown - or is it week five? Or six? Are you also feeling a bit time warped these days? People talk of settling into schedules and routines, but always with an awkward sense of tentativeness. How long will it be? I also hear, and experience myself, a sense of strange satisfaction with a different pace, less outside demands. Time to just be if we want. Or even busier. Or many opportune moments and pauses in between being and doing in this in-between time.
I don’t believe I have ever spoken the word “ennui,” and I have written it only in my crossword puzzles. But for some reason the word ennui came to me this evening, so I need to explore what it has to offer. One dictionary defines it as “a feeling of listlessness, weariness, and dissatisfaction: boredom.” Another adds “a jadedness of having a life of too much ease.” Interesting applications to our shelter-at-home world. I don’t know whether any words in the definition of ennui describe you body, mind or soul these days, but I am not sure there really is an adequate way to describe our emotions as we navigate our unprecedented and unsettling world.
Perhaps deep in our subconscious, under what I am suggesting is our ennui, is an important and generative emotion of an awareness that the dormancy of our ennui is gestating and eventually birthing a turning point in the life of the planet. We all know at some depth of our heart, mind and soul life will never be the same . Some will want to resist and block any changes preferring to return to the unsustainable “old way” of "shop 'til we drop” - literally. But the experience of sobering scarcity, physical and emotional distancing, and the loss of accustomed control of our communal and personal lives offers a grand “teachable moment.” We actually knew major shifts in the planetary economy were critically necessary, and the virus has given us an opportunity to explore what shifts are actually apparent and doable enough that we will be able to make staunch, sacrificial commitments to implement the necessary changes - if we are spiritually and morally committed enough to do so.
The virus’s major gift, I believe, is that everyone on the planet realizes we are all vulnerable to something larger than government and scientific heroism can prevent or immediately eliminate. In spiritual terms we were given intimations of what Martin Luther King called a “Beloved Community.” A world larger and more compassionate, vulnerable and interdependent than we knew before. We have observed the heroic medical and various service staff sacrificially risk their lives. We have observed kindnesses and courageous leadership from some. Our sense of resiliency and adaptability is being tested at a very personal as well as governmental basis. We now know better the importance of truth-telling in the midst of crisis. We can imagine a new capacity for compassion and character. (And, of course, we have also seen some examples of the failure of all of the above.)
None of really knows how long our period of what I have called ennui will last. Will it last long enough - or not long enough - for our individual and planetary souls to be able to envision and create a world organized as a primary ethic to serve the common good, to create economies of cooperation, and to embody a life of nonviolence and compassion, especially for the poor - and even for those we don’t like! How long might it be before that kind of transformation can become a lasting way of life as an alternative to a way of death and destruction?
In spite of the ennui, we live in a tremendously important era in the life of our planet. We can’t allow our “jadedness of having a life of too much ease” or our "boredom, weariness and dissatisfaction” prevent us from being as present as possible in these evocative and transformative times.