It’s a beautiful day. It’s an absolutely stunning day, the first day of uninterrupted sunshine for longer than I can remember, and spring is bursting forth, announcing itself everywhere in an unashamed display of beauty, hope and a joyous celebration of life. The spring flowers, the birds and the insects which are suddenly appearing out of nowhere, seem unconcerned by the shock waves going through the human race as we face a world which is way more uncertain than it’s ever been in most of our lifetimes.
As I sit writing in the garden this afternoon I feel at peace, content, happy.
This morning after waking, I was overcome with grief for the billions of us facing frightening changes. What struck me most was – surprisingly – not Covid 19, but the news I saw, a few easily miss-able paragraphs on page 35 of the Guardian; millions in danger as locust scourge reaches 10 countries. A combination of factors over the past two years precipitated by climate change and amplified by war in Yemen, have created conditions where locusts are multiplying at alarming rapidity and decimating everything growing in their wake. And the existing numbers could grow 400-fold by June. Whether they will get the £120 million required to stop the locusts breeding, at a time when practically every country in the world is crippled by the attempts to stem the tide of the virus, is questionable.
I noticed my minds’ attempt to push this news to one side, because it concerned people on another continent to my own. I heard a voice in my head saying, oh well it’s in Africa and the Middle East. I have heard this voice before and chosen to ignore it, embarrassed to admit even to myself that it was running. This time I stopped in my tracks. What is that?
And then I felt it. I heard myself say, “but these are my people!”, and then the tide opened and I felt an outpouring of grief for my people. Ravaged by war, famine, and now locusts. And I understood that all people are my people. And I saw how much I use difference, on any level, to immunise myself to the pain of what happens to my people.
My mind argues that I am not equipped to deal with feeling everyone as my people, the pain is too big for me. But I increasingly realise that it is not like that. If I don’t fixate on worrying about anyone or anything, I get to feel it all in waves. And in this moment the wave is gentle; there is sadness, and a heaviness in my heart; and there is an openness to the beauty around me, and appreciation for the tingling of my feet as they feel the ground beneath them, and my breath, filling me so simply with a love of life. Last night I spoke with some of my Italian friends and listened to their stories. Yesterday the parks were closed – and the postal service too, and people are being arrested for being out on the street. People are dying from the virus and there cannot be funerals for them, and they are dying alone, for no family is allowed close. Again, the grief to feel my people in this unfolding. Feeling the grief with my Italian friends, across the computer screen which has become a life line, has allowed love to open wide, and this wonderfully paradoxical thing, where the pain is making us more available to the love. The willingness to feel it all is bringing us closer to the mystery.
I rang one of my cousin’s this morning as I wanted to hear her voice. She told me how distant she has been feeling from her connection to God. How inaccessible the mystery has been for her. But when she went to church at the weekend and nobody was there, and she found herself alone in that temple space, she found herself shouting to God, uninhibited in her aloneness. Filling the church with her voice, calling out loud her prayers for herself and our world, our people. And in the release of that unplanned devotional outpouring, she was met; she felt an ecstasy of connection, which imbued the rest of her day with a kind of magic.
Yesterday I held my first large Zoom session. One by one more and more beloved faces pinged onto my screen until there were at least 26 of them; People who I have had the privilege to guide and support and share with over the last years, but some of whom I hadn’t seen for some time. Some because they lived too far away, were too busy, couldn’t afford my retreats, or were not well enough to travel. Suddenly they were all here, for this 90 minute meeting, sharing in a meditation, coming back to the simplicity of being here, together, alone, now, in heartful connection. I was amazed at how powerful it was, how simple, how heart-warming, to meet on the screen with so many of us. It took this crisis for me to even consider such a possibility, and now I realise it is worth it. We need each other like never before, in so many ways. And we need to use whatever means are possible that it can happen.
I went for a walk today with my daughter and her partner in the beautiful gardens in Dartington. We are still allowed to walk in (some of) the parks in England and I felt hugely grateful for the gift of this local resource; magnolias, towering up and flowering – majestic pink and white flowers resplendent against the blue sky. Grassy banks packed with celandines, cyclamen, fritillaries, anenomies of different varieties, primroses, forget-me-nots and many others I couldn’t name. On our walk we met a few friends. All we can all talk about is the virus and how the whole thing is affecting us. We are obsessed. Not surprisingly, as we are all off our maps. And perhaps this is a good thing. But how we respond to that maplessness makes all the difference. How we communicate with each other, as we all grapple to make sense of it all, is key as what we chose to focus on has a profound effect. Where we put our attention, becomes what we chose to feed in our communications; and it determines what reality looks like. I have never been more aware of the truth of this. I am making it my business to be more mindful of how I speak and how much I actually connect with who I am with – whoever they are – rather than just throwing words about.
