The covid-19 enigma has awakened a new horizon of possibility for what it is to be human on this planet. As the powers-that-be seek to reassert business-as-usual, the path ahead remains open. Is this merely a temporary pause, or the beginning of the new normal so many of us have been longing for?
I have been both blessed and afflicted in my life by a persistent unrest, which has escalated at times to an inner (and occasionally outer) scream: “Life, society, my place in the world – IT ISN’T MEANT TO BE THIS WAY.” Variously taunted and inspired by Tennyson’s ‘Tis never too late to build a newer world’1, I have raged and railed and resisted the way things are, both to my credit and to my (and others) detriment. Various angels and tribes along the way have helped me to keep faith that another way is possible, as I have trudged along this road, sometimes hanging on by my fingernails, anticipating, as a great many of us have been, a ‘jumping off place’2.
Could it be that we have now arrived at that much longed-for exit to a more beautiful world?
Seduced by the promises and delusions of Western civilisation and blinded by the all-consuming mythos of the monetary realm, our collective ascent up the mountain of industrial growth has inflicted deep wounds on our Mother Earth. An endemic fear of death is somewhere at the root of our catastrophic dysfunction, and may even be the engine driving our quest: a desperate search for something, anything, to shield us from the unutterable fragility and apparent absurdity of our own mortality.
Compelled by our illusions of control and our broken relationship with power, we have driven the juggernaut of the Industrial Growth Society to some kind of peak. I sense a collective weariness with it all, and a deep rage and ache from the hurt of a promise betrayed, as the dream of a golden age of technological triumph and the myth of a post-industrial utopia has consistently failed to deliver.
This story of separation, this estrangement, is both the cause and the effect of unprecedented massive disruptions in the biological environment. The result, as one school of thought3 would have it, is that the planet-old viral genome system has gone into overdrive as it attempts to restore equilibrium and preserve the conditions that sustain life. Viewed through this lens, the extraordinary enigma of Covid-19 currently sweeping through our world can be seen as a manifestation of this hyperactivity in the genetic biosphere.
Whatever position we may take on the causes and conditions surrounding this virus, it does seem that the Covid-19 pandemic has also brought with it a kind of grace, intercepting our trajectory over the cliff edge of ecological sustainability, and doing for us what we seemingly could not do for ourselves. Who would have thought that a tiny virus could have arrested the onslaught of the world-devouring money-machine and brought the nations, if not to their knees, at least to some new level of humility. This intervention has come at a price, as surely all genuine transformation does, bringing our multiple and complex sorrows and traumas to the fore and assaulting our already compromised human biological systems.
In the context of a global political establishment that reifies and even deifies science as the sole voice of authority in our world, the actions of national governments in response to the enigma of Covid-19 have varied widely on the scale of wisdom. The policy of extreme lockdown has surely stretched and in some cases fractured social and familial bonds, and undermined the already fragile mental health of the nation. In concert with the echo chambers of mainstream media, government rhetoric, certainly in this country, has greatly exacerbated our pre-existing disposition towards separation and fear. We’ve also seen our collective OCD around Health and Safety being triggered to suffocating new levels, as this cultural straitjacket has tightened.
The pain and mayhem notwithstanding, many of us have also found a new pair of glasses during this time, or a lost way of seeing perhaps, a glimpse into what is truly good and what is truly beautiful about being human, and about being alive, now, on this planet earth. The creative intelligence of the cosmos, in the form of Gaia, or God if you like, has issued us a compelling invitation to ask some Big Questions, and she has helped carve out a space called ‘lockdown’ to enable us to do so.
What is our purpose, individually and collectively? Are we here to consume more, to seek pleasure and distraction, to run more, to hurt more, and to merely survive the pain of being human? Or are we here to experience something infinitely precious: life, this life, an exquisitely unique and absurdly gratuitous gift that is ours for the taking? What does it mean to be fully alive, in relationship with the interconnected web of being?
