Over the last few weeks I’ve been struck just how different our experience of these changing circumstances can be. It’s striking to reflect…
…. how some of our students appreciate the break from stressful work, others are working flat out, some are in key worker families and at the front-line of extreme physical, psychological and emotional pressure, others already have no income from self-employed roles which have abruptly come to a stop and are dealing with the immediate anxiety of seeking support, some live alone and are denied the social lives that gave connection and interaction, still others are focused on adapting to and evolving with the new circumstances. There is commonality of cause and huge diversity of affect.
….how differently society is responding. After initially being caught up in our uncertainty, there are wonderful initiatives of support for the NHS, recognition of personal responsibility and individual acts of kindness and self-sacrifice. In contrast others have been lost in denial with their rejection of social distancing and presumably also the impact of their action.
……how mind states are volatile and deeply challenging when we feel our status quo and expectation of the future is threatened and how clear the dilemmas surrounding the human condition appear at times like this. It’s more obvious now on a collective level to recognise the enormous value of yoga and meditation to help ease the suffering we feel and renew our values and direction.
…how we are being invited to see the earth re-flowering without our polluting imprint, with dolphins in the waters of Venice and views of the Himalayas not seen in 30 years…..affirming just how intertwined our actions are with the planet we inhabit.
…how peoples of different nations and continents are united in a shared vulnerability, facing a disease that knows no borders, walls or other divisions that control and divide….inviting us all wherever we are to question our response more deeply and our shared connection.
It is time to take a long and patient look at our contribution to where we find ourselves. Governments, like all of us are human, flawed and temporary and more often reflect the society that elected them. We have driven ourselves in the West into so many dead ends fuelled by ideologies like “the market knows best” and the relentless pursuit of growth, rising markets and limitless consumer choice. Climate change has been on our lips but not enough in our hearts. When we indebt ourselves, consume more than we can sustain in the present, be it financially, morally or spiritually we mortgage our future. It’s the same with the world we live in, when we consume more than it can sustain we too mortgage its future. Right now we have a unique opportunity to witness the impact of a global change of direction, one that would have been politically impossible to bring about (think of the limited success of all the climate change summits) to taste a reduced consuming lifestyle and understand the impact at an individual level and to ask ourselves, which future do we want, because they each have a cost. How would you feel about saving the vast coral reefs, the wildlife of the Serengeti, the glaciers of the Himalaya’s or the forests of the Amazon if it meant giving up the choice to see them?
As an inspiring and realistic boss of mine used to say when faced with the seemingly impossible “we are where we are”. Being grounded in the present moment is the only place from which we can make real and meaningful change, whatever has come before.
So it feels particularly important that we now spend time growing a sense of spaciousness for a wider awareness and explore what it means to have individual and collective responsibility. This process of expansion has always been a natural part of spiritual retreat and will allow us to prepare for new beginnings as our old norms move out of view. We should not be surprised about feeling lost and afraid. Riding change on this scale and relinquishing old habits will not be easy for any of us.
This is why our practice is so helpful and important…it clears and prepares the way, giving us little steps to take and showing us greater perspectives beyond our own small and sometimes fragile identity. Mind states are happily not permanent and it’s comforting to recognise that we are more like clay than we might imagine and can be moulded and re-moulded with the intentions we set for ourselves and the presence we grow within us.
For now our task is to strengthen our capacity for inner space, to sense our way forward and find balance in this turbulence. We need to set a direction that teaches us how to take care of ourselves, how to turn towards the difficult with love and compassion, how to rise when we feel broken and how in turn to expand our understanding, love and compassion towards others. None of this is a quick fix but with patient practice each small step becomes a path as extraordinary as life itself.
Here is a suggestion to help you over the days, weeks and months ahead:
Spend time in nature, go barefoot if you can and let yourself relax into the weight of your body in contact with the ground, breathe. Don’t be in a rush to move on and entertain your mind. Wait, let your thoughts move on by, smile and relax, feel your breath, make the mental effort to rest with your breath and not give in to restlessness and move away. Keep going for a few minutes and gradually with practice increase this time. Encourage yourself, knowing that when you do this you are growing your inner reserves for balance and the space where you will feel your intentions for the way ahead and plant the seeds for love.
If you are unable to go outside, bring a plant or something natural in your line of sight so your eyes can relax with organic shape and colour and then begin.