60 Days In
“If paradise now arises in hell, it's because in the suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems, we are free to live and act another way.”
― Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
The world has turned upside down since March. The structures and systems we have in place to hold onto some semblance of control have crumbled. Like so many, I have lost my job, my means of income; my supposed ‘worth,’ (thanks capitalism) half of humanity, globally, are in or are emerging from some form of social and economic lockdown and we are physically apart from our loved ones for the foreseeable. The news is contradictory, infuriating and sometimes completely hopeless. There is no denying the scale and tragedy of this crisis which will have repercussions none of us can quite understand, right now.
And yet, I feel more at ease than I have ever felt. I have experienced chronic and at times, debilitating anxiety and depression for a number of years and it’s now manageable; a low hum instead of a deafening siren. This global catastrophe should spell absolute chaos for my mental health, but (and I know I am not alone in this feeling) there is a kind of peace. The worst has happened. For once, there is some kind of universality in assuming that everyone is trying their best. Everyone is suffering and in pain, on some level, keeping on and trying to make the best of a bad situation. We have more time for each other; we are showing up and listening to each other when we can, and tuning out when we are overwhelmed. For those of us who aren’t essential, we are being asked, demanded to stay at home. Sit still. STOP.
The best thing for us to do, is to STOP
In short, I am having lots of thoughts and I want to write them down. Thoughts about home, community, capitalism, grief and loss, vulnerability, mortality, the environment, time, productivity, memory, preservation and value. Mostly, about the lessons I and we might carry forward. I usually document my time and memory through photographs, (and I have been doing that) but I have found myself also turning to reading and writing to try to find meaning in the enormity of what we are facing.
60 days in and I want to put my words and my thoughts out into the (seemingly digital) world as an action; bereft of the dialogue of real-life conversation.
Shortly before lockdown, I embarked on a yoga intensive which consequently has turned into training to be a yoga teacher. It’s a different direction than I could have ever anticipated but one that feels wholehearted and in retrospect, some kind of move that was preparing me for this crisis. It’s funny how things arrive at your door when you need them, before you know you need them. (Thanks to the force that is Steph Wall in believing and trusting me before I trusted myself!) I don’t know if I will become a teacher, but there are teachings offered in my developing practice that are so vital for right now. Inside my home, I am trying to come home to myself, sit with myself, and reconsider what and where I find value; as a human being.
It is a huge privilege to be able to rest, pause and reset; to be with what is. My bright light of a friend Geraldine and I, often joke around trying to live our lives around the mantra of ‘doing less and doing it slowly.’ But I am trying to actively live by it, and it feels radical in some respect. It seems we struggle so much with this concept of not doing, or making, or producing; so afraid are we are of the truth that might be waiting behind our drive to work, work, work with our self worth tied neatly to our pay packet, our reputation and our output.
I am embracing the idea of being, instead of doing. Something that I think we could all learn to do and are learning to do, a little better. Perhaps then, we would want less, and be able to sit more comfortably with what we do have. Right in front of us.
I have also been finding a true sense of home, in my surrounding community. Before, I relished my freedom of movement and adventuring all over the UK and the globe. I have lived here, in Pollokshields, for over two years, and in the past two months, I have found a true sense of belonging in my stillness.I live on the East Pollokshields Quad; a unique community centred around four tenement blocks bordered by four different streets. I now know my neighbours by name, and see them regularly despite being ‘socially isolated.’ I feel more connected than I ever have, anywhere; ironically when we are least able to connect, physically. We have all been reaching out to each other in news ways; through spring and the nurturing of the natural world around us. We have a small piece of countryside in the middle of the city. There are more birds in the quad, more insects and bees and we are all growing our own vegetables. We are an intergenerational, inter-species utopia of sorts and it is really very special.
I have been documenting my time since the beginning of the lockdown; at a distance and as we move into a new phase, it feels slightly less vulnerable or voyeuristic. Primarily, they are photographs for us, to celebrate this unique and diverse community in amongst a huge urban sprawl, but to also give hope for the possibility of more care and connectedness in the future. Equally, they are not posed, but come from a place of familiarity and of belonging. If we all had more of a sense of belonging, maybe we would be less likely to search for it so much elsewhere?
That is not to discount the fact that we are in a time of absolute crisis. But with sorrow, rage and grief, comes joy. We are able to hold those two truths at once, and we have to, to keep surviving. It reminds me of the clarity that my own proximity with death and mortality, has given rise to. In the aftermath of my father’s death and the personal crises and complete breakdown and unbelievable depths of sorrow that ensued, came profound vulnerability and authenticity.
Our panic, our denial, our bargaining and our acceptance with what is happening, all stem from the innate fear we all have as a species and which keeps capitalism functioning so seemingly well. If we buy another pair of trainers or work another hour, its another hour that we don't need to think about or face that reality. Another way we can concretise our existence through an object that will outlive us and distract us from doing another kind of work with ourselves. It is this avoidance of the truth that scares us all; that COVID-19 has bought into glaring clarity; the fragility of our own mortality and the forces that ultimately hold the reins of it. Thats not to say I am advocating we should all sit in graveyards and meditate on the apocalypse, but our constant avoidance of our human-ness; our connection to life and death is what keeps us running, chasing, and flying around the globe. And as is more and more evident, that chasing has huge consequences for us and for the rest of the creatures and systems we share this planet with. COVID-19 is an undeniable harbinger of the future much of us are going to have to get used to; our deliverance for our greed.
On Thursday evening I listened to a beautiful interview with Oceon Yuong who spoke so eloquently to this notion. I read his novel 'On Life We Are Briefly Gorgeous' shortly after lockdown arrived, and it really is exceptional. The following is from a podcast interview from 'On Being' with Krista Tippett. (Thanks to the gorgeous Luke Pell for directing me to it!)
'I go out, and I walk along the cemetery, and even without it I sit down, and I do a death meditation. And it sounds very morbid, but the practice is actually supposed to bring yourself into the inevitable. The conditions of our lives will be vanquished through death. And then all the pettiness — the little angers that you have with those you love, with those you don’t love, and your neighbor, the little things — falls away, it’s so small, when the ultimate, lasting reality is death.
But I think all religions have this — outside of all of the orthodoxy and the rigor of ceremonies, at the center of it is trying to remind us that we will die; and how do we live a life worthwhile of our breath? And I think, thinking about death and thinking about what we do towards it, around it, helps me center myself in such a chaotic space. And I do think it’s part of my own nurturing of my own mental health.'
I have a lot of questions, musings and irritations; some thought out, some just pieces.
For now, however, I feel more urgently alive, open and spacious than I ever have. I am doing my best to not feel guilty for that and trusting that there is a potency to quietness that doesn’t need to be aligned with passivity. It strikes me that maybe I don’t miss my ‘normal’ life because there is a lot about the systems we had that aren’t and never have been working. I hope that these lessons of how each of us are interdependent, entwined and linked to the whole will carry forward.