Updated: Mar 31, 2020
- Brian Stafford
As many of us have heard, the Chinese character for the word “crisis” is made from the characters for danger and for opportunity. Although not truly accurate from a linguistic perspective, this cultural meme is useful at this time when our very way of living is threatened, and our very understanding of life is wobbling. Some of us have been waiting for an economic crisis that might bring down the Goliath that is Western capitalism. Some of us have been praying for a day where we might stop this techno-industrial growth society just for a moment so that we can reset it and shift it toward a life-promoting earth-based culture. Most of us did not believe that this pandemic would come so quickly.
When I ask most people in my circle how they are doing the general answer is that they are feeling a bit bewildered. They share their worries about their own health and the health of their loved ones. They worry about their ability to retire comfortably now, or to pay for their children’s college, or to pay the rent, or their mortgage, or buy food. They worry that their civil liberties will be stripped further after the first wave of the pandemic subsides. Will the 2020 election be postponed or cancelled? Will the “bailout” once again support the 1% - the money lenders in the temple of Earth - or will it support a transition from a civilization that worships the Baal of “fantasy capitalism” or will it support the local, the individual, all of life in its watershed? Will it lead to a Green New Deal or something even more ecological than the Green New Deal? Will the people rise up and throw out the “money lenders” or will they allow it to happen again?
So many questions arise when the future is “unforeseen.” Those prone to rumination might be overwhelmed by anxiety, checking their iPhones every 10 minutes for the latest news of hope or disaster. Others might be prone to increasing their consumption of diverting media. They might rationalize that “it’s not really binge-watching if there is nothing else to do.” Others might start drinking again. Others might feel totally unprepared and drift deeper into depression and panic that they were already fighting. Others might berate themselves for staying in the “stock market” too long. Others might deny that this is much of a glitch or that it is actually devastating, still lives must be offered to the god of capitalism so that I or my grandkids can live comfortably. These varied responses are somewhat normative, but most do not come from the wholeness of our self. There are other possible responses.
When I am in my wholeness, my Wild Self, I can remain present to all that is occurring. I can sense the hair stand up a bit on the back of my neck, and the gut feeling of foreboding danger. I feel my pre-traumatic fear and grief that medical colleagues might become ill or die. I grieve for the thousands, perhaps millions, who will become ill and die. I grieve for the family members of those who have lost family, not been able to say “goodbye” and not have a traditional funeral. I feel in my gut that my aged father might not survive. I feel and contemplate – perhaps for the first time if I am truly honest – that I might not survive this pandemic - and I wonder how my children might survive without me.
I also can feel a bit of hope – not by bypassing the fear or the grief – that this shutdown of the entire human endeavor might be an opportunity to truly tackle the climate crisis, to tackle economic injustice. I hope that we might create a world that isn’t at the expense of the more than human world, but rather a regenerative culture that renews our connection to earth, and to each other, and contributes and values the differences in every human and every species.
But, I also know that there will be much death, much collapse, much fear, and perhaps a few years of wandering in the wilderness waiting for some semblance of culture and certainty to appear again. After sharing this line – I know how to pay attention - in her poem Summers’ Day, Mary Oliver ends the poem with this reminder:
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
To enter into this liminal time, a time of individual, economic, and cultural transformation, it is best to have access to your Wild Wholeness, to know how to pay attention, experience what needs to be felt, imagine how you can survive, thrive, and serve, and what this time is asking of you…and all of us.
What if this is the only opportunity to protect the species that remain before irreversible climate change? What if this is the only opportunity to bring down capitalism before all wealth is sequestered by the 1%.
What a dangerous opportunity.