Do you ever wake up in the morning and realize that you forgot about Covid-19 for a minute? I’ve done that a few times these last two months, but then reality washes over me and I remember that everything is different now. We are in a time of transformation and upheaval, and the challenge is to make sense of life by finding meaning through symbolism, creativity, and willingness to serve the greater good.
In early February, Eleanor asked me to read a paper from the Temple archives at the March 20th service. However, on that second day of Spring, life everywhere was limited by shelter-in-place orders and overshadowed by shortages of toilet paper and N95 masks. Covid-19 had abruptly turned every aspect of life upside-down, and I realized that I needed to write about the things I was seeing and feeling so I could make sense of it. From that need a list of Temple resources emerged, spiritual food we can all apply in the wake of drastic changes caused by the novel coronavirus.
I never gave that talk in the Temple because March 20th was the first Sunday that church gatherings were canceled, and the first time since the influenza pandemic of 1918 that Sunday services in the Temple weren’t held. The two months since then feel like two lifetimes ago. This morning I will present an updated version of that talk as well as some of the ways Temple life has adapted and changed in the face of this virus.
“There are no little things.”
William H. Dower MD, the second Guardian in Chief of the Temple, wrote those words in Occultism for Beginners, the series of Temple Artisan articles that were first published in book form in 1917. Doctor, as he was called, was curious about the workings and symbolism of every dimension of life, and studied widely to broaden his understanding of the occult, or hidden, forces of nature. I can imagine how absorbed he would be interpreting the workings and symbolism of the novel coronavirus from an occult standpoint.
As this pandemic has continued to impact everything we do, I find myself grateful for the many Temple tools we can use to fortify our inner spiritual health, beginning with our Temple Mantrams:
I believe that in me dwelleth every good and perfect spirit.
Believing this, I will show forth this day by thought, word, and deed
all that perfection that dwelleth in me.
I am One with God and all Good.
Evil hath no power over me.
Though clouds and darkness seem to be about me,
Yet dwell I eternally in the Light.
Humanity has faced plagues and viruses throughout recorded history. This coronavirus disease is not new, and it’s interesting to note that the timing of the outbreak is almost exactly a century after the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 that took 50 million lives worldwide.
A mentor of mine once explained that, because they mutate so readily, viruses symbolize dramatic inner change and transformation at our most basic levels. It’s hard to imagine that a tiny strand of RNA could so dramatically upend life as we know it, breaking open human-made institutions, conventions, and routines at a dizzying rate. This “little thing” is challenging us to modify our behavior and adapt quickly to constantly changing circumstances. It is literally stopping us in our tracks.
Why is this happening? Nature is always changing and balancing in line with laws of physics and biology. We’ve fallen out of balance in so many ways on this beautiful blue planet of ours, by not listening to what nature is telling us, by taking more than we need of everything, and by disrespecting one another as people and as nations. This little virus is finding its way to the powerful as well as the poor, to doubters as well as believers, to people of every age and background. It has shattered stock markets, shuttered schools, fractured government services, and sequestered citizens in their homes all over the world.
However, we’ve also seen examples of mindfulness and care. Panic buying shifted to an attitude that there can be enough for everyone when we share. Most of us are kinder and willing to work together for the greater good. Some who are able pay a little extra so that those who clean or maintain their homes have a little cushion. Neighbors check on one another and help with shopping. And you can hear the birds singing their sweet songs of Spring because the background noise of traffic and jets has been stilled.
In Occultism for Beginners, Doctor introduced the idea of the Radiant Center present in all things. He wrote at a time when science depended on rather basic microscopes, but in today’s world the reflections of the Oneness of all life have grown even clearer as the tools of science have advanced. He said:
The physical body is the cellular man. Each cell is an entity having its life cycle from birth to death, and possessing consciousness and memory as well as function — its life work. The collective consciousness of all the cells of the body is the consciousness of the physical man, thus enabling the physical body to perform all its diverse functions. In other words, we can say that the whole physical body is to each cell of the same, what God is to man.
…The physical body is the correspondence of the spiritual body. To know the physical body we must know the nature of the cells, and how unity, cooperation, and brotherhood depend upon the minute units getting together as the cells do to form an organ, or as the planets do to form the solar system, before larger celestial or terrestrial advancement is possible.
There are no little things.
Today, a full century since Dr. Dower wrote those words, we have orbiting telescopes that see deep into the cosmos, and electron microscopes at the macromolecular level. We have binoculars to observe the birds, and cameras to record the beauty of flower petals close-up. In training our eyes on the world around us, our recognition of nature’s patterns and design is enhanced, thus building conscious awareness of our connection to all life. That resonance helps us vibrate with the whole. It helps us find our place and our sense of purpose.
Metaphors also help us to see by allowing us to understand human events in a new way. I experienced this while writing this talk, when the words of the Temple “Rallying Cry” pushed into my consciousness:
“Enter in dear Father, enter in dear Mother, enter in dear Sister, enter in dear Brother, and another little Sister and another Brother too; Enter in dear Father, enter in dear Mother, and the Sons and Daughters of the Lord our God.”
