In my immediate field of view, I inhabit a quiet sort of coastal paradise. Non-human nature seems to be doing just fine right now – more than fine, it’s positively oozing with fecundity and activity. This is a very horny and entertaining time of year.
And yet our human family is not doing fine. We have recently been invaded by a novel virus, which is particularly threatening to our more vulnerable family members. And we all know that the worst is yet to come – as I write (Friday, 27th March), South Africa has only just reported its first death from the virus. We don’t know if we’re looking at hundreds of thousands of us dying, or millions upon millions.
And alongside this virus has come a flood of – by no means coherent – information, a confusion of different emotional responses, and a multitude of fears for both the present and the future. And some.
And right now I don’t really know how to integrate these different worlds that are swirling around me, both within and without.
The world of gobsmacking beauty that surrounds me from dawn to dusk, and keeps watch over me at night, and which is growing and changing and flowering day by day, and hour by hour.
And the world of collective fear and collective anxiety and collective suffering.
And my responses of fear and anxiety and self-contraction.
And my responses too of care and compassion and love – and seasonal joy.
Ah, my body and mind and heart and soul feel like they’re being pulled in very different directions right now. It’s quite a virus to make sense of. And I guess we’re all feeling it, whether we’ve got it or not.
Maggie the mare and Reggie the pony have just entered the paddock...
First up – because it still needs saying: we must channel our deepest love and care and concern towards those suffering right now, and to those attending to those who are suffering. And if we don’t quite trust our politicians, then at least we must listen to the frontline workers. Now is not the time to take the piss. I am not particularly bothered about catching the virus myself – and both my parents have already passed away – but I would hate to be the one who passes it on to someone who passes it on to someone whose system can’t resist it.
Second up – I don’t know. I have no answers. Who knows quite what is going on, and where this will take us all? Who knows what it all means? Who knows whether we’ll all try to get back to business as usual, or a new vision of human life will emerge, or there’ll be some sort of civil war between the two, or if this pandemic is just a herald of worse yet to come? And how does this infection of the human family affect our response to our ongoing climate emergency? And a hundred more questions.
Right now, I am trying to sit in the unknowing – as most of the other seats are already taken – and give it some space. I know that this is a privileged space to be able to occupy. But I might as well put years of self-isolation to good use.
The robin has just seen off the blue tit in the battle for the bird table’s last remaining sunflower seeds...
But I’m sure that the stress of this disease is stressing all of our systems – whether they be nervous systems, or family systems, or economic systems, or political systems, or even our systems of belief. Wobbling right now, I know, is both natural and ubiquitous. Life’s fundamental vulnerability and uncontrollability, and the presence of death, and the fragility of our social systems – all of these existential certainties, which many of our human family already know on a daily basis, have finally breached our Western cell walls of denial.
Instead of tightening against this anxious dread and wishing it were not so, I decided instead to give it space. Breathe into it, and let it breathe, whilst reassuring myself that experiencing it would not overwhelm me. And after a while it began to shift, and soon tears began to fall – which I soon recognised as tears of grief. Both personal tears and collective tears, somehow woven and asking not to be separated. So much grief. Grief for the ways in which we treat our fellow creatures (a recent media photo of hundreds of impounded and frozen pangolins flashed through my mind); grief for the ways in which we abuse and dishonour Nature (this is not a grief I access very often); grief for my own dashed attempts at being stable (although I did recognise some inner strength too); grief that the poor and the vulnerable will pay the heaviest price (as always); grief for unknown sufferings to come.
And then a very particular grief arose. And I remembered being a teenage schoolboy and looking at a poster by – possibly – the Peace Pledge Union. It mentioned the sum of money required to alleviate world hunger. And then it went onto say that this was the amount that the world spent on weapons every two weeks. And that ignited something in schoolboy me. A strong and innocent reaction: surely, if we can marry basic human morality to basic organisational skills, then we could sort this out overnight? And I found myself grieving the loss of this particular innocence – I’m weeping again as I write – and even felt grief that adult me has not been able to change those fucking awful statistics, that I’ve somehow let my younger self down. Maybe you parents feel this a lot of the time – as you see the world that we’re handing on to your children?
And then I started going political in my mind – dusting down my well-worn soap box – and my grief and tears almost instantly shut down. Boris Johnson this, Western consumer society that. So, I consciously dropped my inner political rant, and my grief and tears reappeared. It was fascinating to see how affronted free-flowing Life seemed to be by the presence of my ideological mind.
Two rooks are now chasing after the buzzard, attacking it from both sides. It dodges and then dips and then cruises away and out of sight. For the time being...
And as the tears regained their flow, I felt my heart opening and opening, but it wasn’t my individual heart, it felt like the heart of Life itself, and it felt – I’m grasping for words – as if I was in the presence of a limitless supply of love, and that this was the Heart that holds all of our hearts. And as I watched the sun rising on the other side of the valley, I felt as if the Heart inside my heart was a sort of mirroring sun, and love for the world poured through both. For someone whose heart has felt quite shut down for several years, this was an especially breath-taking experience. I felt like a winter pilgrim waking up to spring.
I don’t know what to make of any of this. Was my anxiety sitting on my grief, and was my grief an expression of love? Are these depths of love always present in all of us, even when we feel that they lie a million miles away? Does this mean that – if we source ourselves correctly – we can actually love without limit? Is this part of the wake up call many of us are hearing right now?
Maggie looks like she’s having a midday nap, but Reggie is still chomping away. There are no more sunflower seeds left on the bird table. And I really must make some lunch and then get off property – for my daily permitted walk – and get down to that damn glorious sea.
Take care. Stay well.
PS Here’s Wednesday’s sunrise...
(musical accompaniment provided by Nina Simone and the local avian choir)
Auguries of Innocence & Eternity
Joy & Woe are woven fine
A clothing for the soul divine
For under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine
She who binds to herself a joy
Does the wingèd Life destroy
But she who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise
He who shuns a visiting sorrow
Invites three to call tomorrow
But he who welcomes Sorrow on his step
Lives for ever without regret
It is right it should be so
For we were made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Through the World we safely go