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  • Lockdown, Soul and Marking The Passage of Time

    Marking the passage of time in important ways is a quintessentially human activity. However in these COVID times, it’s become a great deal more difficult to do.

    I don’t mean that we can’t tell what time it is: of course, the clocks still work! But that’s something different from being aware of the passage of time in a psychological sense.

    Yes, you can still watch the hands of the clock go around during the time of COVID. But the problem for many people is the endless sameness of each day, when work occurs in the same space as homelife and relaxation, when there are limited destinations outside of the house, and when few people can gather at any one time and place.

    Our human life depends greatly on indicators that map out the passage of time as we experience it subjectively. A great deal of research in modern neuroscience has emphasized that there are strong linkages between our emotional state, and the ways in which we subjectively experience the passage of time. Claremont Graduate University’s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was the first to use the term “flow” for the way time passes when we’re caught up in pleasurable, engaging experiences where all distractions are shut out. In recent years, research has also done much to confirm and explain our felt sense that time passes quicker as we age as individuals.

    The marking of personal time, of the passage of seasons and the occurrence of significant events and major life transitions in our lives is a matter of the greatest importance for meaningful human life. It’s not overstating things to say that it is key to having the sense of being truly alive.

    Loss of Soul

    Loss of awareness and failure to observe the special, meaningful character of time is strongly connected with the loss of awareness of key aspects of our inner life, sometimes referred to as “loss of soul” by /a-midlife-transitions. This is something we can experience powerfully during times of lockdown. The days drift into one another, when weekdays can seem just the same as weekends, when cherished regular activities have been put on hold, and when even family routines have been disrupted (e.g., taking the kids to Grandma and Grandpa’s house).

    As a result of this “flattening out”, our lives can begin to lose the dimension of soul, as Jungians and other /a-midlife-transitions would say. The deep human significance of human events gets lost. We see this loss at its most extreme, when we see what happens with some of the turning points or very special major life transitions during the lockdown. One hears of couples getting married, and of almost all the guests only being able to attend virtually. The same has been experienced by a substantial number of people around funerals of family members. And the most extreme example has occurred when people who are fatally ill with COVID have been forced to leave this life without being able to see any family members. To be honest, I can’t even imagine how dreadful such an experience would be.

    Flattening Out, Dampening Down

    Denial of the need to acknowledge the special moments in our human life results in a loss of our connection to meaning and to what has lasting importance—a loss of connection to the archetypal dimensions of human life, as Jungians refer to it. As Jung and Viktor Frankl and many existentialist and humanistic psychologists have pointed out, one of the key things that human beings need to survive and thrive is a sense of meaning. We strongly need to feel that there is a significance to our lives, to feel that what happens to us matters.

    The purpose of ritual, celebration and commemoration in human life is to make us conscious of the connection between what we’re doing or living and some bigger, more fundamental story. Whatever form it takes, we need this connection back to the meaning of the passage of time—in order to stay human.

    Creativity and the Passage of Time

    Recently, I had the good fortune to travel to the City of Stratford, Ontario. Stratford is famous for the Stratford Festival, North America’s largest Shakespearean festival. This year, because of COVID-19, the regular season of plays, all held in indoor venues, had to be cancelled. To its credit, though, the City didn’t respond to these events by lapsing into despair or passivity.

    When you walk on the streets in Stratford this summer, you get the sense of a great deal of life! A large number of the restaurants in the central part of the city have created patios, so that, even if people cannot be in the restaurants for dinner, they can be out enjoying meals on the streets, which are full of life and pedestrian traffic. None of the Festival’s plays can currently be performed indoors, but various theatre groups have created plays that you can watch out of doors—or seated in your car, as if for a drive-in movie. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, they’ve created a marvelous little music barge with a good sound system, which enables some fine musical artists to perform out-of-doors while travelling up and down the Avon river, which runs through the centre of town. It’s all quite impressive!

    It seems to me that Stratford has done something that we all need to do in the face of the sense of shut-down and restriction that we have faced as a result of COVID-19. The CIty has found ways to acknowledge and show that this summer period is something special, even if people can’t do the “normally special” things that are usually associated with Stratford in the summer. The people and organizations of Stratford have used their various creative abilities to mark the passage of this summer season in some valuable, meaningful ways.

    I believe that essentially all of us are called by the Self to use our own individual creativity to achieve similar kinds of result, which acknowledge the passage of time in meaningful ways during this time of COVID. It’s very important that each of us find good, personally fulfilling ways to acknowledge important events in our own lives, and to understand the movement occurring in our own lives and of those who are close to us.

    An important part of the work of /a-midlife-transition such as Jungian analysis is to find connection with the deep meaning and significance of the events of our own lives, and to identify ways to honour the meaning we find in our own journey. This is always important, but in this time of COVID-19, it takes on an even greater value and meaning.


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