Most everyone is trying to find meaning and understanding as this pandemic unfolds. I wondered whether our understanding could shift if we looked at this virus as its own unique kind of rallying cry for transformation, calling humanity to our senses, asking us to seek and find balance on every level of life, from our personal relationships to our regard for nature and the resources we have taken so much for granted.
This strand of RNA is entering in through the most basic doorway of life patterning, with a bit of code that is forcing the whole of humanity to stop in our tracks and see how we are connected. Humans don’t walk toward change willingly; it is usually thrust upon us. Only as we are brought to our knees in the great push-pull of polar tensions do we let go of old patterns and heal into the new, and many of us are on our knees these days, opening ourselves to something greater that might help us understand what is happening. When I try to control things that are beyond my control, I get nowhere, and this pandemic is far beyond anyone’s control. Now is the time to give it to God, and to act as the radiant centers we can be when we choose to get out of our own way and work together.
In December the coronavirus was a ripple in a distant pond; as Spring arrived it was a tsunami crossing oceans and continents, impacting every person on Earth as this “little thing” moves through us, one to another. If RNA is like a messenger passing the code of life along to new cells, on a spiritual level we are the equivalent — and as human messengers, we can choose whether to replicate panic, hoarding, and selfishness, or to be messengers of care, kinship, and unity.
Most philosophies teach concepts related to the Creator–Preserver–Destroyer/Regenerator principles. An example is Shiva the Destroyer, one of the three Hindu gods who together personify the cycles of life on Earth. Along with Brahma the Creator and Vishnu the Preserver, Shiva’s force destroys the old so it can be re-created anew. On a grand scale, these cycles are evident in destructive volcanic, tectonic, and climatic events seen in nature. On a personal human level, we might experience Shiva’s destruction through illness, accidents, and falls from grace that stem from desire, arrogance, lust, and evil. Shiva strips us down to our innermost being, where we must die out of the old form before we can be born again into the new. These cycles of life and death can be witnessed everywhere, from trees that blossom, bear fruit, and go dormant, to powerful civilizations that have flourished and then fallen.
When I first joined the Temple in 1975, one of the foundational principles I was taught is a visual image in which each member of the Temple assumes spiritual responsibility for our unique “slice of the pie,” the segment of the human family that struggles with the same unique challenges we ourselves face. When we enter this earth plane, we are equally blessed and cursed with distinctive qualities and limitations — inner polarities — that create the medium in which our souls grow as a result of life’s testing forces. Each day, our motives and actions manifest through those discrete imperfections, frailties, addictions, and wounds, to be channeled into the greater soul of humanity — into our slice of the pie. As the destructive force of Shiva transforms us, we are regenerated, reborn into new life through recognition of the light within our darkness. As we bring consciousness to our own ignorance, as we perceive joy within our own sorrows, we heal not only ourselves but others as well, by reflecting the ideals of the All in the One, and the One in the All.
Early in this pandemic I was brought full circle to Dr. Dower’s work in Occultism for Beginners, when an epidemiologist advised something profound in its simplicity: “If we each behave as if we, too, have this virus, we can take care of one another.” The 8 billion of us across the globe are members of the human family, each a single cell in this organic reflection of the human body. We can’t protect everyone on the planet by wearing masks and social distancing, but if we all do our own part, we reinforce kinship by working together and finding meaning, even as this “little thing” impacts life as we know it, as this “little thing” demands recognition that no one is beyond its reach. Perhaps the coronavirus is not as much a threat from outside of us as it is a doorway to the radiant center within every organic system from the cosmos to the cell. We are One, and what we do impacts every other one.
Placing blame outside ourselves will not heal us. Perhaps the more conscious approach is to embody the massive inoculation toward light and change that the coronavirus is bringing our way. We will surely be transformed on the journey of walking separately together, as the pandemic reverberates and ripples back for months, or years, or however long it takes. How interesting it is that while people in America and Britain banded together during World War II to sacrifice for the greater good, in this extraordinary time we are sacrificing for the greater good by staying apart. Yet we are not alone, blessed as we are with alternative ways of gathering and sharing via technology. For the Temple family, our teachings and services found new resonance on Tuesday, March 24th, when the first Tuesday study class was held online and our website became the nexus between the Temple center at Halcyon and members all over the world.
In the great tasks before us, we have seen the mix of panic and disbelief as people everywhere prepare for the uncharted journey ahead. Those on the front lines of medicine, food supply, repair, delivery, and more, deserve our gratitude for their courage and commitment, even as disruptions and shortages make these essential services difficult and even dangerous. May we be humble enough to honor their actions on our behalf with an abundance of respect and recognition.
