Are you an essential worker going out each day to keep the infrastructure going, or are you furloughed or working from home? Whatever it is you may be doing, I’m wondering how you are doing under lockdown since Covid-19?
Are you scared for your safety at home?
I guess that we’re all scared, to varying degrees. Some of us, like my mother and sister, are in high-risk groups. They just want to keep their lives. Others, like myself and my partner, don’t see ourselves as high-risk. Nevertheless, we want to support the high-risk groups and the health professionals to ‘flatten the curve’, so we’ve been doing physical distancing.
For those of us who are spending more time at home, I wonder if you’re scared or worn down by the conflicts that have arisen as a result of having less space than usual? Are you actively scared for your safety at home? I wonder if you are missing a sense of choice and freedom? Are you worried about your financial and existential security? Sickness and death are closer than usual. It’s important to recognize that for some of us, this feels like a traumatic time.
Slowing down, appreciating the delight of the natural world and suffering
I must admit that I’ve been loving the extra space. There’s fewer airplanes, less traffic, and space to slow down and appreciate things. I’ve been doing more meditation and reflection than usual, so I’m doing a kind of semi-retreat!
Here in Bristol, we can still go out for essential shopping and one form of exercise a day. On Horfield Common, close to where we live, the buds have been coming out, there’s been sunshine and warmth. I’ve felt a shock of delight to re-engage with the natural world. Of course, I know it’s not the same for everyone. People who get nourishment from other people are finding it a lot more challenging to stay in, not go shopping, not go to cafés or meet friends.
Gesine (my partner) and I are very fortunate. We have each other for company, and we have just moved into a new house, which we enjoy living in. So it’s given us a chance to empty the moving boxes and really move in.
Things aren’t so rosy elsewhere. In India, for instance, the pandemic has triggered a humanitarian disaster, with hundreds of thousands of migrant workers staying in temporary shelters. There is much suffering and there will be many ‘unnecessary’ deaths.
The Burning House
In the mornings, I’ve been doing some research for my next book, The Burning House. It’s a Buddhist response to the climate and ecological emergency. You know, one of the other crises, one we’ll be getting back to once this one has died down.
I’ve been led to reflect on the parallels between the climate and ecological crisis and Covid-19. For instance, how we deal with threats, personally and publicly. Personally, lockdown has brought up a sense of relief and I hope to work on a project that I’ve struggled to otherwise find time for. For others, it’s brought up the fear of early death, or suspicion of conspiracy. Whilst others have chosen to ignore it, in the hope that it will go away.
On a national level in the UK and the USA, the response has been on partisan lines. Initially, more right-wing politicians and commentators were inclined to mock the virus and underestimate the threat. Then, when the threat became clear, to call on a nationalistic sentiment of “We’ll fight them on the beaches”.
Prioritising saving lives over economic considerations
What I find truly remarkable is how relatively ‘right-wing’ governments in the UK and USA have brought in lockdowns that have severely reduced economic activity. I’m impressed that, in this case, these governments have prioritised saving lives over economic considerations. I wouldn’t have predicted that.
The nature of this pandemic is that each individual one of us needs to take measures to ensure our own safety. It’s become obvious that to do this involves taking care of everyone else’s safety. No-one can except themselves. I think that’s why we have seen such ‘drastic’ action from governments. They have realized that wealth and power won’t give them their usual immunity.
At the same time, the Covid-19 crisis has laid bare the structural inequities of our economies and social-welfare systems. As with the climate and ecological emergency, , those who are most vulnerable and least-resourced are the ones who will be most impacted, plus the heroic healthcare professionals who tend them.
Here in the UK, we’ve found it an opportunity to celebrate the healthcare professionals at the heart of our tax-payer funded NHS. My friends – rich and poor – in other countries aren’t so fortunate.
Could we take the opportunity to re-think human societies?
I wonder, could we treat both of these crises as calls to awakening, on both the individual and structural levels? Could we take these opportunities to rethink human societies, to base them on love and compassion for one another and for the natural world? Could we heal the ancient mental disease of de-humanising each other, based on skin colour, gender, religion, race, wealth, culture and so on?
Governments around the world said that there’s no way we can shut everything down in order to lower emissions, slow climate change and protect the environment. Guess what? With Covid-19, it’s as if Nature is sending us a message. What I remember from biology lessons is that if one species gets too numerous and becomes unsustainable for its environment, a disease will come along and reduce its numbers.
One way or another, humanity is placing too many pressures on the natural world. And failing to take care of the planet means that we aren’t taking care of ourselves. Far more deadly diseases than Covid-19 exist in wildlife, and it is almost always human behaviour that causes diseases to spill over into humans.
To reduce the risk of further outbreaks, global warming, and destruction of the natural world for farming, mining and housing need to end, as all these drive wildlife into contact with people. And the mixing bowls of live animal markets need to be regulated or compassionately closed.
What if we used this complex and difficult situation to gain clarity on some things? As Greta Thunberg recently said in a podcast, “If one virus can wipe out the entire economy in a matter of weeks and shut down societies, then that is proof that our societies are not very resilient. It also shows that once we are in an emergency, we can act and we can change our behaviour quickly.”
Slowing down, taking stock, using your imagination
We’ve been needing to slow down for a long time. Take stock, slow down, use your imagination. Now that we don’t have any other choice, we’ve been granted the opportunity to reflect on our actions.
We can show that working remotely is feasible. There is time to acknowledge the importance of public health services, the warmth of human connection and the support of a community. We can point to the unsustainability of our economic system, as well as the importance of measuring well-being rather than GDP. Looking at the feasibility of lowering the ecological impact is important too. As is seeing how quick and easy reducing emissions can be, and how clean the air in our cities is without pollution.
We can show the power and benefits of community, and decentralised systems in general. It’s a great opportunity to share care work and duties and be conscious of our empathic and collective potential to preserve life. We can see what a de-growth society would look like, if only for a while. We can make the most of this quarantine by re-imagining the way the way we live our lives.
In both Covid-19 and the climate and ecological crises, it’s likely that we will experience a kind of disintegration of identity. It could be very healthy to take time to reflect, to reassess your priorities. In the light of these more existential truths, what is most precious to you, right now? Your nearest and dearest, existential freedom, wisdom and compassion, the present moment? We don’t know what’s coming next, so it’s a good moment to sit in the ‘don’t know’.
For support and practice of new communication skills, join our Life Skills for Lockdown series.
Reflections and the personal views, invitations and offers from Shantigarbha
CNVC Certified Trainer
Buddhist activist and mediator.
Author of I’ll Meet You There: a practical guide to empathy, mindfulness and communication. Read the first chapter and order the paperback and e-book here.