If like me, you’ve been working at home for the past 18 months. If you live in a rural part of America. Or if like me, many of your family members live on other continents thousands of miles away, most of your human contact may have been reduced to screens in recent months. And perhaps like me, without quite realizing it, a great chunk of your common humanity has become electric, one dimensional, and disembodied. I don't know about you, but all this remote work, all this pandemic living, has got me feeling distinctly odd in recent weeks.
And I was starting to feel quite exhausted. Like I was losing my center of gravity. Even my nearly-20-year meditation practice wasn't helping. So, this past weekend, I changed it up. To the encouragement of friends in Boston, I went on a journey out into the noisy, germ-filled, wider world. And the effects were remarkably revitalizing.
4 brief moments that blew my mind:
1) I got on an Amtrak train and traveled through three states.
I was stunned by the depth of vision as we flew through autumnal New England – absorbing it all via a window and not a screen. The sharp beauty of fall foliage as we whipped through small towns, farms, and university campuses where students looked as rebellious and full of potential as they've always looked, only now bound by masks. The clattering wheels and honking of the horn as we crossed country roads. I nearly cried when I saw the Boston cityscape flying into sight. As someone raised in cities, seeing the skyline was like seeing a precious, old friend.
2) I walked through bustling city streets and meditated in Boston’s Public Garden.
I tasted the medicinal effects of being around many humans at once, moving through a city in all her boisterous, clanging energy and architecture. I tentatively stopped and stared at metal door handles, then boldly grabbed them and pushed my way into buildings. I ate veggie sushi with wooden chopsticks on a park bench and watched the world walk by. I meditated as twilight fell over the Boston Public Garden with the Kadampa Meditation Center Boston's final outdoor class of the season. I felt myself blend into the wider public, and a wider and more expansive sense of being.
3) I sat in my local meditation center in Cambridge.
I felt the palpable difference of meditating with a group of humans once more. How the mind falls into peace so much more easily when we’re all tuned into the same room. How sitting in the presence of my center's resident teacher — a monk (pictured above) who has steeped his mind in peace for 30 years — is transformational in its living power.
4) I ate in a restaurant.
The most euphoric Indian meal of my life! Having not done this for 18 months, I was stunned at the sheer power of the simple act of breaking (naan) bread in community — the joyful energy of humans feasting in the same room. Even though we were mostly strangers, as the waiters and waitresses danced among us and the voices of families and friends filled the large room, it felt communal and deeply nourishing.
Perhaps we are all seeking a rite of passage? We're looking for a shift out of one way of being, our emergency pandemic state, and into something more enduring — the new, endemic world.
I’m reminded of something the visionary HR thought leader Josh Bersin said back in the spring of 2021, when the U.S. was still contemplating a fall return-to-the-office. He's been using the term "The Big Reset" for years now, but he said something back in the spring that really hit me: How perhaps one of the best things teams and HR leaders could do as we returned to fall schedules, was to collectively pause. And before jumping into another bout of productivity, simply honor what we've all just lived through.
One of the most disruptive periods in recent human history. Trauma on a global scale. A death toll that has surpassed many wars. How we’re all now staggering out the other side, feeling like we should be feeling normal, yet riddled with subtle collateral damage. Just look at the supply chain impacts, the way the world is reeling from 18 months of strange life. Just look at the ever-rising waters of the mental health tsunami. Maybe we all need to be onboarded back into our roles, given that the pandemic has changed so much about every organizational structure.
This past weekend has taught me that I have needed a reset moment.
I've needed to tiptoe out of my place of shelter, to don a mask and boldly jump back into the world once again. Because as digitally savvy as we have all become, we still have a basic, fundamental need to be humans existing in community.
My conclusion is this: Existing in 3D, real-life, physical communities is vital to our individual well-being. And now is the time to be rebuilding those communities.
Next week, I plan to drive into my workplace campus once again. I don't actually need to do this as my employer and managers have been flexible enough to allow us to continue to work in whatever way works best for us, but suddenly I want to be there again.
I'm doing the same with the local non-profit I volunteer for. We're once again creating in-person meditation classes for our Portland branch, where we show up on Saturday mornings for all the humans that need to be with another humans.
I feel compelled to walk through hallways, to be a physically present even if it's only for one day a week. To be a human be-ing.
Or as one Harvard-based, neuroscience researcher put it to me over the weekend, we've evolved for thousands of years to be just this: a deeply communal species. One that is wired to thrive as a "we" not just "me".