Some of us work from home as we self-isolate; others are home schooling their children; still others are reaching out to make sure needs are met in their circle of life. A different kind of listening must take place, and I was heartened by these words from artist Kitty O’Meara that envision the journey through this pandemic:
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
Dear friends and family and templars, we are in this together, transforming together, shining our inner light in a time of seeming darkness. The Temple has always offered ways to make it through difficult times, and these resources can help connect us:
In this moment — in each moment — our way through this pandemic depends upon everyone working together to make wise choices. Fear and hoarding are understandable reactions in times of stress, but we are far stronger when we cooperate and work as a team. The truth is that we are hardwired to reach out to one another, to share our courage and creativity. Every crisis is an opportunity, and there are silver linings to be discovered in this uncertain time.
We are one human family. Let your sisters and brothers know how you’re coping and what you’re creating. Let someone know if you need a call, or want to call others. Do you need groceries? Are you okay? We are in this together — let’s take care of each other as best we can.
The Temple, too, has been changed in the face of this virus, and we can gauge some of that by time-traveling back to the first week of January to remember what life was like five months ago. In whatever state or nation, at that time we all had jobs to do, errands to run, people to see, and groceries to buy. Here in Halcyon, we would meet in the Temple for Sunday morning services, and sometimes members from the Bay Area would travel here to join their voices with ours in reciting the Temple mantrams and singing Temple songs. Social distancing meant walking next door to the University Center to hug and talk and share refreshments after the service. Twice each week we would gather around the Central Altar at 5:30pm for the Tuesday and Friday study classes, and throw open the doors for a morning of cleaning in the Temple and University Center on Saturdays before the Feast service. We would share savory dishes at potlucks and social gatherings in Hiawatha Lodge, browse the collection during open hours at the William Quan Judge Library, or check the website once in awhile.
For 120 years, life in Halcyon has been focused in and around the Temple, characterized by group activities, annual Conventions, and customary routines and structure that supported the purpose stated by the Master, of “preparation of a place where it might become possible for the overshadowing Christ to enter and send forth the message which the world has waited for so long.” In January, the idea that all study classes and Sunday services would be held online was unthinkable, yet here we are, because the only option was to step into this brave new world of meeting together, separately, from the safety of our own homes — and that reach suddenly extends across the entire globe. It’s been challenging, because rituals such as lighting candles, reciting mantrams, and sharing the Feast of Fulfillment had to be adapted for the online environment. The website has been growing exponentially, and we are working to renew and refresh the lessons and wealth of material that can be accessed from that portal. These tectonic shifts in outreach have allowed growing numbers of theosophists to gather together from places like Moscow, Tokyo, Montreal, Casablanca, and London, in a reflection of the One Mind that connects us on inner lines.
This transformation reminds me of iron filings, of individual bits of ore scattered across the planet, just beneath the surface in random patterns and relationships — when suddenly and powerfully, the massive Covid magnet drew us into alignment, uniting us anew and refocusing our attention on kinship and connection. Every challenge eventually yields gifts, and for me, one of the greatest gifts of these online meetings has been seeing your beautiful smiles radiating from all over the world. You can feel the connection too, can’t you? What Dr. Dower said about all of us being connected, reflected, and linked together as One is evident on our screens, and whatever language we speak with our words, the language of smiles is what we know with our hearts. We may be apart, but we have never been so together. We are One.
In the introduction to his fine book, Dr. Dower dedicated his efforts to all who seek greater understanding of our interconnected relationship with All That Is, as he wrote:
“Occultism, as a science of life forces, gives a key to the art of right living
in accord with the divine and natural plan of evolution…
He who would know the origin and destiny of things;
who would win the power to measure in his consciousness
the infinitely great by the infinitely small,
the infinitely small by the infinitely great;
who would know the basic principles of his relations, spiritually and materially,
to the Cosmic Whole and to all his other selves and parts,
mineral, vegetable, animal, human, and superhuman;
who would know the Law of his interdependence with all life:
Such a one is a seeker after Occult Knowledge —
and for all such, these lessons are intended.”
The lessons before us are deep lessons indeed. Our world, quieter these days without the sounds of planes and traffic, is filled with life and hope that can carry us through if we but take it in, if we listen. Let us listen to the birds that are singing for us and to us, reminding us of the song of life. Let us listen well to each other as we strengthen our ties. And, in closing, let us listen with our whole hearts to the words of one of our most vital Temple tools, the Temple Healing Meditation:
We will now hold the Healing Meditation, calling in the healing forces of the Lodge. Let us surround the Guardian in Chief with the White Light; all Temple officers and members here and elsewhere who are in need of help; all who have sent in their names for the Healing Bowl; and everyone who is searching for the Light.
May the Master purify us that we may more worthily perform this service. In the strength of the Christos do we repel all evil from this, Thy Holy Altar and Sanctuary. We pray, our Heavenly Father/Mother, that Thou wilt send Thy Holy Angels to help us build a Spiritual Temple, through which Thy Strength and Blessings may be poured forth upon the world.
To thee, Almighty Father/Mother/Son, Creator of Life, spiritual and material, we lift our hearts in faith that, if it be according to Thy Will, the Sun of Thy righteous and omnipotent Love may shine upon and within us, lifting the fallen shadows of disease and suffering, and restoring us to mental, moral, and physical health. AMEN.
— Marti Fast
March 22, 2020
Updated May 24, 2020