How can we learn to look at death as the mirror of life, and move towards it with consciousness and grace, rather than with fear and dread? Can we trust our revered mystics and our faith traditions when they assure us that death is really a transition to new life, that it is, in fact, a kind of birth? In short, how can we step into the highest possible vision of our living and our dying?
This covid-19 moment may be a temporary pause, and there may well be more to come in the form of further outbreaks or new viruses, as the viral genome continues to fulfill its ordained mission to heal the broken web and restore the optimum conditions for life. There could well be a backlash on its way as the powers-that-be seek to reassert business-as-usual and, like the emperor with no clothes, to reassure themselves – and us – that the old order is not actually defunct, as seems increasingly apparent. It may also just be, as so many of us are hoping, the beginning of a new normal, of what Cynthia Bourgeault has described as a permanent reset of our collective human conscience4. Hallelujah!
The covid-19 pandemic is a massive, planetary catastrophe whose roots are primarily ecological and evolutionary… We have pressed too far into the inner fastnesses of things, and the earth has spontaneously risen up to cleanse and rebalance itself.Cynthia Bourgeault
So what of my mantra, “It isn’t meant to be this way”? Well, who knows what’s meant to be and what’s not meant to be; perhaps this is all part of the evolutionary journey of our planet-being, a cosmic pattern that we glimpse only in moments of deep recollection. That’s a question for another blog. But one thing we do know, whatever unfolds from here: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. The planes do not have to fly. The buyers and sellers can stay at home. The birds and the living creatures can become bold and vivid once again, encouraged by cleaner air and a wondrous new stillness in their lifeworld. The machines can quieten down. Carers and key workers can take their rightful place, centre-stage, no longer downgraded in an upside-down economy.
We have seen that when we hold life itself as of higher account than money and the constant acquisition of more, the fabric of the world still holds, indeed it begins to mend where it is torn, and to reweave where it has come apart. People in their droves have taken to their allotments, inspired by the primal need to grow food and to tend the earth, as veg box sales have rocketed5. We have seen how the broken social web can be revitalised as neighbours have become acquainted for the first time, or developed new levels of solidarity and friendship. And we have begun to awaken to the true wealth that is community, more precious and more resilient than services and ‘goods’ that can be bought and sold.
Similarly, the massive upsurge in volunteerism has powerfully demonstrated that the deepest human desire is to serve and to give. As well as restoring faith in our fellows, this mass mobilisation of a willing, unpaid workforce has also debunked many of the arguments against a universal basic income. With Financial Times journalist Daniel Susskind declaring UBI as “an affordable and feasible response to coronavirus”, and 100 MPs and peers calling for UBI to be implemented, suddenly this marginal green policy has hit the political mainstream.
A lot has changed in a short period of time: in our conception of what is possible, and in all our relations – with each other, with ourselves, and with our planetary and cosmic home. There’s simply no going back. We can’t un-know what we now know.
“Covid-19 is showing us that when humanity is united in common cause, phenomenally rapid change is possible. None of the world’s problems are technically difficult to solve… Covid demonstrates the power of our collective will when we agree on what is important. In coherency, humanity’s creative powers are boundless. What do we want to achieve, and what world shall we create? That is always the next question when anyone awakens to their power.”Charles Eisenstein
As Charles Eisenstein depicts in his brilliant essay ‘The Coronation‘ (6), there are multiple paths open before us. Some of these could lead us back down the mountain, this peak-everything in which we find ourselves, others could lead us to a nightmarish dystopia. As we step out of the foggy world of lockdown and slowly move away from the blessed reprieve it has afforded us, which path will we choose? Are we ready for the descent, for the journey home? What are the gifts we bring, and what are the resources we can tap into, in order to choose wisely?
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With grateful thanks to Anna Green, Graham Joyce and Sofia Miranda for their invaluable support and encouragement in getting started with this blog and for looking over various drafts of this article and making helpful comments. I couldn’t do it without my friends.