I am seeing people who are relieved to be stopping and slowing down. And people who are speeding up on the inside as their nervous systems go into overdrive. Where talking, talking, talking about it all seems to be the only way to discharge that energy. It is too easy to attune to who I am with, and respond in kind, but it’s not always a good idea. And when this is all on social media this can be even more impactful.
The world, as ever, will mirror us. A friend told me that she went walking with a friend of hers yesterday. One of them, on that day, was feeling fear and separation and distrust. And she was seeing evidence of the same all around her. The other was more settled; and astounded by how many signs of warmth and kindness there were in all her interactions with strangers. Comparing notes, it emerged that as they walked on the beach, they were in that very moment perceiving the same situation through very different eyes. One was focussed on the man who looked suspicious and the one who looked angry; whilst her friend hadn’t even noticed those people and was attuned to the sense of openness she was seeing in the people she was observing. I’m not suggesting that we are imagining everything, but what we attune to will make a huge difference to what we are observing. And whether we are located in our hearts or in fearful thinking will have a massive effect on how we perceive the world and what is happening in any moment.
I am hearing a lot of talk of conspiracy theories right now; that the virus is a ploy by governments to get rid of the aged population, or that a vaccine will be made mandatory which will keep us somehow enslaved to the lizard-owned system forever and no longer capable of independent thinking or action. I am not surprised. There is a lot of fear, and in that atmosphere, we are suspicious and will jump to all kinds of conclusions, many of which are likely to induce more paranoia and distrust. Another kind of virus! Some of these theories may have grains of truth to them and some may not. Either way, we need to be very awake in how we relate to these stories, buy none of them wholesale, listen, hold open questions, never presume we know anything for sure, and not spread disinformation just because something makes us nervous and therefore we need to offload it on someone else. And it’s good to bear in mind that the more frightening the ‘information’, the faster it spreads.
We know that when we feel separate and anxious, our worse fears prey on us, and can seem utterly believable and inevitable. And we also know that when we feel safe in our own skin, our outlook changes dramatically. The way we see the world depends vastly on where we are coming from.
We are being called to slow down. To listen. To pay attention. To do whatever it takes to bring love and kindness to ourselves and those around us. And it is not easy.
Yesterday Colin and I decided to switch our phones onto airplane mode for the day, not listen to the news and not check emails. I was tempted countless times to switch on again, find out what has happened, see who has contacted me. I managed to refrain 95% of the day with a small slip. The effect was powerful. It was only by contrast that I could appreciate how much stress builds up with the sheer volume of communication and information via the web. I felt soothed, my nervous system eased out, there was a lot of relief.
Today I switched on again and of course there was a lot to deal with suddenly. And I noticed how much more on edge I felt, even though there were some lovely communications. I recommend switching off. Regularly. I intend to have at least two hours a day, and one day a week off grid for my own sanity.
I feel that more than ever we need to listen to what is beneath the noise we are all making. Listen to the breath of life which is not actually affected by the movement of our frightened minds, and to the silence which connects us all. See each other. Feel each other, feel the earth springing into new fresh life, and keep attuning to what remains while everything in our experience shifts, changes, uproots, unhinges.
This time is precious. Profoundly challenging, yes. But precious.
A time of re-evaluation, where nothing is certain. All bets are off. Many of us have been expecting sudden, shocking change for a while; and this is, it seems to me, the beginning of a breakdown of systems which have been unsustainable for way too long. The pretence that everything can continue in the way it has done is now over. And part of me is celebrating that, even as part of me is grieving and feeling a massive sense of loss.
Where we put our attention now, determines where we are heading next.
Each one of us is affecting that process; we affect it in countless ways, in every encounter we have.
For the sake of our people (which includes all the non-humans) everywhere, my prayer is that we each use this crisis as an opportunity to wake up.
Because, finally, business as usual is over.