Updated: Aug 17, 2020
“Nothing prepared me for this ” Everyone
On a spectrum from dire emergency to tentative emergence, the world is passing through a storm in slow motion with differing levels of protection from its destructive force. The sense of us ‘all being in this together’ has become more palpable but less comforting as utopian dreams and dystopian nightmares arrive with the winds. It has become clear that this will not be a fast forgotten squall and it is wreaking havoc for people on every continent, borne most heavily by the already vulnerable.
As Martin Luther King observed in his letter from Birmingham jail:
“All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Watching the natural world re-occupy public spaces, we may well wonder what re-wilding is also happening within ourselves and others and whether it will steer us closer to or away from the existential cliff edge which already looms in the form of climate crisis.
In Part 1 of this series I suggested that curating, cultivating, creating, contributing and connecting practices were needed in this crisis and in this Part 2, I am inviting those of us who are not sick or first responders to consciously curate our lives as we shelter at home to prepare to do our part in the wake of the unfolding humanitarian, financial and political crisis.
Curating builds new ways of perceiving our relationship with time and space and what is essential for our spirit and makes room for new practices that allow us to steady and ready ourselves. These practices are not about keeping busy or 'productive' in the ways that we know but to unravel our ways of perceiving and reacting. These are practices aimed at incrementally re-educating ourselves to be radically responsive to Life.
Choosing our perspective
Extended lockdown can evoke the feeling of being Phil Connors in “Groundhog Day”. Caught in a time loop in a small town for which he has contempt, Phil’s attempts to take advantage of his situation eventually give way to desperate bids to escape. It is only when he starts using the extra time to cultivate himself and give to others that things change. Content and grateful for his lot, Phil is at last released from the loop and chooses not to go back to the big city and take up his old life but to settle in his new community.
Most of us are like Phil, guilty of being in a relationship with Life that takes her for granted. Having brought us to this threshold, Mother Nature is showing us every day how fragile that relationship is and how often we accept the gifts Life brings without asking ourselves what is required of us in return.
Yet as Dr King went on to write in his letter from jail:
“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be….this is the inter-related structure of reality”
Most of us do not perceive reality this way. We see ourselves and the world in parts, some of which we routinely overlook. We have not been taught to focus on crucial flows and connections that animate the whole and we cannot engage them in ourselves. Not only that but we have often lost hold of our thread in the fabric of being and do not feel ourselves to be in a relationship with Life.
And yet, whether we can yet perceive it or not, this crisis is bringing us to a threshold and lifting the veil on the ways in which our connection to Life is wearing thin. In order to cross this threshold we need to cultivate more holistic ways of perceiving so that we can respond more skilfully to our challenges.
Lessons from the Little Red Dot: part 2
Our failure to take an integrated perspective of our community in Singapore has resulted in an outbreak of Covid 19 among marginalised migrant workers. With our focus on controlling cases imported from outside Singapore, we failed to safeguard all within Singapore equally. Once again Mother Nature showed us that boundaries between nations and communities are of our making not hers and no man is an island.
When a veil is lifted upon truth we have a choice. The outbreak has shone a light upon the lives of workers upon whose contribution and suffering our well-being is built. Our Prime Minister has vowed for the workers the same treatment as Singaporeans. Whilst some turn their faces in guilt and fear, many others are turning towards the community with compassion and gratitude which moves them to action. Donors are giving money, volunteers are sewing masks or packing care packages. Chefs whose restaurants are closed for lockdown are cooking meals for the workers. As Mother Teresa said:
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
We are learning for ourselves that purpose is less about ‘doing what we love’ but about doing whatever we can do, with love. We are being taught that what is essential in the world are labours of love and we must re-educate ourselves if we are to have a hope of steering out of this storm into a future that is ecologically sustainable, socially just and individually fulfilling.
In an ideal world, our upbringing and education would prepare us to be attuned to Life rather than markets. Our schedules would be centred on the free-ranging activities which cultivate the human spirit and help us live whole-heartedly.
Instead, we are often raised in ways that leave us feeling empty and looking to the world to make us feel safe, lovable and of value. We find ourselves in a hall of mirrors with distorted views of ourselves and others where our worst fears and most selfish behaviours are evoked as we cannot imagine in others that which we cannot first find in ourselves. The ecological and humanitarian crises we face as a species are not a failure of resources but of imagination in how we can be in relationship with Life for the good of all.
And yet, in this crisis we are seeing that the knowledge and training of our first responders and healthcare workers is useless without their compassion and courage. These qualities of the human spirit are essential not just in essential workers but in us all to be able to contribute our best. We weather storms and bear fruit only when we can draw inspiration from truth, beauty and goodness and let it move us into action. As this crisis tears through our families, communities and support systems, we comfort ourselves and each other with music, humour and acts of kindness. Keeping our spirits alive is what allows us to be first responders of the heart when it is our turn to play our part.
In this threshold time, Life is calling all of us to come home to ourselves and renew our dedication and relationship with her before it is too late.
Cultivating radical responsiveness
We become estranged from Life when we feel empty and allow ourselves to be fed stories of what Life needs from us. We become convinced she will love us more if we earn money and status. Before we know it, our focus is on acquiring those things rather than giving her attention.
But what if Life is just a girl standing in front a boy and asking him to love her? What if we had her at hello? What if all Life has ever wanted from us is to be our glorious and unique selves so she could love us back? What if Life is the One and she is half-way out the door because we have been so scared to disappoint her that we have failed to devote ourselves to her whole-heartedly?
What Life needs from us now, at this threshold, is radical responsiveness.
To be radical is not to jump forward but to dig right down to the roots. To be radically responsive is to learn to listen to what Life is really asking us and to respond to her from our deepest selves. It is to resolve to become artists of our unique gifts and contribute them to a re-imagined future.
Curating our space, time and energy
For art to tell a meaningful story, it must be curated. We are being asked to cut away that which no longer serves the truest expression of ourselves. This is painful work and some of it is being done for us as this storm and the ones following move through. To support our spirits we need strong habits that anchor us.
Curating our space helps meet our changing needs through the day. We need to remind our bodies to rest, eat, sleep and regulate stress well and we can do this using cues in our environment, such as eating, working and sleeping in separate places, even if all we can manage is to swivel our chair in a different direction or stretch out on the floor. Keeping things clear and clean and well-lit with good airflow as far as possible will help our energy and mood.
Curating our time also enables us to maintain a flow of vital energy. To be able to give attention to the right things, we need to make time every day for the ‘extra-curricular’ activities which keep us in connection with Life and boost our spirits.
Assembly- connecting with nature, collecting ourselves and re-opening to the sense of being part of a greater whole that has an intelligence and grace of its own. Good to do in the morning in the form of a nature walk, play with a pet, or something that awakens the senses to other living things
Recess- playing, being spontaneous, imagining and co-creating with others, exercising the imagination. This can be in small and large chunks throughout the day
Physical exercise- cultivating an inner sense of flexibility and strength, connecting with our bodies to maintain health and vitality and release tension and energy to flow through us
Arts and crafts- expressing ourselves, letting emotions move through us and making meaning of our experience. This is not aimed at performance but establishing new ways of perceiving and making meaning of the world around us or within us
Our birthright of curiosity, creativity and connectedness enabled our ancestors to survive crises through the millennia. As much as we miss each other, maybe we can, in the words of Persian poet, Hafiz, allow our loneliness to ‘cut us more deeply’ down to the place of our roots and find a much-needed renewal of spirit. My hope for us, individually and collectively, is that this time of destruction can wake us up into cultivating the deep relationship with Life that can regenerate us and through us a better world.