Healing and Transformation During the 2020 Pandemic
By Dave Derezotes
PROFESSOR OF SOCIAL WORK
DIRECTOR OF PEACE & CONFLICT STUDIES
As our Religious Studies students know, the wisdom traditions of the world all remind
us that the future is unpredictable. On March 18, I found myself suddenly in the hospital,
being wheeled into the recovery room after having an emergency surgery. As I looked
out the window at the early morning city lights, I was thinking about how much had
changed since the onset of the pandemic and found myself wishing that everything
would go back to normal again, when the whole building suddenly started shaking from
the 5.7 magnitude Magna earthquake.
Most of us are now experiencing a high magnitude of stress in our lives. Our
current pandemic crisis is challenging humanity to not only deal with the immediate
health, economic, and psychological difficulties of quarantine, but also with the
local and global contexts we all find ourselves in. In this article, we will briefly
examine some of these individual and collective challenges and provide some suggestions
for individual and collective healing and transformation. In our study of human cultures
and of how people make sense of the world, the humanities helpprovide us with the
right questions and answers to help guide us through this crisis.
Let’s start with some basic self-care. When I ask students, staff, and faculty
what self-care approaches have been most helpful, the most popular response is “walking
outside,” followed by other forms of aerobic exercise. Other popular responses are
“developing a new routine,” “getting enough sleep,” and “practicing self-compassion.”
We are all different; what seems to work for you?
What is healing? Out Latin scholars know that the root of the word refers to
the idea of “making whole.” To heal in the current crisis can mean that we notice
and “own” the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that we are experiencing in reaction
to the pandemic. During this quarantine, many of us have more self-reflection time
to do this work. When I am critical of the things I notice in myself, as most of us
are, this does not contribute to healing. Instead, I want to “look with friendly eyes”
at what I see. This combination of awareness and acceptance is arguably the central
goal of mindfulness, which we could call consciousness. As J. Krishnamurti explained
it, the goal of all meditation is to see the world the way it is and to be OK with
The pandemic calls for us to heal the losses that most of us have experienced,
which might include loss of freedom of movement, loss of a job and income, and even
loss of loved ones who became sick from the virus. The work of loss is to grieve,
which usually means to let myself feel sad, as well as to feel the many other feelings
that might be associated with loss, including anger and fear.
What is transformation? Transformation is a process of radical change that involves
more than healing, although healing may be a necessary part. Transformation also usually
includes creating greater empowerment and reconnection. Empowerment can be thought
of as knowing and expressing effectively what I think and feel, whereas reconnection
can be thought of as the realization of my relationship with everything in the universe.
Our crisis is an opportunity for individual transformation. Working in a university
in the Beehive State, and in a nation that prides itself on efficiency and productivity,
most of us have learned the habit of busyness and have suffered from a sense of time
poverty. Suddenly, many of us now have more time to take care of ourselves, self-reflect,
and interact with people we live with and love. We may notice however, that the old
habitual patterns of busy minds and busy behaviors persist, even when we do not need
to be as occupied and driven.
The transformation of these patterns of busyness begins with consciousness of
them. We can also practice new behaviors, being patient with ourselves as we learn
that it takes effort and focus to think and act differently. Since meditation is about
being conscious, I could, for example, set aside even just 15 or 30 minutes a day
to “do nothing” in my favorite place to sit, and just notice what comes up for me.
Instead of sitting still, some of us might prefer combining an activity with meditation;
for example, I find outdoor activities like gardening, hiking, or running very helpful.
Suddenly, many of us now have more time to take care of ourselves, self-reflect, and
interact with people we live with and love.
Our crisis is an opportunity for collective transformation. As the Peace and
Conflict Studies students know, deep collective transformation usually begins with
my own self-work. For example, prior to the pandemic, we all shared a looming future
that most of us did not want; a future of overpopulation, global warming, persistent
conflict, and preparations for war. Now that the virus has pressed a reset button
for humanity, we have the opportunity to look at our values and consider reordering
them in a different hierarchy of importance. Perhaps for example, the focus on competition
to have the best “economic indicators” might become lower on the scale of importance
and a focus on cooperation for the highest good might be put at the top of the list.
Crises have a way of waking us up to what is most important.
Finally, as humanities scholar-practitioners who value social justice and equality,
we recognize that the pandemic adversely impacts many less-privileged populations
disproportionately, and we work to eliminate those disparities. Ultimately, perhaps
the best way to transform myself is to focus upon helping other people in my community
who are suffering more than me.