(Written in Spring, 2020, when lockdown had recently begun.)
While in isolation, I am rereading Rollo May’s “Courage to Create.” He describes a conference he attended that opened with the chairman announcing that the possibilities of human beings are unlimited. He goes on to describe just how deflating and deenergising this statement was for the people present and how the meeting fell flat after the casting into the room of this sweeping statement. The meeting stuttered to a stop. Paradoxically, the sense in the room was one of freedom curtailed, rather than an open arena for reflective discussion.
The hubris of no human limitations has now come back to confront us in no uncertain terms. An invisible virus holds us to ransom and compels us to question our ideals of limitless growth, worldwide economic expansion and righteous expectations for extravagant living and freedom to despoil this wondrous planet. How to temper this righteous, prevailing mindset, a mindset of entitlement and greed?
Now we are being asked to confront the reality of limits and to delve deep to find the necessary inner springs that will help sustain us through this extremely challenging time. We are being asked to reconsider. If we look at the etymology of the word consider, we find that is means to realign ourselves with the stars, to find our bearings once more as human species on this fractured planet. We have lost our way, that is for sure, and out of this chaos we seek new form and meaning.
We have all been given the ultimate restraining order. When all our outer activities and social conventions have been removed, we are left with no choice but to face ourselves. How we rise to this challenge will determine how we chose to live our lives from now on. Now hyper aware of our limits; that we have no control has never been more blatantly true in spite of assertions that we can knock this enemy on the head! We cannot carry on as before. The universal law has been broken or as Robbie Burns would have all those centuries ago, we have broken nature’s social union. The implosion is here and our foundations are shaking. If we respond to the call for restraint, some very hard lessons will have been learnt along the way and we can hirple along with a little more humility and learn to belong here once more. Allowing life to unfold as it will and to let things take their course as the Tao Te Ching would advise us, challenges those precious plans, values and intentions in uncomfortable ways – that turning point has the potential to direct us to a more contemplative and thoughtful way of existing that sees more clearly the effect of our actions on all life forms.
I live alone now in North London in a small terraced cottage that was built in the 1890’s to accommodate the families of workers who were employed to build Alexandra Palace. I am really grateful that I have a lovely little garden to tend and friendly neighbours and that I can ride my bike or walk the paths of the extensive park on my door step. I do have grave concerns for my three energetic teenage grandchildren and the effect the lock down will have on their well being. The lid is on their bright, bounding, youthful energy. Where will all that life zest and enthusiasm go?
At a time in our planet’s history when we need to reconnect with the natural world and build kinship, relationship and intimacy with our bio regions, as Thomas Berry reminds us, we are being locked indoors and if lucky permitted an hour for exercise outdoors each day. For an already impoverished society, what a deprivation this is. Even so, on my allotted walk around Ally Pally, I see that many youngsters and oldsters are still clamped to their devices.
Where oh where is the hope in all this? On my walk today, I pledge to be present for the emerging new life. The chiffchaff is back with its two barred call, a woodpecker’s drumming resonates through the woodland, wrens, robins and song thrushes are in abundance, singing themselves into being.
Snowy blackthorn against a blue, blue backdrop is startling, celandine flowers constellate the wood’s floor, the exquisite new fingers of horse chestnut hang in waiting for their time to splay and open. The cow parsley is leaping ever higher on each side of the track. In the woodland, there are some fresh nettles and I wonder if I can pick some for soup. From the summit of Alexandra Park, I see the outline of the city of London in a blue haze. The symbols of commerce and unrestrained growth create a beautiful skyline, just the same. Perched atop the apex of Alexandra Palace, a statue of an angel spreads protective wings over our city, our very own Angel of the North, a guardian angel and a hopeful acknowledgement of the spiritual realm that we are all immersed in. Looking out over the city of London, I too, can spread my arms, grow wings and open to the new possibilities that these challenging times present me with. I can revive a little hope in my heart again – Hope, writes the poet, Emily Dickinson -“is that thing with feathers.”
Photo © Peter O’Connor aka Anemone Projectors, via fkickr.com