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Insulation or isolation?

During the year 2020, I found myself with a lot of unexpected free time on my hands. Some of it I invested in regularly listening to the podcast „Wisdom of the Sages“. What fascinated me  about it was mostly the way Raghunath and Kaustubha interacted with each other and how they talked about the world, every now and then offering amazing nuggets of their own wisdom inspired by reading out the Srimad Baghavatam and answering listeners‘ questions every Saturday. One of those nuggets I found especially touching even though I am not sure in which episode it came up.

What I do remember is that the conversation was about how we deal with the suffering we see in the world. This is something I have been struggling with for a long time and I always found it difficult to find a middle way between a retreat (with the resulting loneliness) and directly facing the world (with the risk of wearing myself our emotionally). It seemed like the choice between living inside a thick shell and opening myself up to being hurt, neither one an attractive prospect. In the end, this question decides if we are able to take action against grievances or if we tend to turn away from the suffering of others.

Raghunath‘s answer was:

„Dont isolate yourself, insulate yourself.“

Which fascinated me immediately, because on the one hand the English original was immediately obvious to me, while on the other hand the nuance between the two related verbs does not work in my native language German.

Different meanings in German and in English

Insulation literally means using a covering material to prevent heat, electricity, sound similar things from touching something sensitive towards those influences. Isolation means spatial separation. One of the verbs emphasizes the protective aspect, the other the distance in between two objects or beings. In German both verbs are translated as „isolieren“. This realisation gave me a tangible lightbulb moment and was likely the reason I kept pondering this quote in the days and weeks afterwards.

What did Raghunath mean? In light of the state the world is in, nobody is going to benefit from me withdrawing and living as a hermit. But staying permanently open to outside influences like a naked wire is just as unsustainable a solution. What helps, metaphorically speaking, is a suitable coating, that helps me stay in contact with the world without being overwhelmed. Or as Raghunath put it: I don‘t go out in the cold of winter only wearing a T-shirt, but that does not mean I am condemned to only stay indoors. As long as I wear a pullover that offers just the right amount of thermal insulation. Not to much, not too little and on top of that: Much more flexible and it keeps me warmer than a knight‘s armour.

Humans are very different in their constitutions and their needs. And individual persons are not always on the same energy level or in the same mood either, just like the world around them does not always look the same. So the nature of any appropriate coating will depend on your personality and on your state of mind on the day in question. And we all will have to find individual strategies to properly insulate ourselves.

I have no real answer for what exactly my new insulation is made of. What I am sure of is that the year 2020 (together with this quote from one of my most frequently listened to podcasts) has given me significant emotional relief. At first glance the sentence may look a bit trivial, but for me just the process of hearing it had the effect of a key that had been stuck in a lock finally being turned.

What about you?

What about you, how easy is it for you to strike a balance between unfiltered interaction with the world and withdrawing from the suffering you see around you? What would an adequate coating consist of for you? How much would the proper amount of insulation make it easier for you to take an active approach to grievances without them emotionally impacting you too heavily? How does Rhagunath‘s saying inspire your thoughts?

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